While I was writing up profiles for our Mid-Season Top 50 eBook (available now for just $9.99), a thought occurred to me: the Pirates don’t have to make a decision on Corey Dickerson anytime soon.
I’ve had this thought before, and it’s something that came up after the team traded away Austin Meadows. That move opened a hole in the outfield following the 2019 season, when Dickerson is set to become a free agent. And the immediate response following the Meadows trade was that the Pirates needed to make a Dickerson extension a priority.
Dickerson currently has a 2.4 fWAR with a .312/.346/.504 line in 381 plate appearances. He has been one of the best offensive performers on the team this year, and one of the most valuable all-around players on the team. So you can see why there would be calls to extend him.
I feel that an extension, at least from the financial standpoint, would be similar to the Francisco Cervelli extension. At this point you’re probably not getting a discount over what you would pay for him on the free agent market. An extension would protect you if he blows up next year and prices himself out of the Pirates’ range. But I feel it’s more likely that he either stays the same, or possibly regresses a bit, to the point where the Pirates can wait until he’s a free agent to make a decision.
Here’s why they should wait, regardless: They might not need to spend the money at all.
Their short-term replacement options are Bryan Reynolds, Jordan Luplow, and Jason Martin. While writing the profiles for those three, I could envision a scenario where each player could be a better option than Dickerson in his age 31 season and beyond.
Let’s start with Reynolds, who we had rated 12th, and who I think could be rated higher than that by the end of the year (or it could be argued that he could be rated higher right now). In his jump to Double-A, he’s showing more walks, the same solid strikeout rate of around 19%, a good ability to hit for average, and an ISO in the .150 range. That last part is significant because he had hamate surgery, which is supposed to sap a player’s power for up to a year. His recent games have seen even more power production, which is encouraging.
If Reynolds can continue adding power, while still hitting for average, getting on base, and limiting strikeouts, then he could be a nice well-rounded player. He’s got the defense to play center field if needed, and should be a good option in left field at PNC Park. He should make the jump to Indianapolis either late this year or by Opening Day next year, and could be an option for the majors by the second half of 2019.
Then there’s Jordan Luplow, who we’ve already seen in the majors for a brief time. He was our number 13 prospect, and has already shown off some of his power in the big leagues, with a .182 ISO in 134 plate appearances. The problem is that he’s not hitting for average, and not getting on base nearly enough to make up for the low average. It’s also not like he’s been overmatched. He has a 14.9% strikeout rate this year and an 8.5% walk rate, but his .147 BABIP leads to the low average. Granted, that’s an extremely small sample of 47 plate appearances, so I’m not sure how much we can take from that.
The encouraging thing here is that Luplow has already shown some power in the majors. He’s shown the ability to hit and get on base in the minors, with some brief success in the majors in 2017, and not looking overmatched in his brief time in the majors this year. He also doesn’t turn 25 until next month, so it’s not like he’s done developing or adjusting to the big leagues.
Finally, there is Jason Martin who ranked 14th in our list, and it’s only coincidental that those three ended up in a row (they were originally split up by other players who ended up moving up and down in the rankings). Martin has shown some power this year in Altoona, along with a lowered strikeout rate and a better walk rate than last year in Double-A. He’s carried some of that over to Triple-A, but has been inconsistent, and slumping lately.
There are questions about whether his power will translate to the majors, but if it does, he will have the power to at least be a bench guy. And if he can maintain his progress this year with more walks, fewer strikeouts, and a better average, then he could emerge as a starting outfield prospect.
I can’t say that any of these three guys right now look like better options than Dickerson. And I also can’t say that any of these guys have a strong chance to match the performance we’re seeing from Dickerson this year. But that’s not really the point.
The point is that the Pirates have time to see how these three are going to develop. Perhaps this story is different around this time next year. Maybe one of these three emerge as a future starter. Maybe none of them do. Maybe Dickerson doesn’t follow up with the same results next year. Maybe he has a better year and looks even more like an extension candidate.
The only scenario where the Pirates would lose here is if Dickerson has an even bigger year next year and none of these guys emerge as replacement options. But the odds of all of that happening are so small that the Pirates don’t need to rush to make a decision on Dickerson, especially when they’re not likely to get a big discount by signing Dickerson early.
If it comes to a point where none of these guys are looking like options for the 2020 season, and Dickerson continues to look strong, then the Pirates need to extend him. But I don’t think we’re at that point just yet.