First Pitch: Why Polanco Could Be the Last Pirates Extension For a Few Years

PITTSBURGH – Sometimes it seems like you can never really enjoy an extension. For years, people ask if a certain player will be extended. They write off an extension way before it’s even a normal time for an extension to normally take place. Then the extension happens, and the focus immediately shifts to “Who’s next?”

Part of that is because transactions can be addictive, and once one comes through, you start looking forward to the next one. Another part of this is because you want to imagine every good player on the team staying together for the long-term, which is probably why the third question of Polanco’s press conference tonight was about extending Andrew McCutchen — even though he still has three years left on his current deal. And then part of this is because writers will take an easy extension topic when it falls to them, knowing it’s a long season, and it’s a gift to not have to think up a new topic that night.

Wait a minute…

Yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on here. It was less than a month ago that I was telling people they were reacting too early when they were writing off a future Polanco extension, all because he hadn’t signed after his first full season in the Majors. So the last thing I want to do is start any early hype on extensions for other players. But I’ll take the easy topic tonight, with the disclaimer that I’m just going to break down where everyone falls on the extension probability scale.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll look at the current active roster, plus top prospects who will arrive this year.

Already Extended

Andrew McCutchen

Josh Harrison

Starling Marte

Gregory Polanco

Chris Stewart

If you’re suggesting an extension for any of these guys, you might have a problem. The one situation where it makes sense is McCutchen, but even then you’ve got a guy who is three years from free agency. A lot can happen in that three years. Three years ago, everyone thought the Pirates were never going to win, had a bad farm system, had a front office that needed to be cleaned out, and when they picked up a pitcher, people’s analysis didn’t stop at “Ray Searage”. With two of the top outfield prospects in all of baseball sitting in Altoona, there’s reason for the Pirates to wait on McCutchen for now. No matter when they sign him, they’ll need to look for a discount over his market value. That won’t change by waiting.

Prospects on the Way

Jeff Locke

Jordy Mercer

Francisco Cervelli

Jon Niese

John Jaso

Mark Melancon

All Middle Relievers and Bench Players

Locke and Niese will eventually be replaced by the starters who arrive this year, and Niese has two option years, so that’s basically an extension if the Pirates want it. Jaso will be replaced by Josh Bell, possibly by mid-season. Jordy Mercer has three years remaining, and the Pirates have a lot of talented middle infield prospects in their system. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Newman is the starting shortstop by the end of the 2018 season, with Mercer playing a Clint Barmes mentor role. I could actually see Mercer being extended or re-signed, just to play that veteran bench player role.

That leaves Francisco Cervelli and Mark Melancon. In each case, I don’t think we’re seeing an extension, since they’re so close to free agency. The Pirates have Elias Diaz to take over for Cervelli, and Tony Watson ready to take over for Melancon. If they’re bringing these guys back, it would be through free agency after they test the market, and not an extension.

Playing Out the Current Contract

Francisco Liriano

Jung-ho Kang

This is kind of like the first group. These guys just signed new deals, and they’re probably going to play out their remaining years before hitting the market. They’ve already been paid, so they don’t need a big payday, which is a driving motivation for a lot of extensions. Once again, these are guys you try to bring back as free agents after their deals, since they probably reach free agency and test the market. Also, in Kang’s case, he has four years of control remaining.

Scott Boras Clients

Gerrit Cole

Josh Bell

Just getting these guys out of the way. You’d want to extend them, but the reality is that they’re probably not signing extensions.

The Extension Candidates

Tony Watson

Juan Nicasio

Alen Hanson

Elias Diaz

Jameson Taillon

Tyler Glasnow

Watson and Nicasio are in different leagues. An extension for Watson wouldn’t buy out many years, and would be more about cost control. That’s something you’d want to do if he’s going to remain a big part of your bullpen, and possibly a bigger part going forward if Melancon leaves.

Nicasio could be an extension candidate, but you run into a problem. You don’t know he’s an extension candidate until you see what he can do this year. And then, he’s a year away from free agency, so he’d probably test the market. I think this is a Liriano/Happ situation, where if he breaks out, you try to get him in free agency for a three-year deal.

