I’m doubtful that the Pirates will spend money this offseason, for reasons I laid out yesterday. You could argue that they don’t really need to spend much for the 2021 season, as they don’t have much of a chance to contend in 2021. Their focus on spending should be for the future, when they have a better shot at being contenders again.
One way of doing this would be through extensions. The best candidate the Pirates have for an extension is third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. I broke down the 2020 season from Hayes on Monday, looking at how he compares to other rookies in Pirates’ history. I also looked at how the Pirates don’t have much prospect depth behind him. The projection for Hayes is that he could help to lead the team in the future, and he’s the only option at third base for the foreseeable future.
Hayes is under team control through the 2026 season, so it’s not like the Pirates need to rush to keep him around in the system. When you consider how the Pirates are expected to operate, you see the need for an extension.
Hayes will probably be traded at least a year before free agency, so that likely cuts down on how many years of the Pirates’ control of his service will be spent in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates don’t project to be good for at least a year of Hayes’ career, assuming they can turn things around and get back to the post-season in 2022.
So while Hayes is under control from 2021-2026, the Pirates are looking at 2022-2025 as seasons where they could win with Hayes on the roster.
Four years isn’t bad under a best case scenario. That involves the Pirates immediately turning things around on the front end of Hayes’ career, and keeping him until a year before free agency. The Pirates could very easily lose a year on either end, trading him early or not reaching contending status soon enough. Suddenly, two years of the Pirates contending with Hayes doesn’t sound as good.
An extension can change that view, while extending Hayes’ time with the Pirates further into the period where they project to have a better shot at being competitive.
What would such an extension look like so early in Hayes’ career?
There have been a few extensions signed in recent years where a player had less than a year of service time at the time of the deal. Most of those deals covered 8-9 years of service time, including option years. That makes sense for the timeline. The Pirates have six years of control with Hayes. You’d be looking for 2-3 years of control at the end of an extension, in exchange for guaranteeing a salary for those six years.
The most recent extension went to Luis Robert, who received a six year, $50 M deal before spending any time in the majors. Robert also received two club options for $20 M a year, with a $2 M buyout in each season. The max value of the deal would be $88 M over eight years.
That deal was signed by the White Sox, locking up a top prospect before he set foot in the majors. The White Sox did the same thing a year earlier with Eloy Jimenez. The young outfielder received $43 M guaranteed over six seasons, with two option years worth a combined $35 M, and a $3 M buyout in either year. The grand total would be $75 M over eight seasons of control.
The moves for the White Sox looked risky at the time. They guaranteed almost $100 M in two deals to prospects who hadn’t stepped foot in the majors. Both moves are looking great for the team one year later.
Jimenez has spent two seasons in the majors with a combined .276/.321/.527 line and 45 homers in 681 at-bats.
Robert just posted a 1.5 fWAR in his rookie year in 2020, hitting .233/.302/.436 with 11 homers in 227 plate appearances, along with positive defensive value in center field.
The price for this type of extension, based on these two deals, is about $50 M guaranteed for six years, and a max of $75-90 M possible over eight years.
The Pirates are in a different situation with Ke’Bryan Hayes. He came up in September 2020 and lit the league on fire. The Pirates have some kind of indication of what Hayes can do. That might actually put him in the same value range as Robert and Jimenez, since they were both top five prospects in the game, and Hayes was more in the 50 range heading into the season.
There’s one more recent extension I want to focus on, and that’s Ronald Acuna Jr. with the Braves in 2019. Acuna received a seven year deal that guaranteed around $100 M. This deal came the season after Acuna won the NL Rookie of the Year award. It also has a chance to go up an additional $24 M if all of his options are picked up.
That’s a ceiling that Hayes shouldn’t be expected to reach at this point. Acuna spent almost the entire year in the majors, enough for Super Two status in a future year, and won the Rookie of the Year award.
The difference in extensions between the top prospects who had yet to play in the majors and the Rookie of the Year entering his first full year of control are about $50 M in guaranteed money and $40-50 M in total potential money.
Let’s also look at a floor that Hayes won’t reach. The Seattle Mariners extended first baseman Evan White to a six year, $24 M deal last year, with three options. The max value of the deal could be $55.5 M over nine years.
White is a first baseman, so there’s a different value from Hayes. However, he was ranked right around where Hayes was ranked heading into the season. White didn’t have the same results that Hayes saw in the majors in 2020, but it doesn’t matter, as his future is locked down.
This shows the difference in value between a prospect in Hayes’ range pre-2020 and a top five prospect like Robert or Jimenez. The difference is about $20-25 M guaranteed and about $20-30 M overall potentially, not factoring in the differences in years.
I don’t think Hayes would go this low due to MLB experience and playing at a harder position to fill.
So where does the value lie with Hayes?
I’d put him in the Robert/Jimenez category. He’ll be prospect eligible in 2021, and should be one of the top prospects in the league after his 2020 showing. That would be worth a six year, $50 M extension with two option years that could take the total value to the $80-90 M range.
That move would keep Hayes under team control through the 2028 season. So if you’re doing the exercise from above where you remove two years from either end of Hayes’ control, you still get four years where the Pirates could win with him on the team. That’s a much better window frame, if you ask me.
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