Back at the beginning of February, I wrote an article looking at extension candidates for the Pittsburgh Pirates, noting that this was where the team needed to spend their money. Everyone focused on the 2014 payroll this off-season, but two of the best moves that could have been made were the extensions of Charlie Morton, and today’s extension of Starling Marte. Neither of these moves has an impact on the 2014 season, since these players were already under team control. The long-term impact and value of these moves could be bigger than any move the Pirates could have made this off-season.
In the original article, I noted that Marte was my top extension candidate. After that, there wasn’t really a candidate that stood out beyond Marte. With Marte signed, let’s re-visit the other extension candidates to see who should be next.
Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole would be great extension candidates. However, they’re both Scott Boras clients, and Boras clients don’t usually sign extensions. There are some Boras clients who do sign extensions, but those tend to be the exceptions.
Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer are both in a similar situation. The Pirates control their rights until age 31. They also have Alen Hanson in the wings, which means they could go with a Mercer/Hanson middle infield in a few years. They’ve also got guys like JaCoby Jones, Adam Frazier, and others in the lower levels who could eventually replace Mercer. It wouldn’t hurt to extend Walker or Mercer and get control of 1-2 free agent years. However, it’s unlikely that they’d be needed for those years. The benefit to either extension would be cost certainty and some insurance in case the prospects in the minors don’t work out. I’d also say that Mercer isn’t close to ready for an extension, since you’d want to see what he can do over at least one full season.
That leaves the expected 2014 mid-season arrivals: Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon. In Taillon’s case, the Pirates might want to wait a few years to offer an extension, just to make sure he can adjust to the majors well enough. As for Polanco, he seems like a perfect candidate for an “Evan Longoria” type extension right after he arrives in the majors. Longoria signed a six year, $17.5 M deal right after he was promoted to the majors, which included three option years. Overall it bought out control of two free agent years.
Longoria had increases built into the deal based on Super Two status and MVP voting. The end result was that he earned $45.6 M over nine years, which is a tremendous value. The reason that is such a value is that there is a huge amount of risk. The deal looks good in hindsight, because Longoria worked out. However, the Rays didn’t even get a chance to see what Longoria could do in the majors before committing a ton of money to him. He could have just as easily ended up struggling like so many other top prospects, and then that deal would have looked similar to the deal the Pirates made with Jose Tabata.
Polanco projects to be an impact talent in the future, although that’s not guaranteed. However, what makes him a prime candidate for a Longoria-type extension is that he has skills that bring value to the majors without the need for an adjustment to the majors. Polanco has a ton of speed, making him a weapon on the bases, and allowing him to reach base on infield singles, even to the right side of the infield. He also has a lot of range and a strong arm, making him a valuable defender in the outfield. His speed and defense will give him enough value to make a long-term deal worthwhile, even if the bat doesn’t take off as expected. And if the bat does take off, then the Pirates would have their own Longoria-type value.
It would also be a smart move for Polanco to make, since he hasn’t made much money in his career. He signed for $150,000, and this is his first year on the 40-man roster, meaning it’s the first year where he’s making a decent amount of money in the minor leagues. By comparison, someone like Gerrit Cole ($8 M signing bonus) or Jameson Taillon ($6.5 M bonus) wouldn’t see the appeal with such an extension, since they’ve already had a big payday through the draft. These deals always look team friendly when they’re signed, because projections always lean toward the optimistic side. But as we saw with Tabata, a deal can go from looking team friendly to looking like wasted money in a very short amount of time.
If Tabata wouldn’t have accepted his extension when he did, then he’d currently be in his first year of arbitration. He might be up to $3-4 M in career earnings at this point, but overall he wouldn’t come close to the $15 M that he was guaranteed through the 2016 season with his extension. For someone who hasn’t received a big payday, that’s the motivation to sign a deal that everyone calls “team friendly” the moment it is signed.
With Marte under contract, Polanco becomes my top option for an extension. The Pirates can’t just say “accept this extension and we’ll call you up”, because they run the risk of a service time grievance. They’d basically be saying that the only reason Polanco is in the minors is for financial reasons. The Astros are currently going through this with George Springer. Any sort of negotiations would have to come after Polanco arrives in the majors. That should be in mid-June. And based on Polanco’s upside, plus his “safe” skills in the speed, base running, and defensive areas, the Pirates should start talking extension with him the moment he arrives in Pittsburgh.
Links and Notes
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