Rays close to contract extension with Yandy Diaz

The Rays and the infielder Yandy Diaz are close to finalizing a contract extension, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (Twitter link). The deal is a three-year, $24 million pact that contains a club option for 2026, according to Feinsand and MLB.com colleague Juan Toribio (by Twitter). Diaz is represented by the agency Octagon.

The extension would cover Diaz’s final two years of referee control and at least one of his free-agent-eligible seasons. Diaz and the Rays were to hold an arbitration hearing to determine his 2023 salary after failing to reach an agreement by the filing deadline – Diaz was seeking $6.3m and the club hit back with $5.5m of dollars.

Instead, it now looks like Diaz will be the third Tampa Bay player to sign an extension this week. Jeffrey Springs signed a four-year, $31 million extension on Wednesday, while Pete Fairbanks agreed to a deal worth $12 million over three years guaranteed on Friday. An arbitration hearing is usually the result when the two sides don’t agree on a salary a year before the figures-swapping deadline, but clubs often try to strike multi-year deals as a sort of loophole around of the self-imposed “file and trial” strategy deployed by most of the league.

Diaz, Springs and Fairbanks were three of seven Rays players who did not agree to terms by the deadline, and even the remaining four (Harold Ramirez, Colin Pocket, Ryan Thompson, jason adam) still represents an unusually large number of actors who need to be heard. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rays set at least one more extension before hearings begin in the coming weeks.

For Diaz, the new contract provides long-term security and the first major payday for a player who turned 31 last August. Beginning his career in his native Cuba, Diaz was arrested twice before finally defecting on his third attempt, then signed with Cleveland for a $300,000 bonus. Diaz didn’t make his MLB debut until 2017, when he was already 25 years old.

In December 2018, a headline-grabbing three-team trade between the Rays, Indians and Mariners saw Diaz head from Cleveland to Tampa as part of the five-man trade. The Rays were interested in Diaz’s ability to make contacts and draw walks, and those skills certainly translated as Diaz’s career progressed. Since the start of the 2020 season, Diaz ranks sixth among all qualified hitters in walk rate (13.7%) and ninth in strikeout rate (13.1%).

Diaz hit .266/.359/.418 in his first three seasons with the Rays, good for a solid 117 wRC+ in 1,026 plate appearances. However, Diaz took production up a level last season, posting a 146 wRC+ while hitting .296/.401/.423 with nine homers on 558 AP, and finishing with elite percentiles in several major categories. Statistics. For a right-handed hitter, Diaz’s career numbers against left-handed pitchers had been relatively modest heading into 2022, but last year he crushed left-handers to the tune of .892 OPS on 145 AP.

A flaw in Diaz’s performance was a lack of gloves, as public defensive metrics indicated he was well below par on 1,282 1/3 innings as a third baseman over the past two seasons. That stands out even more at a defense-conscious club like Tampa Bay, though the Rays could ideally consider using Diaz as a first baseman more often in 2023 or during the longer-term deal.

Overall, locking up Diaz seems like a smart move for Tampa. While a 146 wRC+ is a high point for Diaz, there was little (other than a spike in hard-hit ball rate) to suggest his 2022 numbers were a departure from his previous career numbers, so it’s reasonable for the Rays to expect roughly similar production over the life of Diaz’s deal.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing is that the Rays have now extended a 31-year-old player, as it’s fairly common for the team to buy players as they get more and more expensive. However, there had been no real commercial buzz around Diaz, and so the Rays have now locked in three members of their infield (Diaz, Take a walk Francoand Brandon Lowe) but possibly the 2026 season, depending on the status of club options for Diaz and Lowe. Of course, the Rays could still end up buying Diaz, Lowe, or maybe even Franco down the road, especially if the club continues to generate quality prospects on the field from its minor league pipeline.

Between the still-unknown details of Diaz’s contract numbers and unresolved arbitration cases, the Rays are likely to match or exceed their previous franchise level for payroll, even if their overall spending is still quite modest by compared to league standards. Tampa Bay’s opening day payroll last season was around $83.86 million, and Roster Resource currently (with no Diaz expansion involved) projects the Rays for around $76.86 million on the books in 2023.

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