Who will be next young MLB star to sign long-term deal? Seven candidates, including Juan Soto and Vlad Jr.

25 Nov 2021 | 08:40 | MLB

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays were nearing a long-term extension with wunderkind shortstop Wander Franco that is expected to pay him in the neighborhood of $225 million over 12 years. Presuming the deal is completed, it will supersede Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.’s eight-year, $100 million extension as the largest signed by a player with less than one year of MLB service time.

Franco, 20, debuted last summer after years of being regarded as the game’s top prospect. He delivered upon the hype, hitting .288/.347/.463 with seven home runs in 70 games. Although he won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until March, he proved to be a quick study; in his final 30 games last season, he batted .355/.409/.545 with nearly nine times as many hits (43) as strikeouts (five). Franco’s stardom seems assured, making it easy to understand why the Rays rushed to secure his services.

Now, a reasonable question to ponder is who will be next? Just as Fernando Tatis Jr. wasn’t the last young star to sign a massive long-term deal for long, Franco’s turn with the crown is certain to be a relatively short-term affair. Below we’ve laid out seven plausible candidates to follow suit, ranked in order of their perceived likelihood. (Do note that this is more for entertainment purposes than anything else.)

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1. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
The Royals are perhaps the team least likely to suppress a player’s service time. When Dayton Moore suggested Witt had a chance to make the Opening Day roster last spring, it may have read more like an absurd message-board post than something realistic — he had played in only 37 professional games, after all — yet Moore’s open-mindedness embodied the organization’s desire to do right by its players. It would stand to reason, then, that Witt may have interest in shacking up with the Royals for the long haul — especially given the precedent they established years ago by replacing Salvador Perez’s absurdly team-friendly extension with a fairer pact.

2/3. Julio Rodríguez, OF, Mariners/Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
Rodríguez and Rutschman are two of the top prospects in baseball. Neither has reached the majors yet, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude their teams from pursuing a long-term deal. The Mariners are known to have tried to get Jarred Kelenic to sign a team-friendly extension in the past; hence comments from former team CEO Kevin Mather suggesting the team would manipulate his service time in response. The Orioles under Mike Elias haven’t seemed to care much about the big-league product, which is why we’re putting Rodríguez in the higher spot. Rutschman’s arrival should begin to change that, however, and Elias would be wise to lock in Rutschman sooner than later if he wants to keep him around for the long haul.

4/5. Shohei Ohtani, DH/RHP, Angels/Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays
We’re also combining the top two vote getters in the American League Most Valuable Player Award race because they’re in somewhat similar situations. Both have justified ridiculous levels of pre-debut hype to become legitimate superstars. They each have compelling reasons to turn down long-term extensions at this point: Ohtani because he’s two seasons from free agency and desires to win (something the Angels haven’t done much of); Guerrero because his father accrued generational wealth during his playing career, making a submarket deal less attractive than it might be for others.

6. Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
The Nationals are nearing an inflection point on Soto. Either they need to sign him to a long-term extension, or they need to begin to think about trading him. That may sound unreasonable, but every day that passes will see his financial ask increase and, by virtue of his reduced team control, his trade value decrease. The Lerners have shown a willingness to let star players walk before — Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon come to mind — so it’s far from a given that Soto remains in D.C. for life.

7. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays
Perhaps it’s stupid to place Arozarena behind Soto, but these are our rankings and we have a reason for doing it. Arozarena just hired Scott Boras to be his new representative, suggesting he’s not signing an extension unless it pays him market value or close to it. Given that these are the Rays we’re talking about, it seems highly unlikely that they’d be willing to pony up again for Arozarena, lest they tie up their entire payroll up in two players. Sorry, Randy; you’re good, but Franco is better.