Tampa Bay makes its homegrown All-Star leftfielder rich, signing him for a potential $32.5-million over six years.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published April 2, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - It has taken a while, but the Devil Rays are getting a reputation as an organization that routinely produces young, talented major-leaguers. Lately, the concern has been that they also would be known for regularly losing those players once they got too good - and too costly.
Friday, they took a significant - and expensive - step to quell that fear, signing Carl Crawford to a deal that could keep him a Ray through 2010 and be worth up to $32.5-million.
The guaranteed money alone, $15.25-million over four years, is an impressive reward for the All-Star leftfielder. What the Rays are most pleased about are reasonable team options for 2009 and '10, the first two years he could be eligible for free agency.
"It was not our goal just to sign and develop young men like Carl," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "It's to sign, develop, get them to the major leagues, see them prosper and sign them to contracts like this so the fans of Tampa Bay truly, truly know that not only is the club heading in the right direction but the commitment from ownership and the front office and everyone in the organization is there. ...
"I think this is as big a day and as big a statement as this organization has ever made. And it couldn't happen to a better player and a better young man than Carl Crawford."
Crawford, 23, seemed overwhelmed by the ramifications of the deal, struggling for words during a Tropicana Field news conference held, appropriately, on the leftfield turf:
"First of all, I'd like to say I don't know what to say really. I'm just so excited about everything that's happening."
The deal has been talked about since last summer, shortly after Stu Sternberg became the new general partner. While the financial aspects were discussed, a bigger issue was the term. Crawford liked the idea of financial security for four years, which covered this season and the three in which he would be eligible for arbitration; the Rays wanted to extend the deal for at least five or six to keep him from free agency.
Crawford said he and agent Brian Peters decided it would take at least $30-million over six years. When the Rays agreed, the deal - the third largest in team history behind free-agent signings of Wilson Alvarez ($35-million, five years) and Greg Vaughn ($34-million, four years) - came together last week.
"It means a lot to me," Crawford said. "That's not just some chump change you're throwing around right there. I feel like I owe the organization whatever they want out of me now. I'm basically theirs."
More than anything, the Rays want him to keep playing and improving. Crawford was selected an All-Star for the first time last season, won a second straight American League stolen-base title and led the majors in triples while hitting .296 and scoring a club-record 104 runs.
"He keeps getting better and better every year," manager Lou Piniella said. "Defensively, to me, he's the best leftfielder in baseball. ... Stealing bases, I don't think he has any peers. ... He's going to develop more power as he learns to hit."
Under terms of the deal, Crawford will get a $500,000 salary this season (up from his original $370,000) and a $500,000 signing bonus, then make $2.5-million in 2006, $4-million in 2007 and $5.25-million in 2008. The Rays have what seem to be reasonably priced options for Crawford's first two years of free agency eligibility - $8.25-million in 2009, or a $2.5-million buyout; and $10-million (with escalator clauses based on such things as AL MVP votes that could raise it to $11.5-million) in 2010, or a $1.25-million buyout. Crawford will donate up to $400,000 to the Rays of Hope charitable foundation.
The new contract gives the Rays the opportunity to keep Crawford for five more seasons, but doesn't guarantee it since there is not a no-trade clause, and other teams could find the terms very appealing. If traded, Crawford does get a bonus of up to $800,000.
The Rays, though, are talking about him as a huge part of their future. And Crawford said he thinks that future is looking better.
"I feel like the organization is going in the right direction to win more games," Crawford said. "I think the Tampa Bay area has a lot to look forward to because we're young and exciting and we're going to win games. I know right now things are not looking as well, but I feel that in time the talent will rise and we will have a winning team."
While managing general partner Vince Naimoli remains in control of the team, it seems apparent that Sternberg, who is expected to take over after the 2006 season, played an influential role in completing the deal.
"I think so, no question," Piniella said. "Stu is certainly part of the decisionmaking process. He invested a lot of money in this club already and now he's following up on his commitment."
The Rays have had similar talks with Rocco Baldelli and B.J. Upton, and are likely to revisit those and others over the next few months. They also could consider an extension for Aubrey Huff, who is signed through 2006.