Bucs' Polanco happy to focus on future with 5-year deal

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The first time the Pittsburgh Pirates approached Gregory Polanco about a long-term commitment, the raw but talented outfielder balked.

It didn't have as much to do with a disagreement over his future value but Polanco's own comfort level as a big leaguer. He wanted to get used to Pittsburgh. He wanted to feel like he was part of something. He wanted to make sure he could back up the hype surrounding his arrival two years ago.

Consider Polanco's fears over his role, his ability and his adopted city at ease. The Pirates' too.

The two sides formally announced a new $35 million, five-year contract on Tuesday that could keep the 24-year-old in Pittsburgh for the better part of the next decade. Escalators could increase the deal to $60 million.

Polanco is being paid $535,000 this year under a one-year contract. As part of the agreement, he gets a $3 million signing bonus, half due within 30 days and the rest by next Jan. 15. He receives salaries of $1 million next year, $3.5 million in 2018, $5.5 million in 2019, $8 million in 2020 and $11 million in 2012. The Pirates have a $12.5 million option for 2022 with a $3 million buyout, and if that is exercised, they have a $13.5 million option for 2023 with a $1 million buyout.

The price of each option escalates by $500,000 each time he finishes among the top five in MVP voting earlier in the contract, with a $1 million maximum in each option.

In addition, if Polanco is eligible for salary arbitration after this season, his salaries would rise to $3 million in 2017, $4.5 million in 2018, $6.5 million in 2019 and $9 million in 2020. However, Polanco started the season at 1 year, 103 days and is likely to fall well short of super-2 status.

Regardless, it's heady territory for a player who signed with the Pirates as a gangly 6-foot-5 teenager out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, yet ground that could also prove a bargain down the road if Polanco can deliver on his immense promise.

''He's a tremendous athlete, a driven young man, a great teammate,'' general manager Neal Huntington said. ''You see the ceiling. How quickly can we help him attain that ceiling and if we can help him attain that ceiling? That's our risk.''

One the Pirates have wanted to take since well before Polanco arrived at PNC Park in June of 2014. Huntington allowed that negotiations took ''multiple years'' as both sides sought an agreement that would reward Polanco while also giving the team financial flexibility. It's a formula that worked better than the Pirates could have imagined with Andrew McCutchen, who agreed to a six-year, $60-million deal before the start of the 2012 season. That contract turned into baseball's version of a winning lottery ticket as McCutchen evolved into an MVP and one of the game's biggest stars.

The expectations aren't quite so high for Polanco, who hit .256 with nine home runs and 52 RBI to go with 27 stolen bases during his first full season with Pittsburgh in 2015, but they're not that far off either. In McCutchen, Polanco and Starling Marte - who signed a six-year deal of his own in 2014 - the Pirates have one of baseball's best outfields, just as the franchise's brain trust projected while outlining its plan to escape two decades of misery.

Those days are long gone. Pittsburgh has the second-best record in the majors since the start of 2013 and can now focus on continuing to assemble the pieces around a core that includes the outfield, second baseman Josh Harrison and pitcher Gerrit Cole. Huntington declined to get into specifics about who his next target might be, and for now he has the luxury of time. McCutchen is under team control through 2018 and Cole through 2019.

Being able to look at the ledger and know where Polanco fits will only help.

''To be able to know we've committed X number of dollars to Gregory ... that does help us build around and chart a course as we move forward that we can continue to be a competitive club, that we can continue to play meaningful games in September and playoff baseball in October as consistently as possible,'' Huntington said.

Polanco had two hits in Pittsburgh's opening 4-1 win over St. Louis on Sunday. While his looping swing remains a work in progress, the Pirates insist they've seen nothing over the last 22 months to deter them from making a lengthy investment they hope proves lucrative on both sides.

Regardless of how it looks by major league standards, the contract is more than Polanco ever dreamed he'd earn while growing up in Santo Domingo. Now he can focus on just doing his job.

''Just play baseball and get to a World Series,'' he said. ''That is what we want.''


AP Baseball Writer Ron Blum in New York contributed to this report.