In the early months of the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to extend one of their everyday players. Are there any candidates on the current roster who could be in line for an extension this year?
To say that the Pittsburgh Pirates need to be smart with their money is an understatement.
Unlike teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh cannot make make expensive mistakes. Last season the Pirates extended Francisco Cervelli and the year before that it was Josh Harrison who received a multiyear contract.
It seems as if each year over the past several, the Pittsburgh Pirates sign someone to an extension early in the season. Will this recent history hold true in 2017? We’ll take a look at three of the top candidates for such an extension.
Though all of these players are young and unproven, signing them to an extension is not such a crazy idea. An underrated aspect of the Pirates’ M.O. in signing extensions is to gain a certain level of cost control, even through arbitration years. Knowing who you’re paying, and how much you’re paying them, in advance can help a club like the Pirates operate on the financial fringes they often find themselves in.
The first player that we’ll look at is Jameson Taillon. After an assortment of injuries that continued to push his debut back, Taillon put together a great rookie season in 2016. He started 18 games for the club and went 5-4 with a 3.38 ERA. He also struck out 85 compared to just 17 walks, and impressive rate and an excellent example of the control Taillon has on the mound. 2017 could be the year that Taillon solidifies his role as a top of the rotation Pittsburgh Pirates starter.
What are the chances?
Taillon looks to be an exceptional pitcher, and exceptional pitchers are a premium in today’s game. While the team probably would like to lock him up to a long term deal and buy out some of his free agent years, the reality is that Taillon is not going to come cheap. Now, there is always the chance that Taillon would be open to it given his injury history and he may want to take the financial security. But if he continues to pitch the way he has, he’s going to be in line for a very big payday down the line.
From the team’s perspective, they will likely want to see more from Taillon before investing such a large chunk of their future into his arm. Though an early season extension is not likely, the team may want to start the process in midseason should Taillon have an excellent start to the year.
Josh Bell was another top prospect who broke into the big leagues in 2016. Bell made an impact immediately, clubbing a grand slam in just his second game (and just his second at-bat with the Pittsburgh Pirates). He showed incredible patience at the plate, drawing 21 walks to just 19 strikeouts. 2017 should see Bell getting the lion’s share of playing time at first base while occasionally making an appearance in the outfield.
What are the chances?
In his 128 at-bats last season, Bell hit just three home runs. But before his callup, he clubbed 14 for Indianapolis, so the power may eventually show at the big league level. His defense at first base has been suspect at times, so he’ll need to make up his shortcomings on the field when in the batter’s box. If he cleans up the defense and adds some power, the Pirates should absolutely explore an extension with him. He and his agent will be aware of the interest from other clubs when he hits free agency, so just like his teammate Taillon, he will not come cheap. Also like Taillon, the chances of him agreeing to a deal are fairly low. With no injury history to speak of, the club may be more apt to push for an extension with Bell.
Felipe Rivero joined the organization as part of the return from the Washington Nationals for Mark Melancon. Between what he did with the Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s easy to see why Neal Huntington acquired him. He struck out 92 in 77 innings and could be a lights out lefty from the bullpen for years to come. Rivero could be a candidate for some save opportunities in 2017 if Tony Watson falters.
What are the chances?
Of the three players profiled, Rivero may be the most likely to be open to a contract extension. The extension could be pitched to him in a way that it is framed to show him as the closer, because he certainly has the stuff to be a dominant one. While there is a trend in late inning pitchers getting large long term contracts, it’s only a matter of time before teams realize it’s not worth handing out these types of deals to players who pitch about 70 innings a year. If Rivero has another good year, he should definitely be approached about an extension. His profile is so much different from anything else the Pirates have in the bullpen and could be a cornerstone of late inning success for many years.
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