As Eli noted yesterday evening, the Pirates are set to sign Gregory Polanco to a five-year, $35 million extension that includes two options and begins in 2017. The value of the deal could reach $60 million if the Bucs exercise both options.
There are probably some details of the agreement that haven't come out yet, but here's what we know. Polanco currently has between one and two years of service time, and by the beginning of 2017, when the contract kicks in, he'll have between two and three. That means the deal will buy out one pre-arbitration year, all three arbitration years, and one year of free agency. In addition, the Bucs will get the rights to two more free agent seasons through the options.
I'm not sure much analysis of the exact dollar amount of the deal is necessary, since $35 million for five years of a young player with between two and three years of service time is very standard stuff. Last April, the Indians gave ace Corey Kluber $38 million for a five-year deal with two options. In Spring Training 2013, White Sox starter Chris Sale got $32.5 million and two options, while Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig got $31 million and one.
Or if we want to think of Polanco's deal as a six-year contract that starts this season for a player with between one and two years of service time, there are precedents for that, too. Starling Marte got $31 million over six years with two options, while Braves starter Julio Teheran got $32.4 million and one.
These are very different player types, of course, but $30 million to $40 million to buy out five years for a pre-arbitration player with star potential has become typical in the past couple years. It's too bad the Pirates couldn't have gotten this done at the beginning of Polanco's career, when there were plenty of extension rumors about him and it probably would have been cheaper. But better late than never.
The question is whether Polanco is the right kind of player to receive this sort of contract. Readers who have been around for the past couple years know that my answer is an unequivocal yes. Polanco is still just 24 and incredibly toolsy, and in the second half of last season he showed clear signs of turning his tools into production, hitting with more authority and producing a .425 slugging percentage that was 87 points higher than it had been in the first half. And even if he doesn't develop the power we hope he will, his control of the strike zone, defense and baserunning (which is valuable, despite his annoying TOOTBLANs) give him a high floor. And if he does develop, watch out, because the Pirates are now buying the rights to his age-29, age-30 and age-31 seasons at what could turn out to be bargain prices. Andrew McCutchen -- who's currently still in Pittsburgh only because he signed a deal a little like this one -- and Marte are currently showing Pirates fans how helpful these kinds of extensions can be.
The Pirates are making a $35 million upfront commitment to Polanco, but their risk is modest. Polanco isn't guaranteed to be successful, and these contracts do sometimes go wrong -- Craig's hasn't worked out, for example, and Pirates fans are familiar with the case of Jose Tabata. But even if we ignore the fact that Polanco is a much better bet for long-term success than either of those players were (better than Craig because Craig was significantly older, better than Tabata because Polanco is just a vastly superior talent), a botched extension for a pre-arbitration player just isn't that big a problem. There hasn't been a year-by-year breakdown of the Polanco deal yet, but if recent extensions for guys like Kluber and Marte are any indication, the last guaranteed year of Polanco's deal will probably cost something like $12 million or $13 million. That wouldn't be a franchise-crippling amount even for the Pirates, and it especially won't be in 2021. Think of Tabata's situation -- true, Tabata got a lot less guaranteed money than Polanco will, but his deal went about as badly as it possibly could have and it never became anything more than a minor annoyance.
So, TL;DR: The upside here is great. The risk is small. And a deal that keeps Polanco in Pittsburgh longer makes the Pirates' future that much brighter. Let's hope this deal goes half as well as McCutchen's and Marte's have.