Yesterday, Pittsburgh Pirates starting right fielder Gregory Polanco signed a 5 year contract with two options. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports notes that Greg’s deal could increase to $58 million of the two options are exercised with escalators bringing the total up to a potential $60 million. In reality the Pirates had Polanco under team control through the end of the 2020 season, as he only has one year and 103 days of service time, so thee extension is really a one year extension with it being a max of a three-year extension. But this deal does two things, one for both Polanco and the Pirates.
For Polanco, this contract gives him security if he does not end up living up to his full expectations. The 24-year-old, who will not turn 25 until September, started off his career hot. He had an eleven game hit streak to start, with a slash of .365/.421/.442, while only having a strikeout rate of 14 percent. But in his final 78, only 52 were starts, Polanco hit .204/.282/.320 with a strikeout rate of 20 percent. Polanco ended his hyped 2014 debut season, which included a return to the minors, with a .235/.307/.343 line and a 18.9 percent strikeout rate. Even Polanco’s defense was shaky and was not what many fans expected as he produced a UZR/150 of -6.7, as he finished 68th among the 98 outfielders with a minimum of 600 innings played. He improved in 2015, producing a slash of .256/.320/.381, a strikeout rate of 18.6 percent, his extra base hit percentage increased from 5.1 percent to 7.7 percent, his at bats per strikeouts improved from 4.7 to 4.9, and his in play percentage improved from 68 percent to 71 percent. His UZR/150 went up to 7.7, as he finished 30th of the 93 outfielders who had a minimum 600 innings played. Polanco in 2015 was an improvement from 2014 and he looks to springboard that into a strong 2016, which started off great in yesterdays opener. But if he does not improve at all, this new deal gives him the financial security players seek. If he waited it out and went to arbitration, there was a chance he would earn more. However, by signing this deal he has the security in case he does not progress further or in case he gets hurt.
The second thing this contract does is give the Pirates more payroll flexibility, the thing General Manager talked about when trading Travis Snider in the 2015 off-season. One win above replacement is worth roughly $7 million, so Polanco would have to have to produce a WAR of 8.57 over the course of the 7 years, which trickles down to 1.22 wins above replacement each year (based off of last years worth). Last season Polanco produced a WAR of 2.6, so he would have been worth $18.2 million last season. If Greg doesn’t pan out more than what he was last season, and produces a similar WAR, he would have be worth $127.4 million over 7 years, which would provide the Pirates an excess of $66.9 million per win. And even if pitchers inflate the amount of money each win is worth, the Pirates can still come out ahead. Say, excluding pitchers, a win was worth $3 million (I don’t know what the exact value is, just an example), Polanco would only would have to produce a WAR that is about 2.86 per year over the max life and max amount. Both a WAR of 1.22 and 2.86 are marks that Polanco should reach, so regardless the Pirates will look to have saved money that way without going through arbitration. The money that the Bucs have saved from both Marte and now Polanco can go into free agency, trades at the deadline, Cole in arbitration (extension very unlikely) or an Andrew McCutchen extension.
In conclusion what this Polanco deal does, is give the Pirates a max of three extra years of club control. It gives Polanco certain financial security, which may allow for a looser and more relaxed Greg. And it gives the Pirates a young player that will most certainly provide an excess of money that can be used elsewhere.
*Numbers from baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com