Shortly after signing third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to an eight-year $70MM extension, Pirates owner Bob Nutting spoke to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the team’s plans moving forward. After applauding the work done by third-year GM Ben Cherington to rebuild the team’s talent pipeline, Nutting stated his belief “that we’ve rebuilt that foundation to the point that now we can really focus on the major league club.” That’s surely welcome news for Pittsburgh fans, who have sat through an arduous rebuilding process that’s included three consecutive fifth place finishes and a bottom-three payroll entering the 2022 season (per Cot’s Contracts).
Of further note, Nutting spoke of the need to look internally and pick “a few key building blocks […] to start building here in Pittsburgh.” It’s already known that the team tried to extend All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds prior to the 2021 season, and have since settled on an arbitration-avoiding pact with the 27-year-old earlier today. Still, with Hayes locked up through his prime years and extensions on the front office’s mind they’ll be hard-pressed to find a better building block than Reynolds. Whether further extension talks take place with Reynolds or other “building blocks”— Mackey suggests breakout reliever David Bednar as one option— remains to be seen, it’s clear the franchise is ready to pivot and secure a division title for the first time since 1992.
Some other news of note from the NL’s central division…
- We’re only a few games into the new season but the Pirates feel they may have another breakout reliever on their hands, reports Kevin Gorman of Tribune-ReviewSports. After picking up a three-inning save yesterday, the first of his career, converted-starter Wil Crowe extended his streak to seven scoreless innings to open the season. Small sample size caveats are abound here, but it’s clear that the headlining return from 2020’s Josh Bell trade has seen his stuff play up out of the bullpen. After posting a 5.48 ERA across 26 games (25 starts) with below average strikeout numbers last year, Crowe has upped his swinging strike rate and ranks among the early leaders in avoiding hard contact this season.
- The Cubs and catcher Willson Contreras remain far apart in arbitration talks and it doesn’t appear an agreement will be reached without an arbiter, per NBC Sports’ Gordon Wittenmyer. While a few months remain for both sides to settle on a midpoint between their exchanged figures— Contreras filed at $10.25MM while the Cubs put forth a $9MM offer— a tidy resolution never seemed likely between the club and one of the last members of their 2016 World Series-winning core. The Cubs are a file-and-trial club and take a hard stance on discussing arbitration salaries after the figure-exchanging deadline (this year’s deadline was March 22). When asked if the club would make an exception for Contreras, given his reputation on the team and as one of the league’s better hitting catchers, team president Jed Hoyer replied “That’s not our policy. We went past the deadline.” For his part, Contreras doesn’t seem too bothered by the prospect of an arbitration hearing, noting that he’s “been going through a lot of [criticism] since I was in the minor leagues, and everything they have to say I’ve already heard it”. The 29-year-old Contreras is set to headline a decent free agent catcher market after the season, and while he hasn’t closed the window on lengthening his Cubs tenure he did note his chances of remaining with the team may take a hit once the Cubs allow him to test the market. The two-time All-Star also drew trade interest over the offseason, which may eventually expedite the catcher’s exit from his original organization.