Tampa Bay Rays: Contract Extension Candidates

Yossi FeinsContributor IIIDecember 28, 2011

Tampa Bay Rays: Contract Extension Candidates

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    Contract extensions are where Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays shine.

    The Rays have done a terrific job in recent years locking up young talent with very reasonable contract deals. Past young stars such as Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist were all signed to long-term contracts with the Rays.

    The club kept the trend going this offseason, signing phenom pitcher Matt Moore to an eight-year extension.

    As more talented youth continues to emerge from the depths of Durham, more names continue to be recognized as extension candidates.

    Let's take a look a look at the Rays' most probable contract extension candidates.

Matt Joyce

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    Matt Joyce is currently the club's most renowned extension candidate. With Carl Crawford gone and B.J. Upton possibly leaving sometime within the next year, Joyce could be a big part of the outfield in the years to come.

    Joyce is exactly the type of player the Rays want in their future. At just 27, Joyce already provides a big left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup.

    Last year in his first full MLB season, he was the only Rays position player elected to the All-Star Game in Phoenix. Joyce finished the season with a .277 average and 75 RBIs, and showed major improvement in both his defensive and running games.

    A contract extension is probably an attractive option for both the Rays and Joyce. Joyce is a young player seeking long-term financial stability, while the Rays are a team looking for effective power hitters like him.

    I definitely see a contract extension for Joyce as a possibility for the Rays, and I'm hopeful the team can work out a deal with him.

    I believe that signing Joyce to an extension this offseason is the right move for the Rays. Offensive production is vital for the Rays' future, and a decently priced deal could also be in line here.

    In a past article from ESPNFlorida.com, analyst Tommy Rancel brings up an intriguing idea on how a Joyce extension might work out.

    He states that Ben Zobrist's contract, $18 million through four years, plus two club option years, could serve as a blueprint for a potential extension with Joyce.

    A recent article from MLBTradeRumors.com mentions more points that could favor a contract extension.

    It suggests that Joyce could offer a discount, being a Tampa native. The article also talks about how Joyce's lack of a big draft signing bonus could make him more interested in signing the extension.

    Hopefully, both Joyce and the Rays see the same golden opportunity here that I do. Andrew Friedman is on a roll, and we'll see if he can pull off yet another masterpiece.

Desmond Jennings

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    Rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings is one of baseball's young stars ready to take flight.

    Unlike most of the Rays' talented young stars, Jennings isn't a pitcher. He's a wanted commodity in Tampa Bay, and he's a player the Rays really need to get a grip on.

    In his hotly-anticipated 2011 rookie season, Jennings was everything the Rays expected and more. His great speed, defense and contact hitting were already acknowledged by scouts everywhere, but the electric power he displayed was a bit of a surprise.

    Like fellow extension candidate Matt Joyce, Jennings is also a huge part of the team's future in the outfield. He is the complete package, and the Rays are really excited about this guy.

    Considering how much the Rays would love to have a player like Jennings in their future, a long-term extension with him could be very possible. Jennings is under team control for six more seasons, which is good news.

    Interestingly, Evan Longoria and Matt Moore are the only other Rays players ever to be extended for all six years of their team control. Longoria was guaranteed six seasons and Moore was guaranteed five.

    Both were given three years of club options. The reason for the Rays' larger commitment towards Longoria is because Moore (being a pitcher) is at a higher risk for injury.

    If the Rays decide to offer Jennings a contract extension, it will probably be more like Moore's.

    The reason for this is that the 25-year-old has already experienced a number of injuries in his professional career. Jennings' health issues are obviously something that will go against his chances of an extension.

    However, the likelihood of B.J. Upton leaving the Rays next year definitely favors a long-term deal for Jennings.

    At the end of the day, I think it's a no-brainer to extend Jennings' contract. We're talking about the future leadoff hitter of the team here, and someone who I believe will be essential to the Rays offense in the coming years.

    Locking up Jennings for the long-term will come with a price, but it's well worth the money.

Jeremy Hellickson

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    2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, to no surprise, is an appealing extension candidate. After winning the prestigious ROY Award, efforts to negotiate some sort of long-term deal with Hellboy seems inevitable.

    Of course the Rays and all their fans would love to see Hellickson pitching in Tampa for as long as possible, but a contract extension would be pretty pricey. After such a stunning rookie season, Helly can obviously make a strong case for a high salary.

    The money is really the only thing that would get in the way of an extension.

    If the Rays and Hellickson work out a deal, it would be something like the contract agreements of fellow starters Wade Davis, James Shields and Matt Moore (click here for a chart via DRaysBay.com). That means it would be somewhere in the range of 4-5 years guaranteed, with probably three years of club options.

    Considering the Rays' surplus of starting pitching right now, I don't see a long-term deal with Hellickson being as great a necessity as a Jennings extension.

    Still, keeping Hellickson in Tampa Bay is something the Rays should work on this offseason.