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Deals with proven talent quench future needs

Escobar's extension latest example of Rays securing roster for long haul

Deals with proven talent quench future needs

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Rays announce they've signed one of their players to a contract extension, it's usually someone like right-hander Chris Archer -- a superstar in the making who would have been under team control for years to come anyway.

Those deals, like the six-year pact Archer signed Wednesday, grant young, pre-arbitration-eligible players with an opportunity to make their first fortune and rid themselves of financial concerns. They provide the Rays with cost certainty.

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On the other hand, the Rays have shown a recent willingness to hand out long-term (by their standards) extensions to veteran players. The latest example is 31-year-old shortstop Yunel Escobar's two-year, $13 million deal with a $7 million club option, or $1 million buyout, for 2017. Tampa Bay didn't have to make a move to lock up Escobar; he already had a club option in place for 2015.

The Rays made similar moves this offseason. In November, they signed veteran outfielder David DeJesus to a two-year extension with an option for 2016. After acquiring catcher Ryan Hanigan as part of a three-team trade in December, they immediately signed him to a three-year extension with an option for '17.

"All of them are a little bit different, but I think the common denominator is that they're three guys that we like a lot, that fit us well, that will help us win games in the current," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "And if we ever get to a situation where we have too many good players, I'll take it."

Those deals, in other words, provide the Rays with a degree of quality assurance, in a sense.

Tampa Bay believes strongly in the future of shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, their No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com, but he's coming off a severe knee injury last year. Rather than rush Lee into Major League action or try to feel out the open market this offseason or the next, the Rays simply guaranteed themselves a few more years of a known quantity in Escobar.

"I don't know exactly what's going to happen. I think they're mutually exclusive," Friedman said. "We really like Hak-Ju Lee a lot and feel like he's going to be a really good Major League player. On the other hand, we have our current shortstop who's really good at what he does and helps us win games right now. If we ever get into a situation where we have to figure that out, again, good problem to have."

Outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Mikie Mahtook, Lee and injured infielder Tim Beckham are the only position players on the Rays' top 20 prospects list above the Double-A level. And there's only two more, shortstop Ryan Brett and infielder Richie Shaffer, at Double-A. Generally speaking, Tampa Bay's farm system is somewhat thin when it comes to top-tier, upper-level position players.

In the past, that might have been cause for concern: Where would the Rays' Major League talent come from if the pipeline dried up? But take a look around the diamond and you'll see that, barring injuries, there might not be much room for prospects to break into Tampa Bay's lineup anytime soon.

Hanigan is locked up behind the plate through 2016, possibly 2017. First baseman James Loney signed a three-year deal this offseason. Second baseman Ben Zobrist has a 2015 club option. Escobar is now signed to play shortstop for at least two more seasons. Third baseman Evan Longoria could be in Tampa Bay until 2023.

In the outfield, the Rays could have DeJesus on board until 2016. Center fielder Desmond Jennings isn't eligible for free agency until 2018. Right fielder Wil Myers isn't even eligible for salary arbitration until 2017. Utility man Logan Forsythe is under team control until 2018, and outfielder Brandon Guyer won't hit free agency until 2019.

Overall, the Rays have 18 of the 28 players on their active roster or 15-day disabled list under team control through at least 2016, with two others possessing club options for that season.

"Obviously we've done some things that have longer-term implications. The runway of talent, and maintaining a good core group of players, it's really important," Friedman said. "We always talk about how first and foremost, our goal is about having as good of a 2014 season as we can. We're also about sustaining it. These two moves this week [Archer and Escobar], I think, put us in a better position to sustain it than we were a week ago."

And as manager Joe Maddon pointed out, all of the Rays' recent maneuvers will put them in a less stressful position when the offseason rolls around. There's no need to overhaul your roster when so much of it is already in place -- and could remain in place for years to come.

"We can be a lot more specific in the couple things that you're probably going to need, now that the overriding majority is going to be there," Maddon said. "You're still going to have your holes and your needs, but now you can really just focus on a couple things."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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