Scott Boras was on-hand in Pittsburgh yesterday to watch the Major League debut of client Addison Russell and one of Kris Bryant’s earliest games, but the agent also discussed a pair of other clients — Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole — with local media. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that Boras feels more confident these days that Pirates ownership has a strong desire to compete, and he’ll give the Bucs “an opportunity” to secure his clients as core members going forward.
Boras added that there have been no serious talks of a long-term deal with either player yet, and he also strongly refuted the notion that he discourages all of his clients from signing extensions before reaching free agency. “I always let players make their decisions,” said Boras. “People say I always go to free agency. I can give you 15 players that did not go to free agency.” While he’s correct in stating that his clients don’t all reach free agency as early as possible, the vast majority of them do. Nonetheless, notable examples (via MLBTR’s Extension Tracker) such as Jered Weaver, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Pena and Ryan Madson each signed contracts that gave up free agent years in the guaranteed portion of their contracts.
It remains to be seen whether or not the team will express interest in long-term deals. Alvarez, in particular, may not be viewed as a long-term piece, as he’s seen his role reduced over the past year. The 2013 NL home run leader opened last year as the team’s everyday third baseman — a role he filled in both 2012 and 2013 — but he eventually lost playing time to Josh Harrison. Alvarez developed a serious issue in throwing over to first, making 25 errors in just 99 games at third last year, and he eventually slid over to first base. This year, he’s been platooned with Corey Hart at first base, batting .227/.277/.523 with all but three plate appearances coming against right-handed pitching.
Despite those defensive shortcomings, Boras unsurprisingly voiced a confidence that Alvarez could still be a serviceable third baseman at the Major League level. That, as Sawchik notes, may serve as a rift if the two sides do ultimately try to assess Alvarez’s long-term value. Alvarez would have more value as a third baseman, but the Pirates don’t seem to believe that he can handle that role, or, at the very least, recognize that they have a vastly superior defensive option in Harrison. Alvarez is slated to hit the open market following the 2016 season.
As for Cole, the budding ace can be controlled through the 2019 season, so the Pirates probably don’t feel a strong sense of urgency to complete a contract extension in the near future. Nonetheless, I’d imagine that Cole, along with Gregory Polanco, would be at the top of their list of players they hope to extend. The 24-year-old is off to an excellent start to his 2015 campaign, having worked to a 3.18 ERA with even more encouraging peripheral stats in an admittedly small sample. However, he’s worked to a 3.44 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate since debuting as a 22-year-old back in 2012.
Madison Bumgarner currently holds the record for largest extension among starting pitchers with between one and two years of service time (Extension Tracker link) thanks to his five-year, $35MM contract in San Francisco. The record for pitchers with two to three years of service (Ext. Tracker link) remains Gio Gonzalez’s five-year, $42MM pact with the Nationals. I’d expect Boras to set his sights significantly higher if he were to have serious extension talks either during this season or next winter, as he’d surely look to obtain a premium price on any free agent years sacrificed by Cole.
Whether or not the two sides ever have serious discussions regarding either player seems to be largely up to the Pirates, based on Boras’ comments to Sawchik. “I don’t sign checks,” said Boras. “I’m in the back of the bus. … I get the message when the driver pulls over and says, ‘I need to talk to you.'”