Someone once told me, the first impediment to real change is designating certain discussion points or actions sacred cows.
Essentially what that means is when you decide some things are untouchable you’re limiting your thought on a subject and in some cases halving what you can actually get accomplished.
The Pirates clearly have taken this advice.
When they say all options are on the table, they weren’t kidding and it’s not just the trades, it’s the international signings, the waiver pick ups, the Rule 5 pick ups and soon, yes it could also be extensions.
Extensions are something this team has done for quite some time to lock up players through their arbitration years, from Cutch to Tabata and on to Nate McLouth they haven’t been shy about using this method to gain cost certainty with varying degrees of success.
I hear all the time that the Pirates move everyone as soon as they cost money, and to a degree, of course, that’s true for some players like Gerrit Cole. Nobody here is going to try to paint a picture that Nutting does enough, but they have an extensive history of these types of extensions, one of which they’re still paying for in the form of Gregory Polanco.
I’ve told you before the moves we’re watching right now are much more about control and value than they are about money. The simplest way to illustrate it is really Polanco himself. He makes a ton of money as he signed an extension long ago and to be kind he’s not lived up to it. If he had, he’d almost assuredly be on the move himself. In fact had they decided to move him a couple years ago he probably would have returned a decent package (well maybe not with Neal) based on his potential.
At some point though, what could have been simply isn’t. Now the Pirates are stuck with him for lack of a better way of putting it. Be happy they are, because sometimes the alternative, you know, when you’re solely focused on cutting payroll, you might get someone to take him off your hands and package in a couple prospects to get it off your books. Remember Liriano to Toronto?
Yesterday after the news of Jameson Taillon’s move to the Yankees broke, multiple reporters openly opined the Pirates should be using the money they saved (2.3 Million, I’ll get into why this is silly in a minute) to immediately extend some players like Hayes, Reynolds or Keller.
Now, as promised, it’s silly because that 2.3 million wasn’t stopping them from exploring such an extension in the first place. In fact, I’d be shocked if an extension would even touch this year’s payroll much if at all.
Second, the request assumes that these moves were about saving money, which is just false. See, it’s fine for some of you to think that, you’re fans, you’re supposed to just want a good team, I get it. And you’re tired of hearing we’ll be good in XX year. Completely identify with that, understand that, blah blah.
All of these moves are for naught if Bob Nutting doesn’t step up when Ben says he needs money. It’s the elephant in the room and everyone knows it, I’d bet nobody knows it more than Ben.
What these reporters are calling for is the placating of a fan base and let’s be clear, an extension doesn’t mean they can’t move the player in fact it can actually help.
Take Nate McLouth, in 2008 he was an absolute star, literally an All Star. He hit 46 doubles, 25 homeruns with a .276 batting average and on top of that won a gold glove. The Pirates extended him and the fans were elated because the Bucs did the right thing. Then the following June he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.
Based on what Nate did after being dealt and what those two did here in Pittsburgh, pretty good trade, but at the time it felt like an utter betrayal. It also seemed utterly stupid they extended him the year prior, but it provided the cost certainty the Braves were looking for and probably got that deal done.
The Pirates basically bought control of the player. An extra couple years to make decisions.
Now, let’s take the Pirates current, most popular targets for an extension and let’s eliminate what would make us feel good.
Ke’Bryan Hayes – First of all, he’s played one month. He has 6 more years on the club (ok 5 before they have to trade him) unless they extend him. In his one month he looked and put up numbers like Ted Williams. It was exciting, but it also isn’t realistic to expect him to stay at that level. So do you approach him right now, with what he’s put on tape looking for an extension or do you let him show you another year to both show you it’s real or more accurately show you what he isn’t?
I could get behind extending him much like the White Sox did with Luis Robert, but I don’t want any parts of paying the rate his one month would warrant.
I’m not comparing the players, but when the Pirates extended Jose Tabata it followed a stellar rookie campaign in which he hit .299 and finished 8th for Rookie of the Year in 2010. It was an insanely one sided offer, 14.75 million bought out his arbitration years and three option years with a $250K buyout were tacked on locking him up through 2019. Well, obviously we didn’t make it, he was traded to the Dodgers in 2015 for Michael Morse, on April 13th 2016 and Morse was released on the 21st. This, was a dump, and a justified one.
Bryan Reynolds – A tremendous rookie campaign followed up by a terrible two month stretch that unfortunately counts as a full season. I put just as much stock in his two month 2020 as I do Hayes’ one month. I need to see more.
I don’t get the impression Bryan would think he should be scared into accepting a low ball offer because he struggled for a stretch so I’d get dreams of locking him down on the cheap out of your head. That said, I could see them potentially approaching him at some point during the season to at least open the dialogue.
Mitch Keller – I mean, he’s the best of what’s left right? Two or three good starts do not a superstar make. And pitchers aren’t blind, they know how much they’re worth on the open market. This could get done, but I truly can’t see entertaining this until after the 2021 season. You want to see if he stays healthy, and more so, how he evolves.
All three of these players have something none of the players moved out of town posses, time. The Pirates have time to decide if they’re part of the future window or not and the players themselves have time to decide if they want to be.
Now, when you’re talking about buying out someone’s year 28 and 29 seasons, it’s an easier conversation than if say they had approached Jameson Taillon. See he was already 29 and won’t reach free agency until he’s 31, an extension for him would take him into his early 30’s and this is a guy who’s never really gotten paid. The chances of him accepting a team friendly deal and not betting on himself, in my mind, slim to none. I’m not even touching the reality that he doesn’t profile as a guy who will pitch late into his 30’s.
So while Bob Nutting spending money is indeed the elephant in the room, that shouldn’t lead anyone to rush into a prove it to me deal. The Pirates just need to stay aware, stay smart and more importantly be honest with themselves.
Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not going to make you smile. It’s not going to placate you or prove to you that Nutting will spend when the time comes. But history tells you, when it comes to extensions, the Pirates have done it quite a bit. Not everyone, not always the right call, but they’ve taken the leap and I have no reason to believe they won’t again.