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Extension for Bay?

Dejan Kovacevic raises the issue of whether the Pirates should negotiate an extension with Jason Bay.

I'm torn here. The Oakland Athletics have repeatedly offered their top young players extensions as a way of keeping their salaries during their arbitration years to a minimum. That approach has worked very well for them.

But the A's have always offered these contracts in the context of a plan. The cheap contracts recently given to Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby indicate that the A's hope to be contenders in 2007 and 2008, when those contracts will really start to pay off for the A's. The base of young talent the A's have indicates that this is a reasonable goal.

Without an extension, Jason Bay's salary next year would again be very close to the league minimum. With an extension, it would be much higher. As Bay enters the arbitration process in 2007, his salary could be around $5 million the first year and more in 2008 and 2009, assuming he continues to hit well.

Let's guess what this might mean, assuming Bay doesn't get hurt, fizzle, or go completely Albert Pujols on the league. A hypothetical extension of, say, 4 years, $20 million would be a loss for the Pirates in 2006 compared to his current projected salary. The Pirates would probably break even in 2007, and then save money compared to the arbitration process in 2008 and 2009, when Bay will be 30.

So would such a contract be a good idea? It's impossible to say without knowing what the Pirates plan to do. The last wave of prospects from the Cam Bonifay era might arrive in Pittsburgh in 2006 or so, perhaps along with Littlefield draftees like Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny and Brad Eldred. After that, there will be very little help on the way from the farm system. In addition, the salaries of Kip Wells, Craig Wilson and Oliver Perez will probably escalate so much that the Pirates won't be willing to keep them all, if all three even last past the trading deadline this year.

My guess is that the Pirates will have their best (though still not particularly good) shot at contending in 2006 and 2007, which might mean they should wait to give Bay an extension, since they could use the savings from his 2006 salary to pay Wells, Wilson or a free agent.

All this assumes, however, that the goal of the current management is to contend. Kevin McClatchy and company have not shown any strong commitment to contending in the past several years, so this may not be a wise assumption. In the end, their decision about whether or not to give Bay an extension may be based on completely different considerations - they might give him one because the whole Jack-Wilson-as-the-marketing-face-of-the-franchise thing isn't going to work out if Jack doesn't hit, for example. Or, they might refuse to give Bay an extension simply because they're cheap.

I do know this, however - if there's any current Pirate who deserves and warrants a real contract, it's Bay... even if Bobby Abreu did beat him 24-0.