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Smart money is on Polanco … and approaching elite talents early

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have fallen out of the gate, but you can applaud their off-the-field strategy of aggressively targeting young, core players to lock up to long-term deals. Earlier this offseason I wrote and about how teams should – and might have to be – more aggressive in locking  up young players as free agency and arbitration salaries continue to soar, lessening the incentive for players to sign long-term deals early in their careers, particularly as they draw closer to arbitration and free agency.

And the Pirates were as aggressive as any team in baseball history in offering a contract to Gregory Polanco.

As you have probably heard by now and was first reported by Yahoo!, the Pirates offered Polanco a 7-year, $25-million deal, which CBSSports.com reported included three options years that could have pushed the deal to a 10 years and near $60 million.

Had Polanco accepted the terms, it would have been the earliest any player was signed to a long-term deal in MLB history. (The Houston Astros offered a deal like Polanco’s to George Springer, which was also rejected earlier this spring. The are the two most aggressive known contract offers made to players with zero days of service time in MLB history.)

Evan Longoria signed a six-year deal with three club options nine days into his Major League career, but I can’t recall any player signing such a long-term deal before arriving at the major leagues.

(Side note: I guess Polanco is ready for the majors after all. Had he signed the deal, he’s not in Indy.)

Big picture: this is the most leverage the Pirates will ever have with Polanco. His major league service time has not begun. He did not sign for millions of dollars as a first-round pick, he signed out of the Dominican for $150,000 five years ago. Such a contract would give Polanco and his family security regardless of whether Polanco turns into a star or even stays healthy. For the Pirates, Polanco is a player to bet on. I think he’s third most valuable asset in the organization after Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

More than 100 players on major league rosters have signed extensions as young players, deals that have bought out arbitration years and at least one year of free agency. But because pre-arb dollars are so undervalued, and because such contracts are typically far below eventual market value, John Hart - who pioneered the strategy – told me this winter he thought clubs would no longer be able to wait a couple years into a players’ MLB career to get such deals done. He thought clubs would have to be more aggressive earlier in a players’ careers – or in the case of Springer and Polanco teams are targeting players before their careers begin.

And players are still saying ‘No.’

Still, it’s a smart approach by the clubs. And remember Starling Marte turned down the Pirates’ first overture, so there’s still a chance this gets done. And if it gets done that’s a big deal. The Pirates are trying to lock up what might become the game’s best outfield for the majority of the rest of the decade (McCutchen is under control through 2018) and controlled costs.

This is how small-market teams remain relevant. This is how a small-market team maximizes its dollars spent.

-TS

 

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Comments

  1. Steve Halvonik says:

    What’s to applaud? All this proves is that the Pirates are acknowledging that Polanco is ready to play in the bigs but they are not promoting him for financial reasons.

  2. Jim S. says:

    I say it still gets done. Maybe not before Polanco arrives in Pittsburgh, but then maybe in a similar timeframe to what Marte did. Polanco’s agent may have convinced him to hold off on the millions for now in order to get many more millions. Or, maybe Polanco himself felt the deal was not rich enough. But, the fact is he is still not a rich man and, like most people, I’m guessing he would like to be a rich man. I think the offer will go up, and it will get done within a year or so. Even if he stumbles a bit out of the gate this year, the Bucs will still want to ink him to a long deal. They are drooling about that 3-headed OF as much as we fans are.

  3. Steve D says:

    i agree with your statement, but with the hitting seeminly to start to come around some, i doubt our wishes come true. I thought maybe with this homestand he would majically come up, maybe next one? Doubt i will be buying my polanco jersey anytime soon.

  4. Leo Walter says:

    ” What’s to applaud ” ???? Uhhh…maybe the fact they attempted to get him signed this early ?