With the rest of the top prospects, the Pirates should try to get extensions early, just like they did with Polanco before he arrived. That usually doesn’t work, so probably all of these cases will see the player waiting until he has at least a year and a half in the majors, and maybe more than that. I’m only including the top ten prospects here, and not guys like Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, etc. With those guys, you’d think about them only after they came up and showed what they could do in the majors.

Bottom line? Polanco might be the last extension we see for a few years, outside of a short-term Watson extension, which would be close to the equivalent of a free agent deal. But that’s only because the Pirates have so many guys either locked up for a long time, or set to arrive in the majors, and two or three years away from any serious extension talk.

**I’ll be in Pittsburgh for the final game of the series tomorrow against the Cardinals. Then I go to Altoona for a five game series, followed by returning home to Bradenton for a series there. We’ve got full season previews for all of the minor league teams going up Thursday, with profiles on the top ten prospects at each level. Be sure to subscribe to get all of this great content, plus daily minor league coverage that you can’t find anywhere else.

**Pirates Bullpen Shuts Down the Cardinals, Jordy Mercer Walks it Off For 6-5 Win. Analysis from tonight’s game, where the Pirates took the first series of the year against the Cardinals.

**Will Gregory Polanco’s Extension Be a Steal? Putting Extensions in Perspective. A recap of Polanco’s press conference, along with a look at the idea that these deals are always a steal.

**Pirates are Loaded With Young Talent. The Pirates were well represented in the Under-25 talent list.

**Pirates 2016 Opening Day Payroll Exceeds $100 M For the First Time. Breaking down the 2016 payroll, which we keep updated all year.

**Francisco Liriano Has Goal of 200 Innings, But Is It Necessary? Sean McCool looks at why a 200 inning goal for Liriano might not fit his style.

  • Tim. A question. Will Diaz’s elbow issues maybe make them rethink a Cervelli extension? I know nothing is definitive but elbow pain in Pitchers and catchers can be concerning. If Diaz goes down for any lengthy period of time there is really nobody able to step in. Stewart is a backup (although a good one) and McGuire is not near ready. I don’t know if they will get as lucky in the trade market again like they did when Martin left. Thoughts?

    • He doesn’t need surgery, so no.

      • Hopefully Mr. Diaz remains in the doesn’t need surgery mode. Any time frame for return yet?

    • I think they should be seriously considering a Cervelli extension…I just dont have alot of faith that Diaz’s bat will be anywhere nearly as good and over the entire time that the Pirates have had success they have had catchers who know how to work at bats, have solid OBP, come up with big hits. Martin and Cervelli have been real difference makers for the Pirates lineup over the last 3 years. I dont question whether Diaz will be a good defensive catcher, but I think they need a guy who can be more than that.

  • Such fun to be a Pirates fan these days. I have been a fan since the 60’s. I really can not remember the Bucs having the depth that they have currently. Usually there was a player or two talked about in the minors to be on the watch for but never multiple players in multiple positions. The FO must be smiling ear to ear thinking about the personnel problems they will be facing over the next few years. Which players get traded and which get extended and which ones are on the 25 man roster. Too many players for 25 spots. “Oh boy, is this great!” (See Flounder in the last scene of Animal House-That is my smile too!)

  • McCutchen will come down to a couple of things. 1st, his health/production. 2nd his comfort level with how much he will take to stay here vs how much he can receive on the open market. 3rd the readiness of one of the prospects ie Meadows, Ramirez, Garcia, Polo, Barnes. Etc. 4th what is being offered by other teams for McCutchen in a trade. If McCutchen is healthy and still very productive and very few missed games, the Bucs will consider another extension for Andrew. In order for Andrew to stay, he will need to accept less than what he could get on the open market. Considering the talks between guys in their 30’s and their clubs this off season, huge contracts for long terms may be a thing of the past. That will help the Pirates cause. If there is at least 1 young guy that is even close to what McCutchen is producing in a year or two and the Pirates are being offered at least a quality return for Andrew, he will be gone.

