Bucs commit on Polanco as part of core

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH – Gregory Polanco has financial security. The Pirates believe they have secured a good young player through the prime years of his career.

Those two goals intersected with Tuesday’s announcement of a five-year, $35 million contract extension for Polanco, who has just under two years of major league service.

There are also two club options, which could extend the deal through 2023 and ultimately pay Polanco a total of $60 million.

“There’s risk for the player and risk for the club,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “There’s reward for the player and reward for the club.”

The Pirates have been working on a multi-year deal for Polanco since he arrived in the major leagues in 2014.

“There’s a grown man in there, and there’s also a six-year-old kid who loves to play the game,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates have made a pattern of trying to lock up players they believe will be part of their core moving forward. By extending the offers early in a player’s career, the club assumes the risk of possible failure. The player assumes the risk of playing for less than his market value.

“There seems to be a myth out there that these are one-sided,” Huntington said.

The Pirates lost on a multi-year deal with Jose Tabata that guaranteed $14.75 million. They finally dumped him on the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade last year.

The team won big by aggressively signing Andrew McCutchen before he became one of the game’s best players. McCutchen is being paid $13.2 million this season, while lesser players are making more with other teams. Ryan Howard, whom the Philadelphia Phillies would desperately like to unload, is making $25 million this year.

The Pirates have also signed Starling Marte (2014) and Josh Harrison (last spring) to multi-year deals.

“When we commit to a player, it’s based on what we believe he’s going to do,” Huntington said.

The Pirates have control over McCutchen for two seasons beyond this one, so the outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco will be staying in place for at least that long.

The organization has been high on Polanco since he was signed out of the Dominican Republic. He came to the majors as a long, lanky player, but his frame has filled out since then.

There’s a perception that he’ll add more power to his game as the matures as a major league hitter.

“We think he’s going to be a good hitter with power,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Hitting home runs is a good thing, but it’s the thing we talk about the least.”

Hurdle indicated he projected Polanco as someone who could provide 40 doubles and 100 runs scored every season.

Polanco’s game is still raw in some respects. He needs to improve against lefthanded pitching, and he still has some inexplicable adventures on the bases.

“He’s working through some things,” Hurdle said. “He’s very coachable. He wants to do the right thing. He has a giant heart. He has a great passion to be the best player he can be.”

Polanco is 24, so the Pirates believe they have secured what should be the prime years of his career.

He will continue to make $535,000 this season. The new contract takes effect next year.

“No worries,” Polanco said. “That’s how I feel. Just play, have fun, try to help the team. Just get better every day and do what I love to do, play baseball every day.”

Rotation set

Gerrit Cole is scheduled to make his 2016 debut this Saturday at Cincinnati.

Jeff Locke, who doesn’t pitch until Sunday, threw a bullpen session on Wednesday.

Cole was late to start spring training because of discomfort in his rib cage.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.


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