  5. chethejet1 says:

    Unlike the NFL, these are guaranteed contracts. He can still hit the open market if becomes the player we all hope. Only the last year of his arb year looks to be big. Pedro led the league in homers and is a what 4 million. If he hits 28 homers with 90 RBI’s what dictates a significant raise over this year? Bucs are taking a risk of injury and that he simply doesn’t meet expectations. Draft well, develop and trade current assets is the way to go. Pedro is gone if he continues the same level of production. Hello Yankees. These players are assets or better yet commodities and treat them as such.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Exactly. It shows the Pirates have the right thought process here … and they are only one of two teams we know to have tried to a player to such an aggressive extension.

  7. Chuck H says:

    This is a new one on me. Just who in the hell does Polanco think he is? We all know who he is- a young (22) minor league unproven major league prospect. Greedy is the word that comes to mind and he wants paid even before he performs in the biggies. Sure, lots of players can hit minor league pitching, but it becomes a lot different up here with the big boys, as Pedro Alverez, and many other minor league STARS have discovered. I know that his price will be too high for the Pirate CHEAPIES to pay. Probably another Yankee future player. Maybe he thinks he is better than he really is. Time will tell.

  8. Jim S. says:

    I want to make sure I have this straight. Polanco turned down so much money that he’s greedy, but yet it couldn’t have been much money because the “cheapie” Pirates made the offer. Which is it?

  9. Bob L says:

    Fact is, both parties were smart; the Pirates for offering and Polanco for rejecting. It’s the nature of negotiation, and I’d be surprised if a deal doesn’t get done by next off season at the latest.

  10. Nate83 says:

    I agree with Jim that this eventually gets done. It’s probalby going to be closer to 30-35 for his first six with only 2 free agent years bought out. Probably for another 30 or so.

    I don’t blame the kid for waiting especially if the Pirates are not budging on the 3 option years. If he becomes a stud free agent dollors in 2021 could be upwards of 25-30 million per year which sounds like about what they offered for all 3 years.

  11. Chuck H says:

    We’re not sure he will make it as a major leaguer. It’s not about the money. I still say he’s greedy, and that Pirate ownership is cheap. Someone always getting it out of text, Gees!!!

  12. Tony says:

    How sweet would it be if he signed a contract in the next 24 hours, and is called up for Friday night’s game against the Cards. All 3 games would be sellouts, not to mention his debut on national TV Sunday night.

    Whether he signs or not, bring him up now that Irwin has been optioned back to Indy.

  13. John Lease says:

    Right thought process? What if he’s a gigantic bust? So far the only thing the Pirates would gain is cost certainty. They lose roster flexability, and the opportunity to spend that money somewhere else.

  14. Steelkings says:

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  15. cmat0829 says:

    Sometimes I just have to read these blogs and laugh. All Spring we have heard that Polanco needs to be on this team and the Bucs are stupid to keep him in Indy… now we hear criticism for the Pirates to offer Polanco a contract because he could be a bust. Too funny.

    And we also hear that if Polanco is called up, all Pirates games will be sellouts. Not sure any one player, even the Apostle Polanco, has the ability to sell out PNC Park if it were otherwise not going to be so. But definitely a good laugh tonight , so thanks for the laughs.

    I do applaud the Pirates, that after carefully watching Polanco’s development over the past FIVE YEARS they believe he has the ability to be a very good MLB player and therefore it is worth the investment… it isn’t like they just picked up this guy at a random tryout and he is an unknown commodity… yes, there is a lot to prove on the major league level which is why this offer is not $100M right out of the gate…. it is a risk, but a risk well worth taking.

  16. Steelkings says:

    Cmat said:
    …. it is a risk, but a risk well worth taking.
    _____________________________________________________
    Travis said:
    Big picture: this is the most leverage the Pirates will ever have with Polanco.

    ____________________________________________________

    Steelkings Reply:

    If that is the case then why would not the Pirates offer Pedro Alvarez an extension. He’s hitting .206. Based on timing, wouldn’t it be a good time to extend El Toro

  17. Steve D says:

    if they could go ahead and call him up before May 25th, i would appreciate watching him play in person!

  18. Arriba Wilver says:

    For $25 mil over 6 years? C’mon, this is Major League Baseball. The deal proposed isn’t a Kendall deal.