    • Gosh, me/others/all, don’t we love Cutch and what he has meant for us, let me take this time to thank him for his service to this point and ongoing success with us.. With that said, why is it so difficult to understand that he won’t fit into our payroll and not getting (20, 21,…30) a year to retire with us in some kinda of extension…. peculiar, to me, but I’m wrong a lot…

      • You are not wrong. It is complicated issue He can fit in but will take a lot of work on both sides I would love for Andrew to retire a Bucco. It just is not that easy to make happen in the business. Like I said it will be multiple things that will come in to play. Biggest will be what Andrew wants in what will be his last big deal. If he wants a huge deal, that will not fit the Bucs situation as luckily it appears we have several options down on the farm that may at least come close to what Andrew will be able to provide in 3 plus years from now. If he truly wants to be in the Burgh to retire from here, he will be ok with taking less than market value and will instruct his agent to make it happen. All I am saying is the Pirates have not had the luxury of having too many players for the 25 man roster in decades. It is a very good problem to have for the Pirates.

        • Good post mate, thumbs up, guess I can only say it has nothing to do with Cutch and his discount feelings that he may hope for or the team may have for such a fantasy discount… I don’t think he fits in after 2018 or earlier, with the way we have to manage our finances and be fair to the fans on putting out the best product we can year after year that you appreciate (taking emotion out of it on Cutch)… we just agree to disagree, and I respect your opinion mate, big time…..

  • Since it looks like Cole can play out his option after 2019. He also has Boras as an agent. Looks like he could be traded after 2018.

    • Yup, who knows, deal with that later and will be difficult, but soooo much can happen before that, should be fun and then discuss… maybe after this year 🙂

  • Nice piece. Meadows might have to be in the discussion as next-up.

  • terrygordon30
    April 6, 2016 9:23 am


    If I am not mistaken, Juan Nicasio is not able to walk until after the 2017 season. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • Blaine Huff / Jared

    Last night you mentioned that you’d like to have a forum for chatting during games. The PBC Asylum chats every game (we start with a pre-game thread). We have so much chatter that we have to put up a new game thread every 3 innings.

    • You probably should be transparent to “Blaine Huff / Jared” that your part of that chatter so they can decide accordingly 🙂 :)…. Seriously, like this, it is a great site and Foo is an important part of that….

    • BucsDugout also has game chats. I have zip/zero/nada to do with that site, but will say that they readily accepted me as a newbie a couple years ago. Also, having it be part of a network makes it easy for me to drop into the Cards or Cubs sites to irritate them. I like the banter and wit as it’s not 100% partisan.

    • Another site? I’d feel like I was being unfaithful….

    • You should just tell all of those guys to come over here.

  • Tim
    I though Kang signed 4 year deal. Would he not have 3 years remaining or is option involved?

  • I am not a fan of the DH coming to the NL, but it is the only scenario in which I see the pirates extending Cutch. IMO, assuming the DH is inevitable in the next 3-5 years, extend Cutch now at 8 years 24-25M per season. His value/health will not diminish as quickly with the assumption that the end of the extension would primarily be as a DH.

    • No offense to Cutch, but I’d rather see him leave than the NL get the DH.

      • I’d rather see Cutch leave *and* the NL get the DH than pay any Pirate player $25m/yr through his mid-to-late 30s to only hit.

        • NO DH.

        • When people discuss the future path of guys like Harold Ramirez or Jose Osuna, I cant help but think how natural a fit it’d be to slide one of these guys to DH at rookie prices rather than market value for a DH.

          I hate the DH, but in the real world where thats a losing side to be on I see a few guys who are blocked/in a crowded field of guys but have the hit tool to possibly be on a ML roster.

          • The DH position averaged 115 wRC+ across the AL last year.

            I don’t mind the concept in itself, but as a Pirates fan, think they would/will be easily outgunned if their answer to filling that position is the likes of Jose Osuna, and would be wasting the value of a Harold Ramirez.

            My apologies to the American for a Liberated Osuna super PAC.

            • The only movement that I’ve seen that has been more bizarre than the Osuna Movement, was the Travis Snider Movement. JC, those guys acted like we traded Cutch…

            • I certainly dont mean to say either of those guys are locks to be high level DH options.

              But as Pirate fans, we should get used to the idea that we arent spending what it costs to get a league average hit only guy. They wont pay 10-12 million for a DH, so its either Cutch and a mega deal or a cheap guy that is otherwise blocked.

              If I have to “waste” some of Ramierz’s value, i’d do it to have an OF of Meadows-Marte-Polanco. You’d be able to rotate guys in that situation from OF to DH, helping value for each and giving rest to each.

