Pittsburgh Pirates: Team's Next Extension Candidates
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates have now broken their highest contract record twice in two years by extending two integral players to their future. With the team hinting at pursuing more extensions, who else could be on their radar?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have outdone themselves over the last two years in terms of extensions. Before the first game of the 2022 season, the Pirates announced they extended third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to a then franchise record setting eight-year, $70 million guaranteed. They broke their own franchise record once again by signing Bryan Reynolds to an eight-year, $106.75 million contract. According to the Pirates, they’re not done with extending their young core, so who could potentially be next?
Oneil Cruz should be on the forefront of Pirate extension talks. Cruz opened the season as arguably the Pirates’ most talented player. Cruz made some improvements of his own late last season. He batted .275/.353/.523 with a 145 wRC+ from August through the end of the year. He cut down the amount of times he was swinging outside the strike zone and started to become more patient at the dish.
Cruz opened the 2023 season with six hits, including a double and a home run through his first 40 plate appearances. Even better was he struck out just eight times while drawing seven walks, but an awkward slide in the team's first home series of the season will cause him to miss most of the 2023 season. Cruz may return in late-August, and could start the foundation of a future long term contract with the Pirates.
In terms of the starting pitchers, Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras are prime potential extension candidates. After a rough first game, Keller has reeled off 31.2 innings with a 2.90 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 1.10 WHIP. Keller has struck out over a quarter of the batters he’s faced with a 25.4% strikeout rate and has only allowed a free pass to 6.3% of his opponents. He also only has an HR/9 rate of 0.87. This is after posting a 3.20 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP through his final 123.1 innings of 2022. Keller has come a long way from looking like a potential bust to living up to his prospect hype.
Contreras has also been very good to start the 2023 season. In 27.2 innings, Contreras has a 3.58 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP. While his 20.7% strikeout rate and 10.3% walk rate are not great, he’s yet to allow a home run yet. These numbers are a tad inflated given he gave up seven earned runs, walked four batters, and only struck out three in his second game against the Houston Astros. Contreras has since pitched 18.1 innings allowing just three earned runs, seven walks, striking out 19, and holding opponents to an elite 28.9% hard hit rate.
I would love to see the Pirates extend David Bednar. Since the Pirates acquired the Pittsburgh native, Bednar has been nothing but dominant. In 124.1 innings and counting, Bednar has a 2.24 ERA, 2.43 FIP, and 1.01 WHIP. He’s struck out nearly a third of opponents with a 32.6% strikeout rate, and has a walk rate of just 7.3%. Bednar has an HR/9 rate of just 0.65 as well. While WAR for relievers isn’t the best stat to use, it is worth mentioning that he is top ten. Relievers aren’t typically the highest priority when it comes to extending players, but there’s not a single Yinzer who doesn’t want Bednar here for a long time.
Aside from that, the Pirates could kick the tires with some players. Johan Oviedo and Rodolfo Castro are definitely players the Pirates should keep in mind. While Cruz, Keller, and Contreras may take priority, these two have been very integral to the Pirates’ early season success, and both are very talented players. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates move forward with potential extension talks. It’s clear they’ve been more willing over the last two years to open the checkbook when it comes to keeping young players who are vital to the long term of this club. Maybe we see another early season extension in 2024, or another one this winter.