The definitive word on the exact level of excellence surrounding outfield prospect extraordinaire Gregory Polanco came down Tuesday and it wasn’t from ESPN.com or MLB.com or Baseball America. No, it came from a far more authentic source: Bob Nutting’s checkbook.
The Pirates, according to multiple reports, offered Polanco a deal that guaranteed him $25 million and might have paid him upwards of $75 million. The proposal, made in spring training, was rejected by Polanco.
This attempt by the Pirates is testimony to just how good they believe Polanco, batting .392 at Class AAA Indianapolis, is now and how much better he can become. The Pirates, as is well known, are a fiscally prudent team. To make such an offer to a player who has never performed on the MLB level and who has barely a month at Class AAA is an indication from the people who know him best just how good they believe Polanco can be.
This kind of contract is an example of what could become a trend in MLB, especially for small-revenue teams. The Houston Astros reportedly offered a similar deal to outfielder George Springer in the offseason, which also was rejected. Such deals offer guaranteed money to the players and cost certainty to the team in an era when arbitration awards are spiraling, particularly for Super 2s.
In addition to the guaranteed money, the contracts can offer a faster pathway to MLB. Many teams are reluctant to promote players to their MLB roster for fear of starting their free agency and arbitration clocks too soon. With cost certainty, the players would find it more easy to advance because the team knows exactly what their salaries will be.
There are no rights and wrongs in contracts. What works for one player or one team might not work for another player or another team. Criticism that the Pirates made a lowball offer is unwarranted. Criticism of Polanco for rejecting a lifetime of financial security for himself and his family is unwarranted.
A team must do what it thinks is in its best interest and the player must do what's in his best interest.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports broke the story. He reported the Pirates offered Polanco $25 million over seven years. Presumably, the deal would have begun this season. Passan wrote that if Polanco had agreed to the deal ''he'd be in right field tonight [for the Pirates]."
Later in the day, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, citing league sources, reported the deal ‘'included three option years and could have paid Polanco an additional $50 million to $60 million if all three options were picked up."
The Tampa Bay Rays pioneered these types of deals, first with third baseman Evan Longoria in 2008 when he signed a six-year, $17 million deal. The Rays have since extended Longoria for six years, $100 million. More recently, they signed pitcher Matt Moore for five years, $14 million in 2012 and pitcher Chris Archer for six years, $25.5 million in 2014. All three players had MLB experience when they signed the deals, but in the case of Longoria and Moore only a handful of games.
The offer to Polanco is another example of the Pirates attempting to sign their core group of players.
They have come to agreement on long-term deals with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. The fact they’ve made an offer to Polanco would indicate they’ve done the same with Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole and have been rejected. It’s also possible they made an offer to Neil Walker, whose arbitration situation makes him a tough player to sign. Walker stands to make as much as $18 million total in his final two years of arbitration.
By declining the deal, Polanco showed the difficulty teams like the Pirates have in convincing players to agree to lifetime financial security when double or triple that amount of money might be out there for them. By declining the offer, Polanco probably cast in concrete the Pirates' decision to keep him in the minors until it is certain he will not qualify for Super 2 status and the four years of arbitration it brings.
There are no easy solutions to the uneven economic playing field that exists in MLB. The Pirates are trying. But sometimes -- often -- trying isn’t enough.