MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates

How the record-breaking Ke’Bryan Hayes extension came together

The Pittsburgh Pirates just signed Ke’Bryan Hayes to the largest contract in franchise history. Here’s how the record-breaking deal came together.

On March 29, as Scott Lonergan was making the rounds in Arizona for spring training, his phone buzzed. It was Will Lawton, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ director of baseball operations, and he wanted to talk.

Lonergan, a baseball agent for the Ballengee Group, had an idea what Lawton had in mind. He represents Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pirates’ star third baseman, and the two had previously talked on multiple occasions about a contract extension. Lawton was in Arizona for staff meetings, so they met for dinner later that night at Mastro’s City Hall in Scottsdale.

They outlined different contract structures. They discussed the obstacles that prevented a deal from happening in the past. Lonergan shared what was most important for Hayes in a potential deal while both sides attempted to find common ground. They “eventually kicked us out,” Lonergan said, but each side wanted to continue talking.

The next day, both had meetings all day: Lonergan with his clients, Lawton with his pro scouting department. Their only opening was in the morning, so they agreed to hike Camelback Mountain at 8 a.m., where they continued talks climbing up the mountain, standing at the top, and on the way down.

“By the time we were down,” Lonergan said, “I knew we were headed in the right direction.”

Said Lawton, “He represented Ke’Bryan and his family really well by identifying what was most important to him so we could think in creative ways on how to make something work for both sides.”

Photo Credit: Scott Lonergan

A mountain hike helped cement the record-breaking Ke’Bryan Hayes extension

On March 31, the Pirates extended an offer to Hayes that would make him the highest-paid player in franchise history, surpassing Jason Kendall’s $60 million contract that he signed in 2000.

Hayes, 25, is a player the Pirates identified to be the first piece of their new era. They had extended offers to him in the past couple of years, sources said, discussing deals similar to Scott Kingery and Evan White (six years, $24 million with three club options). After he debuted, sources said, they discussed deals similar to Paul DeJong (six years, $26 million with two club options) and Gregory Polanco (five years, $35 million) with two club options).

But Hayes was not as interested in such structures. He did not want to be “boxed in on the existing deals on the marketplace,” Lonergan said, so he expressed that it had been “22 years since the Pirates had broken the franchise record for a contract and that we wanted to think bigger and that Ke’Bryan would have a larger interest in that.”

Such a contract meant both sides would have to take risks. For Hayes, it was sacrificing free agent years on a long-term contract and perhaps a larger payday down the line. For the Pirates, it was extending a player who had less than 500 career plate appearances, never hit more than 10 home runs at any level and an extensive injury history (cracked ribs in 2016, COVID-IL in 2020, hand issues in 2021, ankle sprain in 2022).

“People can gas him up all they want and while I agree that he’s a tremendous player,” Lonergan said, “the Pirates were taking a leap of faith with a small sample size and the No. 1 revenue generator still missing from that resume and that’s the run production.”

In the following days, Lonergan and Lawton continued to talk. There was progress in negotiations and by April 5, eight days after their first meeting, there was optimism from both sides that a deal could be reached before Opening Day on April 7.

“(We were) so damn close, but dealt with a ton of moving parts that made this more difficult,” Lonergan said.

Talks resumed the morning of April 6. A deal was in the “kill zone,” Lonergan said, as both sides had agreed to an eight-year structure. They were a few million apart in total dollars, sources said, with the Pirates holding firm on their offer the entire day.

Late Wednesday night, Lonergan, Borris and Jeff Randazzo worked on a counteroffer to the Pirates. Later that night, they sent the offer to Lawton.

Lawton informed Lonergan that they were “shutting it down for the night.” Optimism that a deal would be reached by Opening Day, with the first pitch about 14 hours away, was starting to fade.

“I thought it was going to come down to a coin flip,” Lonergan said.

Lonergan hardly slept that night. After not hearing from Lawton by 9 a.m., more doubt crept into his mind that a deal would not get done. With four hours until first pitch, they were running out of time. 15 minutes later, Lawton texted: “We rallying the troops this morning?”

Lonergan replied with a picture of his son Clay in a Ke’Bryan Hayes jersey. “Not planned, but Clay comes out dressed like this. Meant to be 🙏🏼”

Photo Credit: Scott Lonergan

An hour later, Lonergan and Lawton were in agreement on a contract that would make Hayes the highest-paid player in Pirates history — an eight-year, $70 million deal with a club option for a ninth season. All that needed to be worked out was the structure. Lonergan texted Hayes, who was in a hitters meeting just three hours before the Pirates were scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals: “Call me when you’re out of the meeting 💰💰💰”

Hayes then called Lonergan and was informed of the agreement. He was speechless. “On Cloud 9,” Hayes said.

Behind the scenes, Lonergan and Lawton continued to work out the structure of the contract. But word of the agreement was spreading through the clubhouse. Players celebrated and erupted in applause. One teammate asked him how many beers Hayes will buy. “A lot,” he said.

Hours later, with a deal in place pending physical, Hayes exited the game in the first inning holding his hand/forearm. Watching on the TV at his house in Texas, Lonergan’s heart dropped. He texted Hayes to see what happened.

“All good. No pain at all anywhere,” Hayes texted.

Lonergan breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Geez man,” he said. “Never count your chickens.”

On Monday, Lonergan flew to Pittsburgh to attend Hayes’ press conference announcing the contract. He bought a bottle of wine for Lawton and his wife as a thank you (or sorry) for “keeping her away from her husband for so long.” But now, he said, is when the deal — and the journey to get to this point — was starting to soak in.

“We’ve been on this train since before the draft,” Lonergan said. “He went from being taken in the first round with the Pirates and we were together at all the All-Star and Futures Games to major-league debut when we were putting cardboard cutouts of his family in the stands because we weren’t physically able to be there during the 2020 season. To see this all culminate, to be able to present him this and work through it with him, is the ultimate blessing.”

Said Lawton: “I’m really excited for the opportunity to have him as a core part of winning teams in Pittsburgh for many years.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story attributed Jason Kendall’s then-record deal to Jeff Borris. The agent was actually Dan Lozano.

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