  19. Leo Walter says:

    There is no way you will get that guy to understand how one of his thoughts conflicts with the other Jim.

  20. Leo Walter says:

    Maybe because players with Alvarez’s body type do not age well ?

  21. Jim S. says:

    +++, Leo.

  22. Jim S. says:

    What’s your point, Steel?

  23. Leo Walter says:

    Have you ever seen Polanco play John ? And I mean for an extended period ?

  24. Jim S. says:

    Maybe they have inquired as to what it would take to extend Pedro, and his agent came back with such a large amount that places 99% of the risk on the team (as he always does), so they passed. How many Boras clients ever sign extensions?

  25. This is less about money and more about control. Giving up control of your career for 10 years when you are just 22 is an enormous ask of a person regardless of the money on the table. I think trying to get 3 free agent option years at such a steep projected discount is excessive. I understand the team is taking on some risk, but there is way more room to outperform these type of contracts than to underperform them.

  26. Jim S. says:

    It’s only 3 years he would be giving up, though, right Hidden? He doesn’t have control until the last few years, anyway.

  27. Leo Walter says:

    Chuck H : If I didn’t have so much respect for Travis and his blog,I would have to tell you what I really think of your comment.

  28. Jim S. says:

    I’m with you on that, Bob.

    They have not offered enough just yet for him to accept. That doesn’t mean he won’t accept if/when the offer increases – which it will, especially if he performs well when called up.

  29. JoeBucco says:

    I would think something like this gets done, even if the 1st contract was turned down. Money in hand is a great driving factor, and without a deal like this, Polanco is looking at about $2m total for his 1st 4 years. Then depending on performance, injury, etc, then maybe something like $2m in year 5 and maybe $5m the next year and $7 the year after. So without any extension, he’s maybe looking at around $16m for his 1st 7 years. I’m sure it was the 3 free agent options that were the big deal here, but the initial $25m for first 7 years is likely better than he will get without the system in place.

    Those 3 options years were 3/$35m, which is a risk to Polanco because by then, he could be worth a $200m deal on the open market. Or he could be out of baseball.

    I think if this turned into 7 years for $35m, plus 2 option years @ $12m and $15m, then that would be hard for either side to turn down. 1 less year and a couple of million dollars more is where I would see this landing.

    Keep in mind, this is a young kid who didn’t sign for much and is making the equivalent of many first year school teachers at the moment. He could get hit by a bus tomorrow and never make even a big league minimum salary. It would be hard to turn down a lifetime of security when offered, so I would think this is what ultimately will happen. And waiting until mid-June keeps that leverage in place, so I am all for that.

  30. Leo Walter says:

    Like that avatar Arriva

  31. Leo Walter says:

    I hit the v rather than the b Arri b a, sorry.

  32. NMR says:

    Steel, my brotha from anotha motha! ;)

  33. “Only three years” is lot when you are talking about 7 years down the road. He is locked in with no power over his career for 10 seasons! That isn’t something to be given away lightly. You can say he can’t be a free agent for 7 years but that doesn’t mean he has no control. Star players in their 2nd and 3rd Arb years have a lot of leverage and a lot of control, even if they can’t yet pick a destination.

  34. NMR says:

    I find the cries of outrage over the Pirates “low-balling” Gregory Polanco one of two things: ignorant, or incredibly short sighted.

    Just to review, the Pittsburgh Pirates guaranteed a player $25m, essentially over just three years. They made that offer in Spring Training, and said player had exactly nine – NINE – plate appearances above AA.

    And the part that makes me laugh the most, a twist that just sooo baseball: The player Polanco will be replacing was ranked even higher than Polanco was as a prospect!

    I also suspect anyone complaining about years and terms has never negotiated anything in their life.

    You really can’t make this stuff up.

  35. NMR says:

    “Star players in their 2nd and 3rd Arb years have a lot of leverage and a lot of control…”

    Would love to hear an explanation for this one!

