Wander Franco Extension Could Give Clues to CBA Negotiations

Wander Franco and the Rays have agreed to an extension that guarantees the 20-year-old rookie $185 million and can max out at $223 million over 12 years. This roughly doubles the six-year, $100 million extension Evan Longoria received after the 2012 season to make it the largest in Rays history. Franco’s deal is likewise twice as much as Ronald Acuna Jr.‘s record eight-year, $100 million for a player with less than a year of service time.

This development is huge for player and franchise alike, but the timing could tell us a little about what to expect from CBA negotiations centered around how much money is being paid to players at what points. It could also be indicative of the likelihood that we’ll see some kind of salary floor put in place for future seasons.

Service time and free agency have been big sticking points for the players union, which wants to put an end to the type of manipulation that sees teams holding a player in the minors for two weeks in order to gain an additional year of control. Not that Cubs fans have ever heard of such a thing happening. The argument from those who love to carry water for ownership is that the practice is technically legal under the letter of the law, but that’s exactly why Kris Bryant and other players have wanted to change those letters.

To this point, owners have countered with a proposal to set 29.5 years of age as the universal threshold for free agency. The half-year would be determined by players whose birthdays fall before or after July 1 and would allow every player to have a chance to hit the market while technically still in his 20’s. Of course, it would also mean teams would have contractual control of players like Franco and Juan Soto for 10 years.

That the Rays would see fit to extend Franco at this point might mean the owners know that the age for free agency will be much lower and/or that there will be a shorter limit on control via rookie deals. There might also be significant changes to the way those controlled players’ salaries are determined, like moving to higher fixed salaries and implementing a structure to replace arbitration.

Per Jeff Passan of ESPN, the owners’ recent proposal held that minimum salaries would increase to $600,000 for first-year players, $700,000 for the second year, and $825,000 in the third. The Super 2 designation would be replaced with an “Elite 2” plan in which players who earned All-MLB honors would have their third-year salary bumped to $2.5 million.

The Rays will be paying Franco a lot more than that even the highest of those figures, but his salary would have escalated quickly after those first three seasons. Using the structure proposed by the owners would see him getting $580,000 for each win above replacement he’d accumulated in his career to that point, which might be a big figure for someone who put up 2.5 fWAR in just 70 games. Then you look past his control and into the half-dozen years the Rays just bought out.

It’s a big expenditure for a team known mostly for its frugality, but imminent changes to the salary structure would make this deal even more favorable for Tampa Bay. Speaking of which, it’s possible this is also a signal of a coming salary floor. Whether it’s a set figure or based on AAV, the Rays might be looking for a way to increase what would have been an estimated $77 million payroll and/or their $91 million figure.

Let’s just say owners agreed to implement a $100 million floor with some sort of floating cap that might initially sit around $180 million. That latter concept is a non-starter to players if it remains static, though there’s reason to believe they’d be more receptive to it were it tied to league revenues like the NFL or if it features exemptions and carve-outs like the NBA. Either way, a floor should theoretically create more parity and prevent salaries from plummeting in relation to revenue.

By bumping Franco’s salary around $15 million higher than it would have been, the Rays see their luxury tax payroll jump to roughly $106 million. Hey, they’d even have some room to trim back from there if they want. This is all purely hypothetical, mind you, though it’s difficult to see this development as just a stand-alone event without greater implications for the league in general.

And if this really is an indication that the owners already know the new CBA will incorporate more player-friendly structures, I’m feeling even more confident in my little conspiracy theory regarding a lockout.

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