              I put Osuna in their because i just want to watch the world burn.

              • When I said “wasting” the value of Ramirez I meant it in not using him as a trade chip. Way more valuable as an outfielder for another team than a DH for the Pirates. I won’t nitpick semantics if your comment about him being a “natural” fit for DH was just off the cuff, but I think it’s anything but.

                I have no delusions that the Pirates will be in the free agent market for a DH when it comes, and very much believe they’ll at least partially use the slot to rest some older legs, but also think AL history has shown that teams who do so *without* also having a legit bat for the majority of the days where a plain old DH is needed don’t get nearly as much out of the position. Hate to see the Pirates fall into a disadvantage there because of money, or lack thereof.

                Honestly, this might not be a bad year to take a big college masher with limited defense such as the Wake Forest kid Dreker highlighted over the weekend.

                • Wouldnt be a terrible player do it with, the hit skill seems insanely legit on him.

        • truth

    • Great point. The AL has an advantage right now in being able to sign aging hitters, in that they can still be productive in the lineup and get more days off. While McCutchen’s hit tool will likely age well, as he gets older, he probably won’t be able to play center field over a full season (and in the last few years, at all). DH solves that.

  • Cole & Bell won’t sign extensions because they already have made millions. Cole signed for $8M and has made over $1M playing the last 2+ years. Bell signed for $5M out of high school. Think about it, Bell has made over $5M since 2011 and hasn’t reached the majors, while Polanco has made less than $1M since signing in 2009. The common theme throughout baseball with guys who sign extensions early is that they didn’t receive large signing bonuses.

    I think that Cervelli and Melancon get QO’s if that is still a possibility after the new labor agreement. Their markets might be depressed afterwards allowing the Pirates to sign them to 3 year extensions.

    • I’m not sure that you’d want to put a $16 mil QO on a reliever (if that is still in effect, as you suggest).

      Cervelli, yes.

      • It’s a good post Leefoo…and I think all the posts when discussing the future has to be based on current MLB rules as nobody knows about DH and changes to the QA system… With that said, what a gamble it would be to offer MM a QA offer in current rules…. Be a deep breath from mgmt to do that but never underestimate another team trying to make a splash, fun stuff…

      • You really think Cervelli is worth a $16 million QO? I don’t.

        • I think its how one defines “worth a QO”.

          Is he worth 16 million? Likely not over a contract, and its not super wise for PGH given his age+skill set.

          Worth the risk of him taking a one year 16 million deal? Yeah, id say overall. Guys that took QOs arent exactly loving doing that so much that future guys will jump at it, so its far from a sure thing he takes 16 million in 1 year over 30-40 million spread over 3-4 years.

          If he did sign it, the team took a risk and failed but ended with his services without longterm risk. If he doesnt sign it, its what they want and we get something rather than nothing as he walks. Given he hasnt made a ton (compared to his peers) to this point in his career, Cervelli likely wants more than a 1 year deal if he’s coming off the 2 most productive years of his career. He knows how 1 year can crush value.

    • what did cutch sign for out of high school?

      • According to Baseball America, Cutch received $1.9M out of high school. Certainly not chump change but a far cry from Bell.

  • The extension negotiated for Gregory Polanco is a winner for the Pirates, but also shows how highly they value the kid. With his $3 mil signing bonus, $500K salary this year, and $1 mil salary in 2017, he will average about $2.25 mil/yr for 2016 and 2017, which were both pre-Arb years.

    A few weeks back I put up some numbers comparing him to Jason Heyward who was signed for $180 mil by the Cubs. He is not that far away from that level and he is only just starting his second full year of MLB Service. With the outfield locked in for at least 3 years, it gives the Pirates a lot of room to maneuver with Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez both at AA already.

    Newman at SS by the end of the 2018 season? I think he has the ability to move faster and could possibly see PNC a lot earlier than that. Hopefully the Pirates took note that he hit better after being promoted to a higher level of play last year, and three college years in the PAC 12 and two years of excellence in the Summer Cape Cod League have to mean something. I know the Pirates are deliberate, but in some cases and for some players, they want that challenge, and tend to do better under pressure.

    • Agreed on Newman. Given his pedigree, he should be up by the end of 2017.

