ST. PETERSBURG — Jeffrey Springs has always had to battle to get an opportunity.
Drafted in the 30th round, 888th overall, by Texas in 2015 out of Appalachian State and given just a $1,000 signing bonus. Cast into a bullpen role in the minors. Designated for assignment twice by the Rangers and traded to Boston. Designated for assignment and traded again, 13 months later, to the Rays. Sidelined in July 2021 by a season-ending knee injury.
So when the Rays asked Springs last May to move from the bullpen into their rotation, he was determined to show them — and everyone else — what he could do.
An 8-5, 2.65 record in 24 games, with 130 strikeouts and 28 walks over 122 1/3 innings was impressive, as was the dogged competitiveness he showed in doing so.
And Wednesday, the 30-year-old lefty was richly rewarded, signing a four-year contract with the Rays that guaranteed him $31 million and, with a $15 million option for 2027 and some lofty incentive and escalator clauses, could be worth as much as $65.75 million.
“I don’t even know if it’s fully sank in quite yet,” Springs said on a media call. “I’m kind of at a loss. The whole thing, I was holding my breath until it was officially signed and done for no other reason than this is just something that is kind of hard to believe, to be honest.”
The contract is evidence of how much the Rays believe in Springs, in what he has done so far — pitching last year “as well as just about anybody in baseball as a starter,” according to Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander — and will continue to do.
“It’s constant development,” Neander said. “Jeffrey is someone that for a long time has made the most of his opportunities and hasn’t always been given the benefit of the doubt. Just a story of perseverance and just staying with it, just continuing to get better.”
There is some risk, obviously, given the somewhat small sample size of starts. But Neander said they felt that was addressed fairly by the terms, which have been under discussion since mid-November. Springs, who will give up his first two years of free agency and potentially a third, said he agreed.
“Just a unique career path,” Neander said. “There is some unknown, certainly, about what’s ahead.”
After making $947,000 last season, Springs gets a raise to $4 million this year, canceling a planned arbitration hearing over his $3.55 million ask and the team’s $2.7 million offer. He will get $5.25 million in 2024, then, when he would have been eligible for free agency, $10.5 million in 2025 and 2026. The Rays hold a $15 million option for 2027, or they can pay a $750,000 buyout.
Springs has the potential to earn up to $20 million more, some through incentives for innings pitched and more with a higher bar, escalator clauses tied to Cy Young award voting.
“Jeffrey’s had a journey where I think this is more than fair no matter what’s ahead, that he’s treated right with us,” Neander said.
After extending Springs to multiple innings of relief work (and one opener type assignment), the Rays moved him into the rotation on May 9 after sending down Josh Fleming, curious to see how he would do.
Springs, typically, said he had no doubt.
“I’ve always believed in my ability and it kind of just fits my career, I guess,” he said. “If I could get a chance, I’m gonna try to make the most of it.”
His success as a reliever for the Rays in 2021 — after he arrived with a 5-4, 5.42 record in limited opportunities — gave him the confidence he could pitch effectively in the majors, to understood what he did well, to “kind of become the pitcher I am.”
Having grown up with “the ultimate dream” to be a big-league starter, he saw the move to the rotation an opportunity to keep doing what worked over longer stints. Talking to pitching coach Kyle Snyder and other starters, such as veteran Corey Kluber, helped with the transition.
“No, never a doubt that I could have success,” Springs said. “It was just a matter of getting out there and actually doing it.”
• Reliever Jaime Schultz, who debuted for the Rays in 2018 and later pitched for the Dodgers, and catcher Gavin Collins, who spent 2022 with Cleveland’s Triple-A team, signed minor-league deals with invites to major-league spring training. Schultz missed the 2022 season while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.
• Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Joe LaSorsa and Anthony Molina were added to the list of Rays minor-leaguers invited to big-league camp, giving them 71 players total.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.