Posted on January 18, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Pittsburgh Pirates Felipe Rivero

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The Pittsburgh Pirates appear ready to embark on a rebuilding project. Key players have already been traded, and more trades are possible. However, it appears that closer Felipe Rivero will remain with the team. Rivero and the Pirates have agreed to an extension worth $22 million over the next four years. There are also $10 million options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

The Nationals traded Rivero to the Pirates in July 2016 in the deal that gave Washington former Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Since then, Rivero has emerged as one of the top relievers in the National League. In 2017, Rivero was 5-3 with a 1.67 ERA. During the course of the season, he took over as Pittsburgh’s closer, saving 21 games in 23 opportunities. The Pirates are now banking on him to continue to excel in that role in the years to come.

“We are pleased to make this long-term commitment to Felipe Rivero and are humbled that he has made a long-term commitment to the Pirates organization and our community,” said Pirates GM Neal Huntington. “We look forward to working with him to help us win games for potentially the next six seasons.”

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The four-year extension will take the place of Rivero’s four years of arbitration. Both Rivero and Huntington agree that he’s now free to think about pitching rather than worrying about his contract status or how much money he’ll make in arbitration. Rivero also gets to stay in a place that’s welcomed him with open arms since his arrival in 2016.

“I want to stay here for a little bit. It’s a good city to stay,” Rivero said in December. “I feel comfortable being here, so I want to be here a couple of years.”

As for the Pirates, Rivero’s extension means they’ve been able to lock down an important part of their term for the long term. If Rivero continues to perform the way he did in 2017, Pittsburgh will potentially have a top-flight closer at an affordable price.

“This gives us the opportunity to build a bullpen around him,” says Huntington. “Build a club around him and put our best foot forward to compete and do everything we can to win ballgames in ’18, ’19 and beyond.”

Huntington disagrees with the notion that the recent trades involving Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen will lead to a rough 2018 for the Pirates. Only time will tell if that’s the case. But it’s hard to argue that those trades were made to make the Pirates better in the immediate future.

That being said, those trades, at least on paper, have made Pittsburgh’s bullpen stronger. The Pirates added young flamethrowers Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick in those trades. Pittsburgh’s bullpen also got strong performances from the likes of George Kontos, Daniel Hudson, A.J. Schugel, and Edgar Santana the second half of last season. That group gives the Pirates the makings of a quality bullpen in 2018, especially with Rivero establishing himself as the team’s closer.

Obviously, Pirates fans have been disappointed with the moves the team has made this offseason. But signing Rivero to an extension is a reason to be optimistic. He clearly has the talent to become one of the best closers in the game. Having him signed long term on a team-friendly contract means the Pirates can hope to have a strong bullpen already in place when they have enough pieces in place to once again compete in the NL Central.

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