Andrew McCutchen signed his extension after his second full season in the majors.
Starling Marte signed his extension after his first full season in the majors.
It wasn’t the best extension, but Jose Tabata signed his deal in the middle of his first full season in the majors.
Looking at those examples, it’s easy to see that we’re just now entering the time period where it makes sense for an extension for Gregory Polanco. This is all despite the fact that an extension seems hopeless, since the extension topic has surrounded Polanco since before he arrived in the majors. The truth is that we’re just now in the early stages for when you’d usually expect an extension.
And it’s not just the Pirates examples that point this out, but other examples around the league. There have been five contract extensions since 2011 with players who have less than a year of service time. During that same time, there have been 22 extensions for players with between one and two years of service time (including Tabata and Marte), and 33 extensions with players between two and three years of service time.
So Polanco is now entering the time where it makes sense for an extension. The only problem with that is it might not make sense for Polanco to sign an extension right now.
Polanco said today that he hasn’t heard from the Pirates, and that he’s still open to a deal. That was the extent of the conversation on his extension (speaking as the person who asked him if he’s still open to an extension), so what I’m about to follow with is pure speculation and opinion based analysis of the deal.
Right now, an extension for Polanco would be difficult. You look at Marte, and he was coming off a very good season where he posted a 4.8 WAR. He also came at a discount at $31 M guaranteed. By comparison, Christian Yelich had a 4.4 WAR in his first full season, and followed that by signing a $49.6 M guaranteed deal.
Polanco isn’t like Marte or Yelich. The upside is definitely there, and I could see a scenario where Polanco could be better than those guys. But he’s still an unknown. His first full season had a 2.3 WAR, which isn’t horrible, but about half of what Yelich and Marte put up. His season included a poor first half and a stronger second half. It included a high percentage of hard hit balls that went for outs. It included a nagging knee injury that might have played an impact on his performance.
If I’m Polanco, I’m not signing a deal right now, when there could be so much more guaranteed money available next year with a breakout 2016 season.
If I’m the Pirates, I try to get a deal done now by “overpaying” a bit for his current production, banking on the possibility that he does have the breakout season in 2016, and that “overpayment” would look like a value in a year. This comes with the disclaimer that I think Polanco will break out, and have been a huge fan of his upside for pretty much his whole career.
But you have to wonder the implications of giving Polanco such a deal. Let’s say that the Yelich deal is an “overpay”, since Yelich got that deal with much better production than Polanco had. That deal would guarantee Polanco more than Marte, even though Marte did more to deserve his deal. It would guarantee Polanco nearly as much as McCutchen was guaranteed. McCutchen had a 3.4 WAR his rookie season, followed by a 3.5 WAR his first full season, and a 5.5 WAR the year before his extension.
You’d have to think that it would send a bad message that Polanco was paid so much more than Marte, and about the same as McCutchen, for much less upside. So far, all of the deals we’ve heard about that have been turned down have been low in guaranteed money, but would pay Polanco if he is productive. And that seems about right at this stage in the game, before Polanco has that breakout campaign.
When two sides are open to an extension this early, the extension tends to get finished. But I’d be surprised if an extension for Polanco comes this early. It doesn’t seem to make sense for Polanco, because the potential risk far outweighs the potential reward if he has a breakout season. And if the Pirates paid him what they’d need to pay him to negate that reality, then they’d be taking on a ton of risk and giving him a high guarantee, which isn’t an approach they took with their other two outfielders. I feel like that wouldn’t go over well for them, if not for the other two outfielders, then for any future negotiations with high upside guys who want to be paid for that upside.
The good news is that Polanco is under team control through the 2020 season, so there is plenty of time for an extension. I wouldn’t be concerned about the lack of a deal until Polanco is eligible for arbitration. Until then, I could see there being road blocks to a deal until Polanco has his breakout season.
**Had some issues with the site last night, which some of you may have noticed with some weird error messages. I was able to get the error messages removed pretty quickly for you guys, although we had issues where we couldn’t post articles. Those were fixed overnight after an update to one of our plugins, which is why you are getting this First Pitch at 7:30 AM. We’ll have full coverage today of the arbitration deadline now that the site is working again.
**Pirates Avoid Arbitration With Jeff Locke. The first of the pre-arb agreements. There could be more today with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Francisco Cervelli, Jared Hughes, and Jordy Mercer eligible for arbitration. The Pirates like to reach deals before the deadline for arbitration filing, and go to arbitration no matter what once the numbers are filed.
**Chris Stewart Reportedly Agrees to Contract Extension. Another pre-arb agreement. I wrote why this move makes sense in the article. The summary: Stewart has been one of the best backup catchers in the league the last few years, and you can never have too much catching.
**Gregory Polanco Still Open to Extension With the Pirates. Polanco met with reporters yesterday at Pirate City and discussed being open to an extension, his hard hit ball data, his knee, and his stronger second half in 2015.
**Pirates Have the Top Rated Outfield in Baseball. Remember last year with the Pirates vs Marlins debate? It looks like the Pirates are leading that debate for now.
**Andrew McCutchen Drops Slightly in Center Field Rankings. The overall outfield rankings are good, but McCutchen dropped in a separate ranking of individual center fielders.
**Third Time Could Be the Charm For Jameson Taillon Arriving in the Majors. From Wednesday, Jameson Taillon is finally healthy and looking to make the jump to the majors, finally, after a few years of waiting.