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The Pirates Should Give This Slugger a Contract Extension

Although the 2024 season is young, the Pirates should consider signing their big first baseman Rowdy Tellez to an extension. When he was signed to a one-year deal last December, Pirates fans (as well as this writer) greeted the news with a collective yawn. His track record suggested that Tellez was a one-dimensional player who would hit home runs – maybe – but contribute little else. His home run production dropped from 35 to 13 from 2022 to 2023. Yet, his performance thus far in 2024 has belied what his statistics show. Come June or July, if he provides power to the lineup as expected, there are no reasons not to bring him back for another year or two.

The Pirates Should Give Rowdy Tellez an Extension

Consider: At the end of the 2023 season, Tellez’s career OBP in the majors was .304. As of this writing, it’s .375 for the Pirates. He was considered a slow runner and a below-average fielder. However, thus far, he’s moved around the first base bag well, shown good hands whether picking off grounders or errant throws, and even made a couple of spectacular diving stops. On the bases, he’s been willing to slide cleanly into fielders to prevent double plays.

Tellez, 29, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. He remained there until the Jays traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021. He would have been known to Pirates general manager Ben Cherington and manager Derek Shelton. Cherington was the Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations from 2016 to 2019. Shelton was Toronto’s quality control coach, whatever on earth that is, for the 2017 season. Thus, they knew that Tellez’s OBP during his years in Toronto’s minor league system was .351. So far, the Pirates’ approach has brought those on-base skills out at the major league level.

The Case for the Pirates Signing Tellez to an Extension

Under Cherington, the Pirates signed free agents to one-year contracts, only to trade them away at the July deadline. They’ve never shown any interest in extending any of these players. Recently, they’ve given extensions to Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and Mitch Keller. Cherington and owner Bob Nutting have stated that this is the year the Pirates start doing business differently. It doesn’t have to be a contract that takes Tellez into the next decade. An additional two or three years makes sense.

In addition to his play on the field, he’s also emerged as a leader on the team. On Tuesday, he stepped into the scrum as David Bednar was about to face a media onslaught after blowing a save against the Detroit Tigers and expressed his confidence in the maligned closer.

Consider, too, that the Pirates have no first-base prospects ready to make an impact in the majors any time soon. Mason Martin was thought to be the first baseman of the future. However, in the minors, he underperformed and struck out all too frequently. Nobody in the organization shed any tears when he elected free agency last November. He remains a player without a team. Malcom Nuñez, acquired in the 2022 trade of Jose Quintana to the St. Louis Cardinals, had his progress slowed by injuries last year. He wasn’t even invited to spring training this year.

Finally, it would end an embarrassing string of stopgap players at what should be a productive position. The Pirates signing Tellez to an extension would stop the merry-go-round at first base.

From The Big Nogowski to Yoshi

Since Josh Bell was traded after the 2020 season, many options were tried at first base. The 2021 season began with Colin Moran there. He’s never hit more than 13 homers in a season. Moran is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type. In 2021, he hit .258/.334/.390 with 10 HR and 50 RBI. Will Craig, a former top draft choice, was tried. He was let go after an infamously stupid play against the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates purchased John Nogowski from the Cardinals after he was designated for assignment in July and gave him a trial. “The Big Nogowski” got off to a hot start. He was batting .056 for the Cardinals when he was picked up. Six multi-hit games in his first nine games with the Pirates quickly raised his average to .345.

It was a great story for a while. Nogowski proved to be quite a character too, jawing with New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman on one occasion. Unfortunately, Nogowski had little power for his size (six feet, 245 pounds) and slumped until his average dropped to .233. The Pirates released him in September. Meanwhile, in August of 2021, the Bucs signed Yoshi Tsutsugo after he was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates used him mostly in the outfield and also at first base. Tsutsugo responded with eight homers in 43 games, earning a $4 million contract to man first base for Pittsburgh in 2022. However, it turned out to be a terrible deal. In 50 games before his ultimate release, he slashed .171/.249/.229 with 2 HR and 19 RBI. One of the home runs was hit off Yadier Molina.

From Santana to No Ordinary Joe

The Pirates signed Carlos Santana to a $6.75 million one-year contract for 2023. He performed well enough in his 94 games, hitting .235/.321/.412 with 12 HR and 53 RBI. He also emerged as a mentor to the younger players. But as the Pirates spiraled to another losing season, at age 37 it didn’t make sense to keep Santana around. At the trade deadline, Santana was traded to the Brewers and the Bucs picked up Alfonso Rivas III from the San Diego Padres. The gregarious Rivas had the personality and sense of humor to become a fan favorite – if only he could hit. However, the lefty swinger didn’t provide a lot of punch. Before long, Connor Joe forced his way into a platoon with Rivas. Eventually, Joe snatched the job full time and Rivas was released.

The Last Word

At last, the Pirates have a first baseman who looks like a good fit. With nobody on the horizon to take charge of the position, there’s no need for Cherington to look beyond what he has. The Pirates should consider signing Tellez to a contract extension to keep him in Pittsburgh for a few more years.


Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


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