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Perrotto: Mitch Keller is Willing if Pirates are Able

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have shown a willingness to retain their key players over the last two years.

Hours before the home opener in 2022, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes signed an eight-year, $70-million contract extension. Left fielder Bryan Reynolds agreed to an eight-year, $106.75-million extension this past April.

The contracts keep Hayes under the Pirates’ control through the 2029 season and Reynolds through 2030.

So, who might be next on the Pirates’ extension list? General manager Ben Cherington, as he typically does, is keeping things close to the vest.

Conversely, right-hander Mitch Keller makes no secret of his desire to follow Hayes and Reynolds.

“Hopefully, we can get something going with the extension talks,” Keller said. “Hopefully, this offseason, we can get something going. I would love to play here. We have Reynolds and Key locked up. Hopefully we can get (shortstop Oneil) Cruz. We have all these different pieces that we can add. I would love to be part of it and be here for however many years. I think we have a really good window here to really do something special.”

Optimism is running high with the Pirates after they had a 76-86 record this year, a 14-win improvement over 2022 that came on the heels of back-to-back seasons with at least 100 losses.

Keller would seemingly be an extension candidate, though he cannot become a free agent until after the 2025 season. He was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his five-year career this past season and established himself as the ace of the starting rotation.

As a matter of policy, Cherington does not address individual contract negotiations. However, he did speak in generalities about extensions when he met with reporters earlier this month.

“We want the door open for that conversation with certain players who check enough boxes that we think that makes sense,” Cherington said. “Not every player, right away, is going to check enough boxes for that conversation to happen, but some will, and when they do, we want the door open to it.

“They’re not easy. It’s, most importantly, a personal choice, in the end, for a player, and I really respect that personal choice. It ain’t my contract, it’s there’s. We want to honor that, and our job is to give information and hope to give enough information at the right times to help guys make a choice and make an informed choice.”

Much like with running backs in the NFL, the market for relief pitchers has become tight in recent years. Few teams are willing to commit to relievers in the long term.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if the Pirates try to negotiate a multiyear contract with closer David Bender. He tied for the National League lead with 39 saves this year and has been outstanding during his three years with the Pirates.

Bednar, who isn’t eligible for free agency until 2026, has been selected to the past two All-Star Games. It also can’t hurt that Bednar is a local guy from Mars and extremely popular with the fans.

“I’m always open to anything,” Bednar said.

The Pirates, after years of trading away their best players when they became too expensive, are finally open to keeping them for the long haul. The change in philosophy has been refreshing.

We’ll find out if it continues.

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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