Timing could be right for Pirates to explore extensions for Taillon, Williams

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
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Two star pitchers recently signed team-friendly extensions, so should the Pittsburgh Pirates start considering similar deals with two of their star pitchers?

Aaron Nola, of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees each signed team-friendly extensions before hitting arbitration in the last week or so.

Nola, signed a 4-year, $45 million extension on February 13, with an option for 2023 at $16 million. It also includes $2 million worth of signing bonuses that are spread out over the four years. There is also a $4.25M buyout for 2023. Here’s how Nola’s deal looks over the four years:  2019 ($4.5M), 2020 ($8.0M), 2021 ($11.75M), 2022 ($15M).

Nola is being rewarded after a 2018 season where he was an all-star, finished third in the Cy Young voting and finished 13th in MVP voting. He started in 33 games, finished 17-6, with a 2.37 ERA, 224 strikeouts, a .975 WHIP and a 10.5 WAR. He finished in the top five in all of those categories and was the only pitcher in the NL with a WAR that was more than 10.

Prior to 2018, Nola had two seasons as a full-time starter. In 2016, he started 20 games, went 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA and a WAR of 0.0. The 2017 season saw him double the number of wins (12), have a lower ERA (3.54) in 27 starts with a WAR of 4.3.

The Phillies are hoping that 2018 was the start for Nola as a premiere pitcher and they signed him up before he would hit arbitration this season. MLB Trade Rumors projected him to get $6.6 million in his first year, but for Nola even though he’s taking less money now, he knows that he could be overly compensated in the years to come, and be on a championship caliber team.

The same plan the Phillies used on Nola was what the Yankees did with Severino.

Two days after Nola signed his deal, Severino inked a 4-year, $40 million deal to stay in New York. His deal also included $2 million worth of signing bonuses. Severino has less of a buyout in the fifth year than Nola, as he would only get $2.75M if his option year isn’t picked up. If the option is picked up he would be paid $15 million in 2023. Severino’s deal looks like this over the four years: 2019 ($4.0M), 2020 ($10.0M), 2021 ($10.250M), 2022 ($11M).

Severino actually has a longer track record of success than Nola did before signing his deal. He’s been named an All-Star in each of the last two seasons. The Yankees ace finished third in the Cy Young in 2017 and 9th in the Cy Young voting in 2018.

Since becoming a full-time starter two years ago, he’s had double-digit wins each season, with 14 in 2017 and 19 in 2018. Has had more than 200 strikeouts each of those seasons, along with a 1.040 WHIP in 2017 and a 1.145 WHIP in 2018. Finally, he had a 5.3 WAR in 2017 and 4.8 WAR in 2018.

Severino was projected for $5.1 million this season, but again took the long-term security of a multiyear deal to make sure his money his guaranteed during that time.

Both Nola and Severino took a hit this year, but they locked themselves into big pay days in the future without missing a ton of free agent years ahead of them. Plus in a free agent market that, except for Patrick Corbin, hasn’t really paid top dollar to free agent pitchers, signing these extensions could be a way to around the lack of free agent money.

This model is something the Pirates should look into when exploring deals for two of their star pitchers.

Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams are two guys the Pirates should invest in long-term to help secure this window that they are in.

Taillon is coming off his best season in 2018. He started 32 games, had the lowest ERA of his career at 3.20, the most strikeouts with 179 with a 1.178 WHIP and a WAR of 4.7. He did all of that and won 14 games. His numbers compare well to what Severino did with the Yankees in 2018 and what Nola did the year prior in 2017.

As for Williams, his post All-Star break performance is what stands out. He went 7-3, with a 1.38 ERA, with 55 strikeouts while holding hitters to a .217 batting average with only 11 runs given up in 12 starts.

Now, one big difference between these two and the two situations mentioned above is the timing. The Pirates’ pitchers are in the last year before they hit arbitration, while those two were in the first year of it.

That one-year difference may be a sticking point for both players and the Pirates’ front office. The players may not want to sign long-term contracts knowing that the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is up in December 2021 – which would be the offseason before Taillon and Williams would be in the last year of arbitration – could make things better for free agents and they may not want to give up the big money they could earn if the CBA looks better.

The counter point to that argument is the same reason Nola and Severino signed their deals, which is you don’t know what the landscape is going to be like then and locking in your money now where you are one pitch away from a major injury and lose all of that projected money is a risk.

As for the front office, they may see this as something they can do a year from now, get solid seasons from both of them at a reduced price (both are making $575K this season) and if they look like something to invest in they make them similar offers in February 2020.

Signing both of these guys to long-term deals would also be some good public relations for this front office. With the reputation of being a cheap team, if the Pirates did do this it would show the fans that this window that they are in is something that they believe in and is worth in investing money into it.

The Phillies and Yankees have given the model to the Pirates and the rest of Major League Baseball. It could be time to see if the Pirates are willing to put that money out there for two guys that could be keys to them making the playoffs again.

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