The Rays announced that they have signed left-handed Jeffrey Springs to a four-year contract extension. The southpaw is guaranteed $31 million over the course of the deal, but there are also incentives and a $15 million club option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout. If Springs hits all incentives and awards Cy Young escalators and the club takes up the option, he will earn $65.75 million over five years. The exact details of those incentives and escalators are not known. He will earn a salary of $4 million this year, $5.25 million next year, followed by $10.5 million in each of the next two seasons. Springs would go on free duty after 2024, so this could allow the Rays to sign him for an additional three seasons, if they eventually activate that option.
Springs, 30, has had a unique baseball journey. He was a 30th round draft pick by the Rangers and received little fanfare from potential raters in his first few professional seasons. Although he got some rotation work for a few years, the Rangers used him exclusively in relief in 2018 to good results. He pitched 56 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A that year. The 4.13 ERA may not seem very impressive, but it sure was blown up by a .438 batting average on balls in the game. He kept his walks to a reasonable level of 8.1% while striking out 41.7% of the batters. He was allowed to make his MLB debut that year and threw 32 innings over 18 appearances with a 3.38 ERA.
He took a step back in 2019, missing a few months with left biceps tendonitis and posting a 6.40 ERA. Texas assigned him to an assignment starting in 2020 and then traded him to the Red Sox Sam Travis. The change of scenery didn’t help Springs get back on track as he posted a 7.08 ERA in the shortened 2020 campaign. He was reassigned to assignment and then went alongside to the Rays Chris Mazza for prospects Ronaldo Hernandez and Nick Sogaard.
The move to Tampa appears to have been the one Springs needed as his results have since completely turned around. He recorded a 3.43 ERA over 43 appearances in 2021, striking out 35.2% of batters while walking just 7.8% of them. In 2022, he started in the bullpen, but the club began to build him into a starter as the season progressed. He responded well to the change, eventually pitching 135 1/3 innings with a 2.46 ERA, 26.2% strikeout rate, 5.6% walk rate, and 40.9% ground ball rate.
After a few years of plodding and struggling, it’s no big surprise that Springs would jump at the chance to rake in some life-changing money here. He first reached arbitration in 2022, but only made $947.5K, a slight increase from the league’s $700K minimum. He was projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a jump to $3 million this year, though he and the club failed to come to terms before the filing deadline earlier this month. He submitted a figure of $3.55 million, while the Rays submitted $2.7 million. Instead, he will make $4 million and lock in some eight-figure salaries going forward.
For the Rays, they clearly believe Springs is capable of continuing as an effective starter, although there is a risk here. Springs had excellent results in 2022, but it’s only one season and it wasn’t even a full season. As mentioned, Springs started the year in the bullpen and lasted until the end of May. He was also on the injury list for a few weeks in July due to a tight right lower leg. Worries aside, the Rays are confident enough in the southpaw that they are willing to take a chance on him.
For a low-spending team like the Rays, overtime is an important part of having talent on the roster. Since they don’t usually shop at the top end of the free agent market, they need to keep guys around by locking them up before they get closer to the open market and increase their earning potential. In recent years they have given expansions to players like Kevin Kiermaier, Blake Quick, Brandon Lowe, Walk Franco, Manuel Margot and Tyler Glasnowand Springs now joins them on that list.
This won’t have a huge impact on the club’s payroll in 2023, but will add some decent commitments in 2025 and 2026. The club has now locked up three players in the previous season with Franco and Zach Eflin on the books there, along with a club option for Lowe. In return for putting that money on the table, the Rays now have arguably the most rotational stability they’ve had in years. In past seasons they relied on bullpen games and openers to get through a season, but now they have Springs, Glasnow, Eflin, Drew Rasmussen and Shane McClanahanwith depth options such as Yonny Chirinos, Louis Patino and Jos Fleming. Most of that group are still in their pre-arbitration years, giving the club affordable control for years to come. None of them are listed for a free broadcast after this year, and Glasnow is now the only one to enter the open market after 2024. The club also boasts one of the best pitchers in the sport Taj Bradleywho finished at Triple-A last year and could make his debut this year.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the four-year initial reporting the agreement and a lot of it the details. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first with the salary breakdown from year to year.
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