After the Pirates shipped off Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, a call was put out for the Pirates to put their newfound payroll space to use by signing one or both of Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon to team-friendly extensions. Never mind that it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when people say that a team should put the money saved by a trade to signing a player to an extension. That player isn’t making any additional money (aside from a signing bonus, maybe) in Year 1 of the new deal. It’s not like the Pirates are just going to roll Cole’s estimated $6.5M salary for 2018 into Bell’s 2018 salary — he’ll make just a shade above the minimum if a new deal was signed.
Anywho, now that that rant is over, let’s get back to why I don’t envision the Pirates signing either Bell or Taillon to a long-term extension.
Here’s a quick refresher on Josh Bell. Both of Josh Bell’s parents are college professors that make a good deal of money; Bell didn’t grow up poor. Bell’s mom infamously sent a letter to all 30 MLB teams instructing them not to draft her son, as he was going to the University of Texas on a scholarship.
The Pirates’ area scout, Mike Leuzinger, kept on Bell and his family, though, and thought there was a chance he could break the embargo with them. The Pirates surprised a lot of people by drafting him in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. They stunned people by actually getting Bell to sign at the deadline, but a $5M bonus opens a lot of doors. Some in the industry have said that this record-bursting amount for a non-1st round pick is what led MLB to institute stricter signing bonus pools in subsequent drafts.
So not only was Bell upper-middle class growing up and not in desperate need to cash in, he has whatever is left from that 2011 signing bonus chillin’ in an investment vehicle of some sort, presumably, as he’s a very sharp guy.
But the biggest factor as to why Bell won’t sign an extension that will give up any of his free agent years is that his agent is Scott Boras. Boras is many things to many people, but what he does do exquisitely well is maximize money for his clients. In all of his years as an agent, with all of his clients, Scott Boras has agreed to advise his client to take a pre-free agency deal…7 times. That has to be a misprint. No, it’s not.
- Stephen Strasburg 7/$175M (5+ years service time)
- Elvis Andrus 8/$120M (4+ years service time)
- Carlos Gomez 3/$24M (5+ years service time)
- Jared Weaver 5/$85M (5+ years service time)
- Carlos Gonzalez 7/$80M (2+ years service time)
- Ryan Madson 3/$12M (5+ years service time)
- Carlos Pena 3/$24M (4+ years service time)
Notice that all of those deals, save one, were when the player was pretty close to free agency. Only the Carlos Gonzalez deal in 2011 could be considered early in a player’s career. That’s why when Felipe Rivero dropped Boras last fall, I thought, ‘hmmm…that’s interesting.’ At no point did I expect him to sign a 4 year deal with two option years, mind you, but I had an inkling that some sort of bridge deal would get worked out for maybe 2-3 years.
But what if a deal was worked out?
Call this hedging my bet, but let’s work out what a potential Josh Bell deal could look like for both sides. First, keep in mind that the Pirates like to keep a player’s age-32 season as a decision point. The 2018 season is Bell’s age-25 season. Also, the Pirates normally get at least two free agent years under any team option in any deal.
In my research for comparables of 1B that signed with between 1 and 2 years of service time, I came up with Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs. Goldschmidt was coming off his first full season in 2012 that saw him slash .286/.359/.490, good for a 3.0 WAR and a 124 wRC+. Goldschmidt was a terror on the bases with 18 stolen bases and good baserunning marks overall (5.1 runs created). Rizzo was coming off a more lowkey season in 2012 where he put up a .285/.342/.463 line, good for 1.8 WAR and a 117 wRC+ in a little over half a year of time. For comparison, Josh Bell had a line in 2017 of .255/.334/.466 that produced 0.8 WAR and a 108 wRC+. This is why I’ve felt he’s no more than an upgraded Pedro Alvarez at this point.
