When the Pittsburgh Pirates extended third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes at the beginning of last season, the deal became the largest in franchise history, eclipsing Jason Kendall’s six-year, $60 million extension in 2000.
Hayes’ eight-year deal worth $70M, which also included a club option for a ninth season, has since been passed by Bryan Reynolds’ eight-year deal signed this season. But at the time, it marked the first significant financial commitment the Pirates had made under the ownership of Bob Nutting.
At the time of the deal, Hayes had already established a reputation as an elite defender, but his bat remained a question mark. As the 2022 season went on, it was more of the same from Hayes.
In the field, Hayes was as good as there was in the game, regardless of position, and he led baseball with 24 defensive runs saved.
At the plate, Hayes still fell well short of even being league average. In 136 games last season, Hayes put together a .244/.314/.345 campaign with 24 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 41 RBIs. All in all, his efforts were good for an 87 wRC+.
Fast forward a year, and the 26-year-old has continued to flash his brilliance in the field. The Gold Glove frontrunner is again near the top of the leaderboards in defensive runs saved with 22. He’s tied with Cleveland Guardians second baseman Andrés Giménez and trails only San Diego Padres right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr., who leads the way with 28.
The next closest third baseman to Hayes is Ryan McMahon of the Colorado Rockies, who has amassed 16 DRS on the year.
While not much has chanced for Hayes on the defensive side of things, he’s taken a huge step forward at the plate as he’s become a well-rounded contributor for the Pirates.
Hayes has totaled 121 games this season for the Pirates and has slashed .273/.312/.457 — good for a 103 wRC+. He’s set career-highs in hits (131), doubles (29), triples (seven), home runs (15), RBIs (61) and runs scored (62).
His development at the plate is exactly what the Pirates were wishing for at the time the extension was signed, and combined with his already stellar defense, they’ve received more than they bargained for. It also shows that the Pirates have faith in their player development and in this particular case, were rewarded for that faith.
Hayes has always hit the ball hard, but this year, he’s getting the ball in the air at a significantly higher clip, and is pulling the ball more than ever before. Both are big reasons for the improvements with the bat this season.
The Pirates’ third baseman has been by far the club’s most valuable player, as evident by his 4.0 bWAR. The next closest on the team when looking at the measurement is Mitch Keller, who has totaled a 2.8 bWAR on the season, followed by Reynolds (2.6).
In more of a front-loaded deal, Hayes has made $10 million both this year and last. For the next four years starting in 2024, Hayes will be making only $7 million, which could mean the Pirates will be getting even more of a bargain if he proves his offense is sustainable moving forward.
Between the recent deals for Hayes and Reynolds, Nutting and the Pirates have shown a willingness to open up the purse strings like never before. While it’s a good start, they will need to continue to do so if they want to seriously compete for not only their first postseason birth since 2015, but a World Series.
Between locking up their current key members of their team — players like Keller, David Bednar and Oneil Cruz could potentially fit the bill — and spending on external additions, the Pirates cannot shy away from handing out larger deals.
Money doesn’t always equate to wins. Look at the New York Mets, New York Yankees and San Diego Padres this year. But, it certainly evens the playing field.
If the Pirates want to prove they’re serious about winning, there needs to be even more willingness to spend this coming offseason and deeper into the future.