So far, only the Tabata deal looks like a mistake on Hungtington’s part, as the outfielder is due $4 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016 – and appears unlikely to start heading into the regular season. With the team trying to lock up key players to long-term deals, who might the other extension candidates for the Pirates be in the near future?
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The Pirates have already had extension talks with the Pittsburgh kid this offseason, and the second baseman seems like the most logical player to extend. He is coming off potentially the best offensive season of his career, setting career highs in home runs and slugging percentage, and is entering his third year of arbitration eligibility. Neil Walker is scheduled to make $8 million this year, a raise from $5.75 million the year before, and that number could be higher than $10 million next season.
Walker has only two years of team control left, and the rare offensive power he displays as a second baseman along with (maybe) the fact that he’s from the Pittsburgh area are all reasons the team might look to extend him in the near future. But his injury history (he’s played more than 140 games only once in his career) and the Pirates’ low payroll means Walker may only see one or two more years in a Pirates uniform. Alen Hanson and Jeong-ho Kang are ready to take over if he leaves.
Having turned down a seven-year deal potentially worth upwards of $50 million early last season, Gregory Polanco chose to bet on himself, and for a while that seemed like a very good decision. He batted .328 in Triple-A Indianapolis in 2014, and got off to a hot start after his major league call-up last June. Unfortunately for him, that hot start did not last, as his batting average fell to .235 and Travis Snider took over the duties of the every day right fielder.
The Pirates see Polanco as the starting right fielder this season, and if he plays to his potential, he could be the missing piece to an already star-studded outfield that has had big problems in right field the past two seasons. It might be best to extend Polanco sooner rather than later, as his stock might be lower now than it will be in the future.
…if [Polanco] plays to his potential, he could be the missing piece to an already star-studded outfield
Gerrit Cole is the first in a string of potential future homegrown aces to be seen on the Pirates pitching staff. Over his one-and-a-half seasons in the big leagues, Cole has been a solid, reliable pitcher, with a career ERA of 3.45 and a 238/68 K/BB ratio.
But the best teams in baseball often have aces, and the Pirates want and may need Cole to take that next step towards being an ace in the near future. Cole is very capable of being one, with the ability to hit 100 mph and his improving repertoire of pitches to compliment that heater.
The one obstacle in the Pirates way may be the fact that Cole is represented by super agent Scott Boras, who tends to see many of his clients go to free agency rather than sign extensions. But if the Pirates want anyone to head their staff for the foreseeable future, it’s Cole, who has the highest upside of any pitcher on the current staff.
There are a few other names that the Pirates might explore extensions with as well. Josh Harrison is coming off a year in which he finished ninth in NL MVP voting and is looking to show why he deserves to be the Pirates’ starting third baseman. With no viable third base options in the system, Harrison could be the future at that position.
Vance Worley has the potential to be a good middle of the rotation pitcher, and might be a given a good look by management if he repeats the success he had last year.
On the other side of things, Jordy Mercer may have to compete for his job in the near future with Jeong-ho Kang in town, so the Pirates may not look to extend him just yet. And Pedro Alvarez, with Josh Bell waiting in the wings and Scott Boras as his agent, may not be in Pittsburgh much longer – especially if he struggles again in 2015 at the dish.
Whatever happens, I expect Huntington to make smart extension decisions and secure a great future for the Pirates franchise.