  36. NMR says:

    Sure enough, I was wrong about the Milwaukee Brewers. It didn’t take until August for their lack of depth to get exposed. They managed to accomplish this feat by the second week of May.

    This team won’t sniff 90 wins.

  37. You are undershooting those estimates quite bit. This was Jon Jay’s first year of arb eligibility and he is getting $3.25. Jay is on track to have close to $20 million in earnings over his pre-free agent years. So Polanco would outperform the $25 million guaranteed part of the contract, unless you think he is going to be no better than Jon Jay.

  38. Max Scherzer turned down a $144 million contract that would have encompassed most of the rest of career.

  39. Botherhood of the Redus says:

    Polanco made a financial decision to turn down an offer that would have paid him anywhere between $25 and $50 million dollars….I believe the Front Office is entitled to make a similar financial decision.

    Say what you want…but Polanco kept himself out of the opening day lineup

  40. Jim S. says:

    I hear you on Scherzer, Hidden. I did not understand it then or now. I wonder if he just doesn’t want to pitch in Detroit.

  41. Botherhood of the Redus says:

    Great post NMR…..What are the Pirates suposed to do in this situation…arbitration dollars and cost certainty mean everything when trying to lock up at least one of two Boras clients over the next couple years. Let us not forget that Walker is not getting any younger and the great Tony Sanchez debate is only but a few months away.

    Polanco had an opportunity to sign the opening day lineup card himself, but he chose not to do so in an attempt to maximize his value upon arrival….let’s hope he made the wise decision.

  42. Jim S. says:

    I don’t disagree on that point, Hidden. I believe, based on the 3 years of control at the end, Polanco is risking somewhat more than the Bucs here. I assume that is the biggest sticking point. I also think the offer will increase, and maybe it was leaked to try to force their hand.

    But, not every player even gets to that 7th year no matter how highly regarded they are in AA, as NMR has said. A lot of young players are signing deals that give up some free agency control, and they are often players who have shown success at the MLB level already. Polanco has not done that. I don’t think he can expect a carbon copy of the Cutch deal.

    He’s free to accept or decline the offer, and it is not for me to say he is right or wrong. But, I don’t automatically assume he is being taken advantage of in this offer, nor do I assume the Pirates won’t budge from here.

  43. Jim S. says:

    +++, NMR.

  44. Oh, I’m not saying he is being taken advantage of. I’m not saying it wasn’t a fair offer either. I just think it is hard to pin a value this early in a career. I think to get this deal done the Pirate will have to ask for fewer free agent years as options.

  45. NMR says:

    Misunderstood what you were saying, Hidden. Thanks for the explanation!

  46. NMR says:

    Also losing a lot of respect for the FanGraphs staff over the Polanco issue, as a whole. If anyone wants to question why baseball guys on this Blog like Milo, Steelkings, and Groat think sabre numbers are pulled from regions seen only by qualified doctors, look no further.

    FG has pretty much taken all the $/WAR and prospect value projections they’ve touted for years, written them down on a peice of paper, crumpled it up, tossed it in the air, and said, “F*** it!”.

  47. Jim S. says:

    +++. I just read their article on the Polanco issue about a half-hour ago.

  48. trainframe says:

    They are a small market club, and as such are smart to not start the clock as early. The Bucs could use Polanco now, but in the long term, waiting to start the clock till June 10 makes sense! If Polanco accepts the Deal, he is already on the roster, and this years Jasoel Puig. He didn’t and if I am NH, I then want that extra year. No guarantees after that!

  49. NMR says:

    “(Side note: I guess Polanco is ready for the majors after all. Had he signed the deal, he’s not in Indy.)”

    Considering the fact that the Pirates offered Polanco this deal in Spring Training, does this mean you’ve heard they would’ve skipped him over AAA completely? (Or was that just supposed to be snarky?)

  50. Nate83 says:

    They only have to win 87 for me to win our fictional bet.

  51. “And the Pirates were as aggressive as any team in baseball history in offering a contract to Gregory Polanco.”

