PITTSBURGH — Even on Tuesday, the day that he officially became the recipient of the most lavish contract in franchise history, Ke’Bryan Hayes still tried to blend in. Black jacket. Black shirt. Sly smile. Chill demeanor. It’s Hayes’ way. But ahead of the Pirates’ home opener, the spotlight was all his own — whether he desired it or not.
With just about every coach and player crammed into the PNC Park press conference room, Hayes’ record-breaking deal was made officially official. Even after the Pirates dropped their home opener, 2-1, later that day at PNC Park, the mood was one of optimism — albeit the cautious kind.
“It’s time for us as an organization to put a stake in the ground,” owner Bob Nutting said.
The question that looms in Pittsburgh is how deep that hypothetical stake goes. For a franchise that does not have an extensive history of high-eight-figure contracts, this willingness to spend is a welcome sight. An eight-year deal worth a guaranteed $70 million with a club option for a ninth. But only time will tell if this deal is an outlier or if it’s the first of a series of legitimate, long-term and lucrative investments.
Hayes, 25, wasn’t even in preschool when Jason Kendall, the previous owner of the Pirates’ richest contract, signed his six-year, $60 million deal. It’s a deal that could make Hayes a Pirate for life. It’s a deal that, at the minimum, is a step toward the future.
On the subject of the future, Hayes could have opted to go the traditional route: playing out his pre-arbitration and arbitration years before working out a long-term deal after hitting free agency. He could have saved figuring out the dollars and terms for another time. But Hayes expressed that the time for a deal was now.
“It felt right for me — where I was at with what we have going on,” Hayes said. “I feel like what we’re building is going to be very special.”
Added general manager Ben Cherington: “A lot of building a winning team is filling that team with players that we trust, that we can trust on the field [and] off the field. In [Ke’Bryan’s] case, he does so many things well on the field. We trust him as a player. We also trust him as a person. We need lots of players like that. I believe there are other players who fit that description, too.”
There’s no shortage of players on the active roster who fit Cherington’s description. The hope is that Hayes’ contract signals a willingness to spend and spend big — even if, historically, that hasn’t been the case. In all this, of course, there’s the matter of Bryan Reynolds.
In two full seasons, Reynolds has evolved into one of the game’s best players. He and the Pirates are likely headed to arbitration, with Reynolds filing at $4.9 million. The Pirates countered at $4.25 million.
Who is and who isn’t on the roster in coming months, years, is unknown, out of Hayes’s control. All that Hayes can control is how he performs, and how he helps the growth of Pittsburgh’s next generation.
“I feel like we have a lot of young talent in the Minor Leagues,” Hayes said. “I feel like we’re building something very special.”
The construction of “something special” starts with Hayes, who stands to establish himself as one of baseball’s best third basemen. He’s a generational defensive talent with the potential to fill his résumé full of accolades. All-Stars. Gold Gloves. Platinum Gloves.
With this deal, Hayes will have the chance to keep playing the game he’s loved so much, all while being handsomely compensated. In Hayes, the Pirates have a cornerstone; one they paid. This deal could be a beginning. But it could also be an aberration. For now, until the next young star arises — whoever that might be — it’s a question left unanswered.