Pittsburgh Pirates Go Against Grain, Open Wallet For Ke'Bryan Hayes

Author: John Perrotto

Originally ran at Forbes

Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes takes up his position during the first inning of a … [+] baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, April 7, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)


It was more than two decades ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Jason Kendall to the largest contract in club history. Amazingly, that record is finally on the verge of being broken.

The Pirates have agreed to an eight-year, $70-million deal with Ke’Bryan Hayes, pending the 25-year-old third baseman passing a physical.

That will surpass the $60 million Kendall, a three-time All-Star catcher, received over six years. He signed the contract following the 2000 season with the Pirates’ revenues expected to rise with the opening of PNC Park the next season.

PNC Park was supposed to make the Pirates competitive with an increase in ticket revenue and other ancillary incomes that comes with a new venue. However, despite playing in a ballpark funded primarily with tax dollars, the franchise has had just four winning seasons since Three Rivers Stadium was imploded.

And the Pirates haven’t exactly lavished money on players during the PNC Park era. Their payroll is annual among the lowest in the game.

While Hayes’ $70 million is a franchise record, 16 major league players have been signed to contracts of at least $100 million just since the end of last year’s World Series.

Even the Cleveland Guardians, also notorious for pinching pennies, got into the act Wednesday when they agreed to a five-year, $124-million extension with third baseman Jose Ramirez. The previous franchise record was the three-year, $60-million deal given to free agent Edwin Encarnacion during 2016-17 offseason.

The move with Hayes signals the Pirates believe he is ready to become the face of the franchise and a major building block in their rebuilding effort. The contract runs through 2029 and includes a club option for 2030.

Hayes made his major league debut on Sept. 1, 2020 and proceeded to have a great first month. He hit .376/.442/.682 with five home runs in 24 games and was named the National League Rookie of the Month while still retaining his rookie eligibility for 2022.

Hayes entered last season as the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.

However, he sustained a left wrist injury during the first series of the season and was hampered throughout the season. Limited to 96 games, Hayes slashed .257/.316/.373 with six homers. In what was perhaps a bad omen for 2022, Hayes left in the first inning of Monday’s opener against the Cardinals at St. Louis when he landed on his left wrist. However, imaging was negative, and the injury was described by the team as a spasm of the left forearm.

The Pirates envision Hayes anchoring a long-term infield that will include second baseman Nick Gonzales and either Oneil Cruz or Liover Peguero at shortstop.

The 6-foot-7 Cruz, who began the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, could eventually switch positions and play first base or a corner outfielder slot. Gonzales and Peguero have been assigned to Double-A Altoona.

Hayes also has good bloodlines. His father was a third baseman in the major leagues for 14 years from 1988-2001 with seven teams and won a World Series in 1996 with the New York Yankees.

The younger Hayes is the opposite of his father in that he is very quiet. Charlie fondly likes to say that “we need to get Ke’Bryan off mute.”

Yet the younger Hayes has built a strong reputation as a hard worker and good teammate. He is unlikely to ever embarrass the organization.

The Pirates obviously think highly of Hayes. They are going against their reputation as cheap and opening their checkbook for him.

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