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Who Else Could Pirates Look to Extend After Mitch Keller?

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David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates extended the third key player from their core in as many years on Thursday.

Right-handed pitcher Mitch Keller is in agreement on a five-year, $77 million extension. It’s the largest contract ever given by the Pirates to a pitcher, and the deal’s $15.4 million average annual value set a new franchise-record.

Two years ago, the Pirates signed Ke’Bryan Hayes to an eight-year extension worth $70 million. Last year, the Pirates inked Bryan Reynolds to an eight-year deal for $106.75 million. Both contracts have a club option for a ninth season.

Though it still is not commonplace, owner Bob Nutting has shown a willingness to spend substantial dollars to keep key players in a Pirates’ uniform. If the trend continues, who are some others the Pirates could look to extend?

David Bednar

Bednar is under club control through the 2026 season, so an extension isn’t quite as pressing just yet. Still, the Pittsburgh Pirates could opt to buy-out Bednar’s final two remaining arbitration years and keep him in his hometown for the long-haul.

The 29-year-old has established himself as one of the better relief pitchers in baseball since joining the Pirates prior to the start of the 2021 season. In three years with the Pirates, Bednar has a 2.25 ERA, 61 saves and 226 strikeouts in 179.2 innings pitched. He finished this past season tied for second in baseball with 39 saves and was an All-Star for the second-straight season.

Though an extension certainly wouldn’t be cheap, relievers don’t command the same salary as starting pitchers or everyday players. Who knows? Maybe Bednar would even take a hometown discount.

Oneil Cruz

Extending Cruz at this juncture would be a significant risk for the Pirates considering he suffered a season-ending injury last year. It could also be a prime opportunity to keep him in Pittsburgh long-term at an affordable rate.

Due to his ankle fracture last season, it’s still unknown what Cruz can do at the major-league level over the course of a 162-game season. He’s shown flashes of excellence at times and has also looked overmatched here and there.

As a prospect, Cruz was considered as high-ceiling as anyone. He has light-tower power, elite sprint speed and has an excellent arm from shortstop. There are also swing-and-miss concerns and heightened questions defensively at short in wake of his injury.

Still, if the Pirates believe Cruz is capable of living up to his potential post-injury, now might be the time to pounce.

Paul Skenes

There is risk with any extension, even more so with a player yet to reach the big leagues. With that being said, Skenes is viewed about as safe as a pitching prospect can be with a high floor and a very high ceiling.

It’s not often that the Pittsburgh Pirates could have a true ace on their hands. They will never pay one in free agency and trading for one could deplete the farm system — the lifeblood of a small-market team.

Obtaining one through the draft and development is essentially the only real opportunity the Pirates have. While the Pirates would be guaranteed six years out of Skenes already, why not look to tack on a couple of seasons to the backend?

It’s becoming a more common practice for teams to extend players before they reach the big leagues. It already happened twice in the offseason.

Pittsburgh Baseball Now columnist John Perrotto did a deeper dive into this possibility.

Jack Suwinski

Suwinski is probably not as big of a priority as the others, but an extension wouldn’t be totally out of the question.

There are still some questions surrounding the 25-year-old, but there are also some things he does really well. He strikes out too much and is better suited for a corner outfield spot than center field, but he also has some of the best power in the organization and draws his share of walks.

Suwinski isn’t even arbitration-eligible and isn’t a free agent until after the 2028 season, but he’s at least worth mentioning.

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