BRADENTON, Fla. - Starling Marte is rich. The Pirates didn't overpay. One of the game's bright young stars is locked up with a long contract. And the team's chances to compete will remain strong.
Win. Win. Win. Win.
For fans who don't care much about the intricacies of baseball's long-term contractual economics, this is all you need to know: The Pirates have agreed to a six-year extension with Marte, their outstanding young left fielder, for $31 million, according to several media outlets.
That should be good news to every Pirates fan.
There are a multitude of reasons why, but they all boil down to one thing.
Just follow the money.
Fans in Altoona saw Starling Marte's great potential in 2011 when he won the Eastern League batting title for the Curve (hitting .332). He broke into the majors in 2012 and hit .257 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 47 games. He then had a big season in 2013 that included:
n .280 average
n 12 homers and 35 RBIs
n 28 doubles
n 41 steals
n 26 doubles and 10 triples
n 12 outfield assists
The Pirates, who haven't confirmed the deal, can't afford/won't pay for high-priced free agents. So to succeed consistently, they have to develop their own young stars and lock them up at affordable rates for as long as possible.
It's a tried and true formula that has worked for small-market teams such as the Rays and Indians, and it's essentially the only way the Pirates can control their costs while hoping to maintain a seat at the big boy table.
The Marte contract extension will buy out the next two seasons and his three arbitration years. If he continues to develop as expected, he could have commanded significantly more than his $5 million average in one or more of those arbitration years.
The deal also covers his first year of free agency, and again if Marte becomes a star, that year alone could have been worth $10 million or more to him on the open market.
Furthermore, the Pirates reportedly have two years of club options on him after that, so Marte could be a Bucco mainstay for eight years.
There's no way to determine exact overall savings if Marte pans out the way the Pirates and most everyone in baseball believe he will. But in the best-case scenario, this contract could result in the Bucs saving between $10-15 million, plus they have the peace of mind of locking up a potential star.
It has been easy to criticize Pirates management over the years for not spending enough money, but everything points to this being a shrewd business move.
The risk is that Marte doesn't develop as expected or gets injured, then the guaranteed $31 million he'll be owed could come back to haunt the Pirates.
There's no doubt, however, that at this point Marte is worth the gamble.
He's a special talent offensively and defensively, and we've only seen a glimpse of what he can do.
Pirates outfield prospect Andrew Lambo said it best Wednesday when discussing Marte.
"He's capable of those Bo Jackson moments," said Lambo, with obviously one of those being Marte hitting a home run on the very first pitch he saw in the majors in 2012.
If anything, one could question why Marte agreed to "only" $31 million - and I say that shaking my head and chuckling - when he perhaps could command much more than that over time.
The 25-year-old is getting an enormous amount of money that will set him and hopefully several generations of his family up for life. He also comes from a family of limited means in the Dominican Republic, which has to make a $31 million offer even more staggering and difficult to turn down.
This is the third time in recent years the Pirates have locked up one of their top young players.
The Bucs lucked out, for all intents and purposes, in getting star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to agree to a six-year, $51.5 million extension in 2012. They bought out his arbitration years and first two years of free agency, and with him winning the NL MVP award last season, he would have commanded boatloads more money if negotiations took place now.
Conversely, the Pirates also gave outfielder Jose Tabata a six-year deal worth $15 million in 2011, hoping he would continue to develop into a major contributor. That never happened.
Tabata's contract isn't a terrible strain on the Bucs, but he's owed $11.5 million over the next three years, and his production hasn't been worth that on a financially strapped team like the Pirates. The team is open to trading him, according to published reports, but it might be hard to find takers at that price.
Marte is a much better player with a much bigger upside than Tabata. He might not have McCutchen's potential, but he's absolutely worth a $5 million annual investment over the next six years to find out.
Cory Giger will have Pirates and Curve updates from Bradenton all this week.