    Travis, every time I think you have turned the corner in your hyperbole writing, you make Front Office friendly, fanlike statements such as above.

    Your yourself have written here that John Hart said this was the direction long term negotiations were heading. And the Houston Astros already “broke the ceiling” by offering such to Springer.

    I guess you must be talking about history as in “history repeats itself!”

    Anyone know who flew the second airplane after the Wright brothers? “History” is an inappropriate usage of the word in reference to the Pirates.

  52. Andrew says:

    I have no problem with the conclusion that the Pirates asking Polanco to sell his free agent years for three team option years capped at $60 million is a bit greedy. (I think this was Hidden’s point above.)

    I think the $25 million for 7 years is a fair valuation. Dave Cameron’s analysis, while he acknowledges the timing of the offer, seems to be colored by Polanco’s recent AAA performance. In addition; I think he overstates the success rate of top prospects, position players ranked 1-20 by Baseball American have a historic success rate just over 50%, and he does not acknowledge that the projections for Polanco have much of his value linked to his defense, something not significantly paid in arbitration.

  53. Andrew says:

    Groat you might have a point, if the statement read “the most aggressive,” but absent that adjective I think the comparison holds, as now three teams have offered long term contracts extensions to players without any MLB service time.

  54. Chuck H says:

    Sure, Jim, he wanted more.

  55. Chuck H says:

    Go ahead, tell me!!!

  56. ksw says:

    whatever happened to the indian pitchers?
    and what is the annual cost of the insurance policy covering 25m$ over 7 years for polanco?
    it is more than he is making.
    his agent hopes that he (agent) gets it back should greg get hit by a bus.

  57. Steelkings says:

    This isn’t a debate, it is a collective correctness. Those that think it was a low ball offer is correct from the stand point that Grand Prix and his agent could consider himself the next Darryl Strawberry. If thats turns out to be the case then that offer will eventually double…(From someone)
    Those that think it was more than fair would be right if Grand Prix turns out to be the next Jose Tabata.

    I on the other hand, am a little perplexed that it even happened to begin with. Surely there is a difference between negotiations and an offer.

    Negotiations = “Whats it gonna take to extend you?”
    Offer = “Here…Sign this!”

    The missing piece of the puzzle for me is the amount of money that was to be paid up front. I for one think that this will be a difficult CBA to renew without some serious concessions from the ownership side of baseball. I’ll stop short of using the term “Lock out” but I think its a 2016 possibility.

    If you arent sure about the validity of the seriousness around the new CBA. Look at the contracts that are set to expire in 15/16. Some serious players on that list.

  58. Steelkings says:

    To be a little more clear, I think a larger pile of “up front” money would give guys more security in the event of a work stoppage. I think that after the new CBA is reached, contracts will be a lot more player friendly. Qaul offers will be a thing of the past and arbitration rules will change dramatically.

  59. NMR says:

    Notice how I already started trying to move the goalposts? ;)

  60. NMR says:

    Still don’t see how Travis was factual incorrect, what-so-ever.

    Groat, question of fact: has any prospect ever been offered a long-term extension with less than 2 games played above the AA level?

  61. Nate83 says:

    Also key word was AS aggressive meaning on par with. Facts are this offer was one of two of it’s kind at this moment in history. I would say that is pretty aggressive and to Travis’s credit he spoke of Springer and the possibility that the Pirates could look at such a deal for Polanco ealier this year. He should be getting kudos for calling this one correctly not ripped on.

    You are crazy Groat. You called Travis’s comment last year that Polanco would come up in June of this year hyperbole and now you are screaming because he isn’t up already. I’ve never seen anyone switch 180 on a topic without acknowledging that they originally had a completely different view and went out fo their way to belittle those who had the opposite view.

  62. NMR says:

    And I think it is an absolute stretch for Cameron to say that Polanco should EXPECT to earn something in the range of $40m over his team controlled years through arbitration. How many players have ever done that?

    Also got fairly basic statistical terminology wrong in his statement about Lincecum, means, and medians.