      • Lots of guys have pedigree mate, for me you have to be patient and wait for actual performance, its not that easy, unfortunately…

  • Very good article, I would say Watson and MM will get deals done. Most likely after the season, and the CBA and TV deal with Root is taken care of. I would hope they sign Cerville for 2 years just to show Diaz and McGuire how handle the big leagues. Watson and MM will each get 2 or 3 year deals. That would keep the same team, who has the 2nd most wins the pat three years together through 2018.

    Cutch will retire a Pirate, most likely moving to a corner spot next year or so. The only reason is to save his body. They will build another statue at PNC Park for a great player that took a lot less money to bring and keep baseball in the burgh.

    • With yes extension first and no extension second…..I think Watson is a 50/50 possibility, MM is 5/95, Cervilli (tough one) 40/60 (Diaz health can change this), and Cutch 20/80… well that is how my little mind sees it, who knows…

      • The Pirates won’t let Watson and MM both leave. Pretty sure Watson has 1 or two years of team control through arbitration left. MM after this year they can either sign him or put the 1st round pick on him w a QO.

        Cerville is a million times better then Stewart and I would say it depends on how other teams view him. BUCS probably wouldn’t match a long term or high dollar offer. But I would see him staying in PGH on a 2 year 15 mil deal.

        Cutch doesn’t care about $, he knows he will be a God in PGH if he stays. The deal just has to be fair, 18-22 mil a year for 4 years is fair.

        • We will see says the blind man, I’m comfortable with my view at this time and point but anything can happen, of course… 🙂

        • Watson is controlled through next season.

          I doubt the Pirates will extend a QO to Melancon. The value will be over $16M, and I can’t see the Pirates giving that kind of money to a closer. I predict that Melancon will drop off some from last year (a combination of regression and aging), which will make it easier to let him walk.

          Predicting what Cutch will do at the end of 2018 is 99% psychology and 1% economics. I would be more surprised if he stays than if he leaves, but that’s just a guess.

          • Same

          • See what does this year, I’m not saying he is the next Lee Smith Dennis E, but the Shark doesn’t rely on a 100 MPH fastball. His stuff will stand the test of time. Again these are just my ideas. To me the Pirates put more emphasis on the bullpen. I see them keeping Watson and the Shark, till all those young arms are ready which will take a few years.

        • piraterican21
          April 6, 2016 10:19 am

          A QO for The shark could be a disaster, I believe that he will walk with out one, not sold on Watson getting an extension. All the pitching prospects down in AAA and AA will not be starters, add to that Caminero and Nicasio and I could see a bullpen with out Watson in two years. Cervelli imo needs to be extended and I’m in the camp that Cutch will not be here after his contract expires.

      • Look at you with the odds… 🙂

    • Wouldnt mind a cheap deal for Watson, him being a lefty at least gives hope that if he did regress he’d still be useful in some role.

      • “Wouldn’t mind a cheap deal for Watson”, who wouldn’t, for anyone good 🙂

        • Well the way they are evolving with using Watson i think his market is going to be far more dented than it should be.

          For a guy who has been as elite as he has been, he doesnt seem to get near the future payroll talk of Melancon.

          • I hope your right if it leads to a more desirable contract, for me I just couldn’t be more opposed…. Watson stats are crazy good, he seems to throw effortlessly, and maybe there is a past injury that I don’t know about but he seems really durable… He hasn’t made big money yet, and I assume he will look for it from us or FA… but I get your points just don’t agree mate.. thumbs up

  • formerdraftpick
    April 6, 2016 4:54 am

    When I first saw the title of the article, there was no doubt in my mind that Polanco had hair extensions and the trend was fading.

  • Looking forward to the previews

  • Joe Nastasi
    April 6, 2016 2:15 am

    Tim, I signed for 3 years last year, when do we start talking extension? I can be had for a discount!
    Just sayin

    • Hahahahaha! Me too! I want to retire as a PP subscriber!

    • Yes Tim Ive been a decent contributor off the bench. I know that my best days are behind me but I am a good clubhouse prescence. I could be the Sean Rodriguez of subscribers. I know it will not be popular but I do look like a tough dude that you don’t want to mess with.

      • I was gonna make the joke that you’re Bill Williams but you’re already Bill W!