Each of the past two seasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have given out an extension to a key building block piece, Mitch Keller should be next in line to get paid
Recent years have shown that the Pittsburgh Pirates are willing to give extensions in order to lock up talented young players. In 2022, the Pirates and Ke’Bryan Hayes agreed on an eight-year, $70 million contract extension. They repeated this by signing Bryan Reynolds to another eight-year extension, this time for $106.75 million, which was also the first $100 million contract in franchise history.
Then, the speculation train officially left the station regarding which player would get the next extension. One of the first names mentioned was Oneil Cruz, which makes sense. If Cruz continues to develop and make the most of his five tools, the Pirates could then have a generational talent at shortstop for years. But while Cruz has given moments of brilliance that should excite the fanbase, he has not shown it over an entire season. Unlike another extension candidate who has – Mitch Keller.
2023 was a big year for Keller. He was coming off a disappointing 2022 which saw him earn five wins (matching his 2021 wins total), 12 losses, and a 3.91 ERA. There was even a point when Keller ranked worst in the league in several major categories including a .241 win percentage, 6.12 ERA, and 1.70 WHIP.
But expectations from the team (and Keller himself) were high, and Keller thrived enough in Spring Training to get the ball on Opening Day in Cincinnati.
He then put in an impressive first half of the season which saw him with 9 wins and making his first All-Star Game. July was a difficult month as Keller started a streak of 5 straight losses. But then he turned it around and finished the season strong with 194 innings pitched, 210 strikeouts, and his first career complete game shutout.
Keller is showing signs of being a reliable big league starter and in a league where starting pitching comes at a premium, it is not difficult to see why the Pirates would be interested in getting an extension done sooner rather than later. It would benefit both parties. Keller would get some career stability and be rewarded for the improvements he made in 2023, and the Pirates would get several years of a quality starting pitcher that they can trust as they look to build and strengthen their pitching staff. Keller might not be the ace teams dream about, but he can be a solid mid-rotation arm.
Keller is 27 years old and the Pirates have control for two more years. While there is still time, that time will be up quickly. Keller has already publicly stated that he would be open to an extension with Pittsburgh, saying that he wants to be a part of the team and thinks there is a good window to win coming. But talk is one thing, putting your name on the dotted line is another. Quality pitching is valuable and getting Keller to agree to stay will not come cheap.
Comparable contracts have a large range. A recent example of the high end would be Logan Webb’s five-year, $90 million with the Giants, while Sandy Alcantara took an (in retrospect) more club friendly deal of five-year, $56 million deal with Miami. The Pirates have now shown they are willing to pay to keep talented players. The goal would be something similar to Alcantara, but they might have to increase a little to get their man. A deal in the range of five-year, $60 – $70 million would not be unrealistic to keep a player who was a bright spot of the 2023 season with the team for more years to come.