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Perrotto: Mitch Keller Obvious Extension Candidate, Are There Others?



Pittsburgh Pirates-Mitch Keller

Somewhat lost in Mitch Keller’s outstanding start to the season is something the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander mentioned last week.

While a guest on 937 The Fan, Keller said his representatives and the Pirates have had very preliminary talks about a potential contract extension.

That is heartening news in the wake of Pirates owner Bob Nutting saying last month that the Pirates were open to signing more players to long-term deals beyond third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and outfielder Bryan Reynolds.

Nutting made the comment during the press conference to announce Reynolds’ eight-year, $106.5-million contract. That came a little more than a year after Hayes agreed to an eight-year, $70-million deal.

“To a great degree, we’re just getting started,” Nutting said. “I think today we should focus on what we did today, which is a huge step for the franchise with Bryan. I’m confident we’ll have future steps as we go forward.”

General manager Ben Cherington wasn’t quite ready to say the Pirates are going to sign plenty of more players to extensions. However, he clearly would be interested in locking up more players for the long haul.

“We want to be open to conversations with players who we’ve believed checked enough boxes to warrant a conversation,” Cherington said. “I’m sure there will be more of those. It doesn’t mean we’ll get deals. These typically are not easy, and you can never count on it. But the only way you can (get a contract) out of that is the door’s open and the door will continue to be open.”

Though Keller has made it known that both sides are interested in reaching a deal, it may not come together quickly.

The contracts with Reynolds and Hayes took months of negotiations before reaching agreements. Players and teams also typically don’t reach deals during the season, though there are some exceptions.

“More often than not, during the season, we want to focus on the field. I believe that that’s where our players’ and staff’s focus is now,” Cherington said. “We want to support that and keep our focus on the field as much as we possibly can. But I hope that there will be more opportunities like this down the road.”

Keller is the most obvious target for the Pirates as he has blossomed into an above-average major-league starting pitcher.

The 27-year-old is 5-1 with a 2.38 ERA in nine starts this season. He is also the reigning National League Player of the Week after pitching his first career shutout, a four-hitter against the Colorado Rockies, then working seven shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles with a career-high 13 strikeouts.

Last season, Keller had a 4-7 record with a fine 3.22 ERA in his last 22 starts on the heels of a brief demotion to the bullpen.

Another logical extension candidate would seemingly be closer David Bednar and that would be a huge public relations win for the Pirates with their fans. The Mars High School graduate might be the most-beloved player on the team, and he is outstanding at his job.

However, there are some factors working against Bednar. He is a little older at 29 and small-market teams like the Pirates typically don’t make long-term commitments to relief pitchers.

Shortstop Oneil Cruz also should be on the short list of extension candidates, though the Pirates will almost certainly wait to see how he heals from his broken left ankle sustaining April 9 before even thinking of even initiating conversations.

Cruz is the most-talented player on the roster and the Pirates could wind up paying a hefty price if they go year by year with contracts through the arbitration process. Gambling on a long-term deal could pay big dividends for the team.

It would also make some sense for the Pirates to at least consider long-term deals with two other young players in right-hander Roansy Contreras and infielder/outfielder Ji Hwan Bae, though it would be at least somewhat dicey in both cases.

Contreras is very talented but hasn’t turned the corner yet like Keller. Bae has game-changing speed and is a very exciting player but is also a bit mercurial.

Meanwhile, Keller’s price is seemingly going up every time he takes the mound. The Pirates would be wise to make a move at the end of the season before any potential contract becomes too expensive.

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