Last winter, the Pirates and Josh Bell discussed an extension to keep the hulking first baseman in Pittsburgh long-term, but nothing actionable materialized. Management plans to try again this winter, per the Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel. Bell is represented by Scott Boras, and he is currently set to enter free agency following the 2022 season.
Bell is coming off a relatively disastrous campaign in 2020, and the Pirates would likely look to secure him for a reasonable extension. Biertempfel suggests the two sides could settle on a 3-year deal, allowing the Pirates a little more long-term security, while Bell would still enter free agency in his early thirties.
Bell looked like a surefire franchise player with a .277/367/.569 breakout campaign with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs in 2019. But as much as he impressed with 2019, the inverse happened in 2020 as he stumbled with a triple slash of .226/.305/.364. His year-over-year wRC+ tumbled from 135 in 2019 to 78 in 2020.
The Pirates don’t appear particularly close to contention, and as a small market club, the argument can certainly be made that they should explore trading Bell for prospects. But the Pirates can’t likely get the kind of return they need to move him, so they have to either play out the string until free agency two seasons from now, or try to get an extra year or two or three of control before that moment.
If he bounces back, after all, an extension may only make him more appealing as a trade candidate. Scott Boras seems to prefer to take his clients to their natural free agency, and that remains the likeliest option for Bell. Still, Boras clients have signed arbitration extensions in the past, and given the current uncertainty facing free agents, now might be the right time for the Pirates to strike.