  63. NMR says:

    Ha, how could we forget Groat’s crusade on Poanco in June! Gold, Jerry!

  64. NMR says:

    We all have hits and misses, though. Better to laugh and learn.

  65. Nate83 says:

    Maybe Ryan Howard would have gotten close to that if not for his extension. Only with Super 2 would he have a chance to reach that. Even if he is elite you would more likely expect something in the range of 5,9,13 million which comes out to 27 million. I’m not sure why all these talking heads are talking like he is Mike Trout. Mike Trout wasn’t Mike Trout until he was Mike Trout. He is no more a prospect then Heyward was and I’m not sure I would give him that much money at this point. Their are many top 10 prospects that end up being average or worse in the majors.

    I really think it was the 3 team option years that are more of a sticking point. If they came down to 2 years with maybe more per year I think they can get it done.

  66. signid says:

    hello owner,
    am a pirates fan form the year 1960 and still pirates fan ,but we have on field now a millioner player on the field but for now we need a spark player on the field and on my oppion is for sure G.Polanco for start up the pirates team.
    most young kids like to be a major player thy are not looking for money becuase like playing in big

  67. Andrew says:

    Yes I don’t think his methodology was the best, why not widen the range of prospects and include only position players if you are worried about the bust rate. I don’t take issue with the $40 million, revenues are greatly expanding. I think he is a cavalier in his risk assessment, and I do not think the offered money by the Pirates was a low ball when you accurately consider the risk.

    Nate, I am not sure if you have seen this before, but I keep this post in the back of my mind every time I read prospects reports. It is an update of an early piece on prospect success rate. I think it is fairly sound if not very depressing.

    http://camdendepot.blogspot.com/2013/12/death-to-tinstaapp-updating-mckinneys.html

    Stupid off days.

  68. Chuck H says:

    You both have it wrong-that’s not what I meant, at all.

  69. Nate83 says:

    Thanks for sharing Andrew. That decisively shows that teams/Baseball America are getting better at predicting prospect success. As of 2006 it was still 50/50 on if Polanco became a successful player with a 33% chance of him being superior. I would think what the Pirates offered was what a successful player would get allthough the 3 option years seem a little low even for an average player by 2021-23. Polanco is banking on 1/3 chance (probably closer to 36-38% now) that he will be superior and far exceed the amount he would have gotten in with those 3 team options.

    I think both parties played this correctly. Pirates shouldn’t have offered much more on a player who hasn’t proven anything at the major league level and Polanco would possible be passing up 30-50 million by signing this early. Of course he could be passing up a guarneteed 25 million by passing it up.

    We will know a lot more after Polanco’s first 4 months in the majors. There will be less risk on the Pirates part but it could cost them. Though in the end don’t we want it to cost them an extra 20-30 million for those 10 years. That will have meant Polanco turned into one hell of a player and 80-90 million isn’t bad for 10 years of an elite player. My guess is it ends up being a 9 year deal instead.

  70. NMR says:

    need. moar. baseball.

    “I don’t take issue with the $40 million, revenues are greatly expanding.”

    Are you aware of any work that has been done regarding how ARBITRATION has kept pace, Andrew? I’ve wondered this for a few years now. The way I understand arb is that salaries are based on past precedent. Now there is clearly some rise in amount over the years, but I’d be interested in seeing how closely that aligns with the massive influx of revenue we’ve seen.

    But overall, you absolutely nailed the crux of the issue in what Cameron and others have missed…nobody seems to be estimating risk! Huge oversight, IMO. Well done, buddy.

  71. Andrew says:

    NMR as I understand from reading MLB Trade Rumors and others, there is an inflation factor in arbitration, but like the entire process it is a black box. In the end who the heck knows what Polanco would make, any estimate is going to have massive error bars.

  72. Mark Zurick says:

    Yes it is for financial reasons, but would you rather have an extra one or two wins between now and June, or wait til the super 2 deadline when it’s going to save 20-30 million down the road? It’s a no brainier; even the Yankees would do the same thing

 
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