The Pirates took a major step toward locking up their young core this afternoon, inking third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to an eight-year, $ 70MM extension, reports Robert Murray of Fansided. The deal, which represents both the largest guarantee ever given to a player with between one and two years of service time and the largest deal ever handed out by the Pirates, will keep Hayes in Pittsburgh through at least 2029. It also includes a club option for the 2030 season, the terms of which are not yet clear. Hayes is represented by The Ballengee Group.
The deal buys out three years of the third baseman’s free agency, which would have arrived at the conclusion of the 2026 season barring an unforeseen demotion. Hayes, who is entering his age-25 season in 2022, will now remain under team control through his age-32 (or age-33, should the Pirates exercise his option) season. While he could still be in line for a solid payday at that point should he remain productive, today’s extension is likely to cover the great majority of his prime years – meaning that his $ 70MM guarantee is likely to constitute a majority of his career earnings.
Since being promoted to the big leagues midway through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Hayes has been one of the few bright spots for a moribund Pirates franchise, slashing a world-beating .376 / .442 / .682 across 95 plate appearances across 24 games that September. His numbers came back to earth in 2021, perhaps as a result of an early-season wrist injury that held him out of action for roughly a third of the year and sapped him of much of his power. In his short career, Hayes has posted a .280 / .340 / .442 triple-slash in 491 trips to the plate while playing high-end defense at third, winning the 2021 Fielding Bible Award for third basemen (edging out stalwarts Matt Chapman and Nolan Arenado).
While keeping Hayes (the son of long-time big-leaguer Charlie Hayes) around for the long term is sure to promote some optimism within the long-suffering Pittsburgh fanbase, few expect the Bucs to contend in the immediate future. After losing 101 games in 2021, GM Ben Cherington hardly re-loaded in the offseason, trading for infielder Josh VanMeter and signing first baseman Daniel Vogelbach, outfielder Jake Marisnickand reliever Heath Hembree to low-cost free agent deals while trading starting catcher Jacob Stallings to the Marlins for right-hander Zach Thompson and a pair of minor leaguers. The club does have a series of high-end prospects on the horizon, however, including recently optioned 6’7 ″ shortstop Oneil Cruz and right-hander Roansy Contreras, both of whom are likely to see big-league action sooner than later. Second baseman Nick Gonzalez and righty Quinn Priester could also see the majors in 2022, while catcher Harry Ford is probably a year or two away.
Cherington’s success in locking up Hayes for the foreseeable future draws attention to questions surrounding the future of center fielder Bryan Reynolds, the other high-end talent on the Bucs’ active roster. Reynolds, who conducted his struggles 2020 struggles a fluke to the tune of a .302 / .390 / .522 triple-slash in 2021, is under club control through his age-30 season in 2025, reportedly turned down a number of extension proposals ahead of the 2021 season and didn’t re-engage with the club between the end of the season and the implementation of the lockout. He’s been the subject of endless trade rumors – he’s been directly linked to the Padres and Marlins this offseason – but Pittsburgh’s asking price is (understandably) sky-high. Even if they continue to go year-to-year with Reynolds (presently a Super Two, he’ll earn either $ 4.25MM or $ 4.9MM in 2022, depending on the outcome of an in-season arbitration hearing), the Bucs can expect their All-Star outfielder to play alongside their high-end up-and-coming talent for at least a few years before hitting the open market.
Indeed, while Hayes’ extension gives the Pirates the kind of cost certainty small-market clubs crave (as well as the potential for a boatload of surplus value), it is not likely to change their contention timetable. Even while competing in the NL Central, where the Cubs appear to be engaged in a mini-rebuild and neither the Brewers nor Cardinals seem to be interested in pushing all their chips in just yet, Pittsburgh isn’t likely to host October baseball for a few years yet.
That said, the unpredictability of prospect performance cuts in both directions, and the Pirates may have the sort of high-end prospect depth to take a big step forward as soon as 2023 – particularly if Cherington gets the go-ahead from ownership to add some payroll. At present, RosterResource projects the club to carry an Opening Day payroll of just $ 45MM (the lowest in Major League Baseball), and with almost nothing besides the Hayes extension committed beyond 2022. For a fanbase that hasn’t seen a meaningful game since losing the 2015 NL Wild Card Game (and still haunted by the 1992 NLCS), knowing the Bucs will hold onto their star third baseman for the bulk of his prime is likely the best news they’ve heard in a while.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.