Goldschmidt’s deal was 5 year/$32M, with a $14.5M option for the 2019 season that’s all but assured to be picked up. Rizzo’s deal was for 7 years/$41M, with team options in 2020 and 2021. Keep in mind that Rizzo would have been a Super Two player with four bites at arbitration. These two deals have paid for themselves many-fold over by this point. Here’s a side-by-side of how their yearly salaries break down:
|Signing Bonus||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Year 6||Year 7||Option 1||Option 2|
|Goldschmidt||$0.5M||$1M||$3M||$5.75M||$8.75M||$11M||$14.5M ($2M buy)|
|Rizzo||$2M||$0.75M||$1.25M||$5M||$5M||$7M||$7M||$11M||$14.5M ($2M buy)||$14.5M ($2M buy)|
If you counterbalance the fact that salaries have gone up in 5 years with the fact that Bell isn’t as good as either Goldschmidt or Rizzo were when they signed the deals, it seems as if these frameworks could be in place for a potential Bell extension. I could see something like:
- $2M signing bonus
- 2018 — $750,000K (age-25)
- 2019 — $1M (age-26)
- 2020 — $4M (age-27)
- 2021 — $5.5M (age-28)
- 2022 — $8M (age-29)
- 2023 — $10.5M team option/$1M buyout (age-30)
- 2024 — $11.5M team option/$1M buyout (age-31)
That’s a 5 year/$22.25M that could swell to 7 year/$43.25M if both options were extended. The Pirates get out before their mythical age-32 cutoff, but Boras doesn’t get his client to free agency until age-32. Again, it’s hard to see a deal like this get worked out.
Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell share some similar strands of their upbringing and bonus situation. Taillon was raised in enclave known as The Woodlands, a city within the city of Houston, and had a solid financial base. As the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft, Taillon took home a cool $6.5M for the privilege of his signature on a pro contract. Taillon, like Bell, has a good head on his shoulders, so I also imagine that a significant chunk of that bonus (post tax, of course) is making him money in retirement accounts.
But unlike Bell, Jameson Taillon does not have uber-agent Scott Boras, which makes the possibility of a long-term extension possible.
Oh. Yeah. That thing. Or things. Jameson Taillon is a Tommy John recipient. A couple of years ago, Steve wrote this excellent article about why the Pirates should rush Taillon up to the Majors. Essentially, it was saying that Taillon’s right arm is now ‘on the clock’ and it’s only a matter of time before that ligament blows out again. Considering that Taillon’s surgery was in 2014 and Steve’s research showed that a broadband of time for TJ survivors is 2 to 7 years, you can see why the Pirates may be reticent to extend him. And it also needs to be said that Taillon is a cancer survivor, as well.
But what if a deal was worked out?
Neal Huntington loves getting a deal. As he is fond to say during any contract extension discussion, both the player and the team have to share the risk. The player is getting a certain amount of guaranteed money, but is willing to risk giving up even more in his free agent years, while the team takes on the risk that a player’s performance or health doesn’t crater out.
First, let me get this out the way — I love Taillon as a pitcher, but he’s not an ace, either in the present or in the future. He’s a #2 pitcher at best for me. That’s still a heck of a pitcher and a value, even if he slips to a high-end #3. His stuff is just not as dynamic to put him in the vaunted #1 category.
For starting pitchers with between 1 and 2 years of service time, the list of comparables to Taillon is pretty strong. The one that I honed in the most on was Julio Teheran of the Braves. Teheran signed a 6 year/$32.4M deal prior to the 2014 season. He was coming off a 2013 season that saw him log 185 innings of 3.20 ERA/3.59 FIP (8.24 K/9, 2.18 BB/9), good for 2.5 WAR. As a comparison, Taillon pitched 133 innings of 4.44 ERA/3.48 FIP (8.42 K/9, 3.10 BB/9) for a 2.9 WAR last year. Of note, Taillon has 237 career MLB innings, whereas Teheran had 210 career innings prior to his extension.
So let’s frame out a deal for Taillon accordingly, adjusting for 4 years into the future as a peer of Teheran’s:
- $2M signing bonus
- 2018 — $750,000K (age-26 season)
- 2019 — $1.25M (age-27 season)
- 2020 — $3.75M (age-28 season)
- 2021 — $6.5M (age-29 season)
- 2022 — $8.5M (age-30 season)
- 2023 — $11.5M team option/$1.5M buyout (age-31 season)
- 2024 — $12.5M team option/$1.5M buyout (age-32 season)
That’s a 5 year/$24.25M deal with two options that could increase the deal to a 7 year/$48.25M contract. Would I do this deal? Probably not. Taillon’s injury history is not ideal for me and I’d be willing to ride it out through the arbitration process year-to-year. Or perhaps, I’d wait until he entered arb in 2020 and try to buy out his remaining three years of team control for cost certainty.
I’m usually a big proponent of a team-friendly extension, but Taillon is one that I’d have to ponder for a long time before I struck the deal if I were Neal Huntington.