First Pitch: Who Should the Pirates Consider For an Extension?
Rob Biertempfel of the Trib reported tonight that Scott Boras would be open to a long-term deal involving Pedro Alvarez and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the article, Biertempfel quoted Frank Coonelly and Scott Boras, who both said they’d be open to the discussions. That doesn’t mean much, since discussions are far from a deal. The more important thing is what is said during the discussions.
All you need to know about Scott Boras is that he usually has a set value for his players, and that value is usually higher than you’d expect. Teams balk at the prices, fans laugh at how Boras finally screwed over one of his clients by asking for too much, and in most cases Boras gets the money for his player in the end. The most telling quote in the story was when Boras described what Alvarez could be in the future, and what his value would be to other teams.
“People always ask me about the rarity of power at third base,” Boras said. “Teams that have a player with the combination of 20 to 30 (home run) power and quality defense at third base are the teams that are usually in the playoffs.
“It would be a very wise business move for the Pirates to continue their relationship with Pedro. There are 29 other major league teams that would want to do the same thing. He’s gotten better every year — and his best years are yet to come. Part of our evaluation (of any offer) will be about where he is going in his career and what is fair.”
29 other major league teams would want Alvarez. Alvarez is a rare player due to his power at third base. His best years are yet to come. These are classic Boras negotiation tactics.
I don’t want to talk about Alvarez specifically here, because my analysis would be “I don’t see him signing”. I also don’t think the Pirates should sign him, unless they can get a fair deal based on a realistic value. I don’t see that happening.
Instead, what I want to discuss is the topic of when the Pirates should consider extensions. One of the things I see a lot is people suggesting extensions for any player that isn’t horrible. Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Wandy Rodriguez…these are all good players in their own right. However, not all of them would be worth extensions.
The player who gets discussed most often here is Walker. He’s a Pittsburgh guy, and was grouped in with Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Andrew McCutchen as part of the core. There have been rumors of extension discussions, but nothing has happened yet, obviously. I’ve never been in favor of a Walker extension. For one, the Pirates have him under control for three more years after this season. He’s also going to be in his early 30s when he’s free agent eligible, so you’re buying out years where he could potentially be on the decline.
The Pirates dodged a bullet a few years ago when Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez declined extensions. Both players saw their careers go downhill almost immediately. That’s not an uncommon story. Walker would be at risk for declined production, an increase in injuries, or both. Add in the fact that he looks like a platoon player with a career trend of struggling against left-handers, and he doesn’t seem like the best candidate for an extension. Really, if he wasn’t from Pittsburgh, there probably wouldn’t be as big of a movement for his extension.
You also have to consider the minor league system. The Pirates have to continuously replace older, higher priced players with younger, cheaper options. That is what will allow them to eventually contend while paying big dollars to Andrew McCutchen and whatever other players they extend. Realistically they can’t afford to extend everyone. They need to pick and choose certain positions where they could easily find an internal replacement.
Second base would be one of those positions. Jordy Mercer has stepped up this year at shortstop, and could be an option there going forward. But the team also has Alen Hanson playing well in Bradenton, and he’s got the skills to stick at short. If both work out, one of them would have to shift to second. Then there’s Dilson Herrera, who is having a big year with West Virginia. He’s a second baseman, and could be up by the time Walker is ready for free agency. The Pirates have three more years to develop an internal replacement, and two of their top hitting prospects are candidates. Thus, there should be no urgency to extend Walker right now.
You could make the same argument for Garrett Jones. He’s one of the best power hitters on the team, but he’s getting up there in age, and isn’t going to be extremely difficult to replace. He’s a platoon player, and the Pirates have a lot of guys in the system who hit right-handers but don’t hit lefties. If they had to turn to the open market, those guys come cheaper than most first basemen. There’s also the chance that they could draft someone to eventually take over at first (D.J. Peterson?), or that they could develop one of their internal options (Stetson Allie? Josh Bell?).
On the flip side of the Walker/Jones debate is Alvarez. In theory, Alvarez would be perfect for an extension. The Pirates don’t have a lot of depth at third base. The only prospect is Eric Wood, and he’s a sleeper in low-A ball. Even if they draft D.J. Peterson, he’s more likely to end up at first base. Unless Colin Moran magically falls to them at number nine this year, they won’t have a strong replacement for Alvarez anywhere close.
The problem is I don’t see Alvarez signing for reasons mentioned above. I also think the Pirates should be hesitant on any deal with him. At this point he’s looking like a platoon player, or a poor man’s Mark Reynolds (who is already a poor man’s Adam Dunn), or a bit of both. Based on the quote above, I can see Boras asking for more than that value, and I’m not sure it would be wise to pay that, since I’m not sure Alvarez can add to his upside with all of the strikeouts. Alvarez would be a great guy to extend due to the lack of internal options, but he’s probably unlikely to be extended.
There’s another factor to consider here, and that’s value. If there’s one person I’d extend on this team, it’s Starling Marte. He’s gotten off to a great start to his career, and you can see how he could get better in the future. If the Pirates locked him up now, they could get him for a potentially huge value. Marte would also be a better candidate for an extension, since he only received an $85,000 bonus. By comparison, Alvarez received $6 M. So it’s not like he’s going to be desperate for an extension.
The Rays have had a lot of success extending guys early in their career for extremely low prices. Not all of those guys work out. We’ve seen some of that already with the Pirates and Jose Tabata. But if that approach leads to a huge value with someone like Marte, then you can afford the misses that eventually will pay Tabata $4 M to be a bench player. You’d like to have that crystal ball that will tell you which guys will work out and improve over the long-run, but without that you have to just play the numbers game.
There’s a few players I’d extend right now. Marte is priority number one. Alvarez would be a choice in a dream world where that sort of extension would be possible. I’d try to get A.J. Burnett for 1-2 more years before he hits the open market, or even after he hits the open market. Younger guys who I’d have an eye on, but wouldn’t consider at the moment, would be Jordy Mercer and Jeff Locke.
Looking down the line in the minors, Gerrit Cole is a Boras client, putting him in the same situation as Alvarez. Jameson Taillon is a Hendricks client, which could be just as difficult, but maybe a bit more possible than the Boras clients. Either way I’d try with those two, going for a David Price type deal. Looking way down the line, if Gregory Polanco ($75,000 bonus), Alen Hanson ($150,000 bonus), and Tyler Glasnow ($600,000 bonus) work out, they would be prime candidates for early extension talk to buy out free agent years.
Links and Notes
**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 6: The Battling Buccos, The Bullpen Usage, and The Pirates System.