ST. PETERSBURG — So the shortstop is going to be here for a few more years. Same with the first baseman. The catcher isn’t going anywhere soon. The left fielder is going to hang around for a while.
What the heck is Andrew Friedman going to do next offseason?
Shortstop Yunel Escobar became the latest veteran to receive a multi-year deal when his contract was extended Saturday through 2016 with an option year for 2017.
If the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist’s option next season, the million-dollar infield will be together for at least three seasons.
That was one of the reasons Escobar approached Friedman, the Rays’ excutive vice president of baseball operations, during spring training. Escobar wanted to continue to play with James Loney, Evan Longoria and Zobrist.
Naturally, the Rays wanted Escobar to continue to anchor the defense.
“He’s a really, really good player at a position that’s extremely scarce around the game,” Friedman said. “From our standpoint, scarcity of position really plays into it and his ability and how well he fits in with our group.”
Yet, extending Escobar’s contract wasn’t much of a concern at this point. The team held an option for 2015, so he was still under their control.
Friedman was focused on other areas, like locking up another young pitcher, Chris Archer, to a team-friendly, six-year deal and, of course, pondering the future of David Price.
In the back of his mind was Escobar. It was pushed to the front of his mind during spring training when Escobar approached Friedman and told him he’d like to hang around past the end of his contract.
How often does that happen?
“Not very often,” Friedman said.
It happens when a player is about to hit free agency, like Loney last September or Joel Peralta after the 2012 season.
“It’s not often a guy with two years left of control, effectively, that they say it,” Friedman said.
Escobar was a steal at $5 million each for 2013, 2014 and 2015. He’ll continue to be a bargain for 2015, now that the Rays have picked up that option, and 2016, when he will earn $7 million. If he continues to play like he does now, Escobar will still be a bargain if the Rays pick up his $7 million option in 2017.
And Friedman can focus his winter energy on something other than adding a shortstop. Same with first base, now that Loney has two more years on his deal. And left field, where David DeJesus is signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016.
And catcher, one the team’s biggest trouble spots, since Ryan Hanigan could be on board through 2017 if the Rays pick up his club option year.
“With Hanigan, we were making a trade (last December) we weren’t comfortable really doing without some assurances he’d be here longer than a year,” Friedman said.
Friedman said DeJesus, Hanigan and Escobar are different cases.
“But the common denominator is they are three guys we like a lot, they fit us well, and they will help us win games, and if we ever get to a situation where we have too many good players, I’ll take it,” Friedman said.
Plus, the farm system isn’t exactly stocked with high-end prospects. There is shortstop Hak-Ju Lee at Triple-A Durham, but he missed nearly all of last season after knee surgery and is a few weeks away from beginning this season because of a calf injury.
“The runway of talent and maintaining a good core group of players is something that’s really important,” Friedman said. “We always talk about how, first and foremost, our goal is having as good of a 2014 season as we can, but also about sustaining it, and these two moves (last) week put us in a better position to sustain it than a week ago.”