The Pirates first regular season game at PNC Park didn’t even begin when it already became a home opener that won’t soon be forgotten. The Pirates officially announced that eight-year $70M extension for third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, a deal that also comes with a club option for a ninth year. Hayes was joined by Pirates chairman Bob Nutting and general manager Ben Cherington in a press conference marking the occasion.
“Today isn’t about a contract, its length or the terms,” Nutting said. “Today is about our firm belief in Ke’Bryan as a player and a person, and our organization putting a stake in the ground moving forward.”
A bold statement from Nutting, who hit the reset button after the 2019 season by brining in Cherington, team president Travis Williams and manager Derek Shelton. Since then, the Pirates have been mired in a rebuild and haven’t seen much success on the field under the new regime.
The Pirates haven’t posted a winning season since 2018 when they finished 82-79. They haven’t seen the postseason since a three-year stretch from 2013-15 when “Buctober” was the talk of the town. Since then, the fans of the Pirates have grown frustrated over the losses and of the lack of spending.
Now, Nutting signed off on the richest and longest contract ever given out by the Pirates, a good first step in winning back the trust of the fanbase. Calling this move a “stake in the ground,” a turning point of sorts, has to have the team and the fans alike encouraged for the future. Nutting now has to give the front office the support needed to back his claim, especially financially.
“Some of the transactions are going to start to look a little bit different as we feel like we’re getting closer to the group that can win,” said Cherington. “Obviously our job is to get there and then sustain it.”
Up to this point, the majority of transactions under Cherington have been trading away veteran players in exchange for younger assets and lower-scale free agent signings, usually one-year in length. Now that the Bucs have extended Hayes, Cherington will seemingly look for ways to build around the 25-year-old, whether through the free agency, trades that bring Major League talent to Pittsburgh, etc.
It’s been quite some time since the Pirates splurged on a free agent on the open market. The largest free agent pact ever handed out by the club was a three-year $39 million deal to bring back left-hander Francisco Liriano into the fold prior to the 2015 season.
Though there is still a long season to be played and a lot to unfold, it will be interesting to see how the Pirates plan to treat this day as a true turning point for the organization. It could start with extensions for other key players — Bryan Reynolds has longed been speculated as a candidate for the Pirates to keep around long-term. It might not start until the offseason.
Whenever the next move that sends a clear message that the Pirates are building a winner may come, it needs to continue to happen in order to build a consistent winner. At the very least right now, it’s encouraging to see the commitment from Nutting and the front office to get there.