In 2014 Jordy Mercer established himself as a viable starting major league shortstop. He earned his first call up in May of 2012 and split duties in 2013 with Clint Barmes, but this past season he became an everyday regular. Mercer got off to a slow start but finished strongly. He posted a triple slash line of .255/.305/.387 in 149 games. Those are decent numbers for a SS. For a Pirate SS they are terrific. The Pirates have not had a solid hitting shortstop since Jay Bell in the mid 90′s. Unfortunately for Jordy he will not get to cash in on his success anytime soon. Mercer is one of several late blooming Pirate players in recent seasons. He did not reach the big league club until age 25 and did not become an established regular until age 27. Mercer can not become a free agent until the 2019 season when he will be 32 years old. The Pirates already control him through what should be the prime years of his career, which means there is very little incentive for the club to work out a long term contract extension with him. The three position players the Pirates have previously negotiated contract extensions with, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Starling Marte were all set to become free agents prior to age 30. The Pirates were able to secure a few additional years of control by locking these players up with multi-year contracts early in their careers, but only in the case of Marte did they go beyond the age 31 season. Under Marte’s contract the Pirates hold a team option on his age 32 season.
Most skills for position players already begin to decline by age 30. It is risky for teams to buy additional years of control for players like Mercer when those years are likely to come with a regression in productivity. Jordy Mercer seems destined to follow the Neil Walker path in terms of how the Pirates will handle his contract situation. Walker also was somewhat of a late bloomer. The Pirates control Walker thru his age 30 season. The team has been content to take a year to year approach with Walker using his arbitration estimates as a guide to settle on his salary. Walker has stated that the Pirates have not discussed a multi-year contract with him since 2010. Despite Walker not being rewarded with a long term contract things have still worked out pretty well for him. His career earnings are already in the neighborhood of $10 million and the early arbitration estimates this offseason have him pegged to make another $9 million in 2015. But Walker benefitted by being a Super 2 arbitration player. Jordy Mercer will not make the Super 2 cut.
Not all teams are adverse to offering extensions to late bloomers. The Rays signed Ben Zobrist thru his age 34 season as did the Cardinals with Matt Carpenter. If a team sees value in doing it they will negotiate. With age not on Mercer’s side and him only having three cracks at arbitration the Pirates would have significant leverage in any multi-year contract discussions they might have with Mercer. Perhaps that leverage would allow for them to negotiate a long term contract with Mercer where the potential value outweighs the risk. So although Mercer is an unlikely extension candidate it is also not out of the realm of possibility. However, this would require the Pirates to be much more bullish on their projections of Jordy Mercer in his early 30′s than they have been with other players.