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Why The Pirates (Probably) Won’t Do Extensions With Bell & Taillon

Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon are logical candidates for extensions, but each has inherent drawbacks.

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.

Josh Bell

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

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.

However…

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.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

6 Comments on Why The Pirates (Probably) Won’t Do Extensions With Bell & Taillon

  1. If you get down to WAR/$ there hasn’t been a Pirate extension that was a win for the Pirates. Cutch’s extension got us 3 extra years: 2016-2018.

    • I think McCutchen’s arb-years being suppressed more than made up for it, though. Going year-to-year on 3 consecutive top 3 MVP’s would be brutal.

  2. I agree with you that a Bell/Boras deal is unlikely this early in his career. Nevertheless the Pirates ought to put the deal out there at whatever cost they think is prudent for a guy with his potential. An agent is required by regulations governing their industry to pass along any offers to the client. If Boras advises against it and Bell wants to do it, then he, like Rivero, can simply get a new agent and get the deal done. It’s at least potentially accurate that this is exactly how the Rivero agent change and contract extension came about.

    I don’t agree with you on Taillon. I think he is a future #1 starter and ultimately will be better than Cole. I am not aware of any similar Pirates pitchers with his resume to make a comparison to. Cole was never interested in an extension, so there was no deal to be had, and ultimately he was traded away. There are simply no recent examples of starting pitchers coming through the Pirates system. To compare him to a pitcher like Teheran is only a very cursory comparison.

    Although you are generically accurate when you talk about a player’s age 32 season in Pirates thinking, again, I can think of no pitcher with whom the Pirates developed and then dealt prior to his age 32 year simply because he was approaching age 32. I think that pitchers in general hold up better than position players and many pitchers are extremely effective way beyond age 32.

    I admit that the risk of TJ surgery is one to be taken into account, but your analysis makes it sound like every pitcher who has ever had TJ surgery will inevitably have to have it done again, or worse, that it will fail and be a career-ending injury. I found an article from November 2016 authored by Daryl Oshbar, M.D. of Orlando, FL. According to his report, as of that date, 488 major and minor league players had undergone TJ surgery. The success rate for a first TJ surgery is between 80-85%. Of the 488 players to have the procedure, 46 players had had a second, revision surgery.

    By my math, between 72 and 96 pitchers, (15-20%) had an unsuccessful first surgery outcome. Assuming that 388 players continued to play, of those, another 46 needed a second procedure. That means that approximately 11% of players having undergone TJ surgery successfully will need a repeat procedure, or a TJ revision procedure. Success-failure rates after a second TJ surgery constitutes a very small statistical sample size which makes it impossible to correlate the number of career-ending injuries or the timing of them.

    Finally, a newer treatment, injections of platelet rich plasma appear to be a good alternative for small tears of the UCL. Assuming that teams are monitoring their post-TJ pitchers very closely, including frequent MRI of the repaired elbow, it seems like many repeat TJ surgeries can be avoided. Of course this would not be an option with a sudden and catastrophic failure of the transplanted ligament, but there are only a handful of reported total disruptions of the transplanted ligament.

    So what I’m trying to say is that I think that the odds of a repeat TJ surgery are not high to begin with, and there are players pitching with two such surgeries. Newer therapies may certainly make a normal length playing career possible. No team can eliminate risk with a high value player like Taillon, but you can’t let that be the reason you don’t make a deal if there is a mutually beneficial deal to be had.

    • Kevin Creagh // February 12, 2018 at 3:26 PM // Reply

      You don’t know if Cole ever had an extension to turn down or not. I have never heard of talks between the two parties. Also, his agent is…Boras, which gets back to the original premise that Boras strongly advises his clients to go to free agency. He believes to his core that every player should revolt against the suppressed wages that the CBA keeps them under for the first 6 years.

      Taillon simply does not have the array of pitches typical for a #1. I’m also a very big stickler on what I consider a #1 — there’s probably only 8-12 at any one time in the MLB, in my opinion.

      I’m not talking about age-32 with just pitchers — they build around age-32 in every one of their extensions to date. Additionally, the whole point of doing contract extensions is based upon what other pitchers have received. Teheran is a very good comp for him based on service time and key pitching characteristics like K and BB rate. That’s how these things are done, not based on just what a certain team has done with their own people.

      And as for the Daryl Oshbar study, you’re greatly misrepresenting the results. I just read the abstract myself and here are some relevant takeaways:
      Of the 256 players contacted, 24 were major leaguers, 88 were minor leaguers, 104 were college players, 40 were high school players.
      The average career after the surgery was 3.6 years for these players — however, to be fair, some of the college/high school guys were probably not good enough to advance
      http://www.jshoulderelbow.org/article/S1058-2746(13)00059-1/abstract

      The Pirates are not in the business of being able to afford to gamble on a player missing a full year of “Pirate expensive” money while undergoing a 2nd surgery.

  3. betterthachickwood // February 12, 2018 at 5:55 PM // Reply

    Cole will be better now that he is away from the Pirate’s “pitch to contact” BS.

    • Cole will be lit up like a Christmas tree at Minute Maid Park. It’s a home run factory second only to Great American.

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