The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, November 24, 2021 1:00 am

Baseball notebook

Franco, Rays close to record deal

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Wander Franco made it to the majors this past season as a 20-year-old and quickly showed the talent to be a star for a long time.

The Rays were impressed enough to invest – at a record-breaking amount – in his future, and are close to finalizing a 10-plus year deal that will guarantee him close to $200 million, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The agreement is not finalized, and several details still have to be worked out. The final version is expected to be 11 years for $182 million guaranteed, with a 12th year option and performance bonuses based on MVP award finishes that could push the total value of the deal to $223 million.

If consummated, it will be the largest in Rays history, and for a player with less than one year of service time in the majors. It also would be the largest total package for a player with any of Tampa Bay's pro teams.

Franco, who will turn 21 on March 1, could hit the open market as a free agent in his early 30s.

Franco was called up from Triple-A on June 22 and led all American League rookies after the All-Star break with a .314 average, 69 hits and 45 runs while striking out only three times in his last 97 plate appearances. Though Franco played in only 70 games, he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Former manager Bill Virdon dies

Bill Virdon, the steady centerfielder who won the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year for St. Louis and guided the Houston Astros to three straight postseason appearances as a manager, has died. He was 90.

Virdon was a career .267 hitter in 12 seasons with St. Louis and Pittsburgh, winning a World Series in 1960 with the Pirates and a Gold Glove in 1962. He retired for good in 1968 and went into coaching, going 995-921 during a 13-year managerial career that featured stints with Pittsburgh, the New York Yankees, Houston and Montreal.

His greatest success came during an eight-year run with the Astros from 1975-82, when he led the franchise to its first two postseason appearances. Houston lost to Philadelphia in the 1980 NL Championship Series and to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an NL Division Series prompted by the 1981 players' strike.

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