Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Off-Season Contract Issues and Projections

The Pirates are going to have an interesting arbitration class this offseason. Several players — Garrett Jones, James McDonald, Neil Walker — could all stand to get pretty heavy pay raises, while pitchers Joel Hanrahan and Jeff Karstens, both third time eligible, could serve as off-season trade chips. The Pirates also have an option on veteran catcher Rod Barajas, who which could be exercised to return as their backup.

“You never want to go to arbitration cases, as we’ve shown in the past,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “If we have to, we have to. But we much prefer to find an agreement, a middle ground before we get to that point in time. We’re going to have some natural payroll escalations with the organic growth of our players’ salary, which is a good thing. We’re going to explore all trade opportunities, free agent opportunities. How do we improve this club? How do we improve our overall standing as an organization?”

“We have a good number of guys eligible each of the last off-seasons. We’ve got some higher profile cases this year…We have a pretty good feel for where it’s going to fall. Now we get to hear the agents side of where it’s going to fall. And then you work diligently to find a middle ground.”



Rod Barajas had a down year offensively, hitting for a career worst .206 average over his 11 years in the Majors. Barajas did belt 11 home runs and play in 104 games for the Pirates this season, the most games played since 2009 with Toronto. The 37-year-old’s defense behind the plate was suspect, and he combined to catch just six of 93 base stealers. Barajas has a $3.5M option for the 2013 season. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said that during his exit interview with Barajas, the idea of returning as a backup was brought up.

“Is he a [No. 1 catcher]?,’ Hurdle said. “Or turn it into a two? Is there another one? Is it time for [Michael] McKenry to be a one? Is there another one out there? As you look at the crystal ball, and those conversations are candid. We had it with Rod as part of the exit interview. You got to make sure you have that conversation. Is the guy willing to go in with the mindset that, okay, I’m not the 100-120 game guy anymore. I might be the 60-80 game guy…I thought it was time to explore that with Rod. He wants to play, and I think he understands very well where he is at this point in time in his career.”


Arbitration Eligibles

First Time

James McDonald had a tale of two seasons in 2012. In the first half, McDonald looked like a No. 1 pitcher, posting a 2.37 ERA over his first 17 starts before the All-Star break. He walked just 31 batters while striking out 100 over 110 innings with a .196 opposing batting average and an 0.97 WHIP. But McDonald’s struggles after the break spiraled for the right-hander as he went on to post a 7.52 ERA over his final 13 outings. McDonald made 12 starts and was moved into the bullpen to finish the season and get back on track.

Neil Walker‘s season ended early due to a herniated disc in his low back, but the second basemen was on track for a career year for his hometown of Pittsburgh. Walker hit for a .280/.342/.426 line over 129 games in his fourth season in the Majors. Walker belted a career-high 14 home runs and drove in 69 RBIs this season. There has been nothing new on a long-term contract between Walker and the Pirates.

“Generally speaking, it is a part of our process,” Huntington said. “It is a part of our plan as evidence of some of the deals we’ve done so far. IF there is a fit to be had, we’ll certainly explore it.”

“In my opinion it hasn’t changed,” Walker said. “I’m going to go through arbitration this year and that’s kind of the way I have to look at it. I’m open to talks this off-season. If they want to talk in spring training or after the season, or in-between. I’m open to that.”

— Gaby Sanchez was acquired from Miami at the trade deadline and put up a .241/.323/.397 line over 50 games with the Pirates. Sanchez played mostly off the bench as a pinch-hitter or against an opposing tough lefty on the mound. Sanchez hit seven home runs on the season, four with the Pirates.


Second Time

Charlie Morton had season-ending Tommy John surgery in June and is not expected to return until at least June of the 2013 season. Morton made nine starts this season with the Pirates before being injured. The right-hander posted a 4.65 ERA during that span.

Garrett Jones could likely see the biggest jump in arbitration this year. Jones put together an impressive season for the Pirates after breaking spring training in part of a platoon at first base. Jones launched a career-high 27 long balls this season, earning him regular playing time. His previous high was 21 he hit in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010 with the Pirates. Jones also tied his career-high in RBIs with 86.

Chris Resop posted a 3.91 ERA over 73.2 innings in relief in his second season with the Pirates. Resop proved the bullpen with a variety of roles this year from multiple innings, to the late innings and coming in with runners on base.


Third Time

Joel Hanrahan has put back-to-back All-Star seasons for the Pirates as the club’s closer. Hanrahan notched 36 saves (40 opportunities) this season, just four shy of his career-best mark of 40 (44 opportunities) last year. The righty posted a 2.47 ERA over 59.2 innings.

“I hope so,” Hanrahan said on if he will be with Pittsburgh next year. “I think all the guys in here like me. I still got one more year under control here and I’m going in the off-season planning on being a Pirate, and we’ll see what happens from there.”

Jeff Karstens missed two months of the season due to a shoulder injury, then once again with a right hip flexor injury. Karstens was limited to just 90.2 frames with the Pirates this season. He was moved into the bullpen to finish out the season with the club decided to move a prospect into the rotation in September.

“Unfortunately at times, his body lets him down and it’s been various body parts,” Huntington said. “As of what we have to do with every player in the organization, we’ve got to do a thorough analysis and explore the fit on the team going forward, explore the role and how he fits in the big picture. Right now, it’s a bit early to talk about that publicly.”


Arbitration Number Predictions

by Kevin Creagh

Garrett Jones – 2nd year of 4 arb years, $4.6M estimate.  Career year coming off of a $2.2M platform year.  Using 20-40-60-80 for a Super 2, his 1.9 WAR ($5M/WAR) would place him at $3.8M, but that’s too low from his $2.2M base.  Absolutely should be tendered because of his power component.
Joel Hanrahan – 3rd year of 3 arb years, $7.5M estimate.  Has been following the Heath Bell salary path consistently.  In 2011, Bell had a $7M salary and Hanrahan has been slightly ahead of him salary wise, plus he has the gaudier strikeout numbers.  Pirates could (and should) not commit that much money to a closer and Hanrahan is a strong trade candidate.
Charlie Morton – 2nd year of 3 arb years, $2.7M estimate.  Morton’s arb-1 year gave him a $2.4M base to work from and even though like it seems he missed the whole year, he did pitch some so his number will go up slightly.  Morton should be considered a strong non-tender candidate and then re-signed to a minor league deal or low base major league deal.
Jeff Karstens – 3rd year of 3 arb years, $4.8M estimate.  This past year, Karstens had his highest WAR of 1.7, but in only 90 IP.  In an injury-shortened 2011, he produced only 0.9 WAR in 160 IP.  If you do a weighted average over these 250 IP from 2 years, you get 1.2 WAR.  On the 40-60-80 scale, that equates to $4.8M.  Decent non-tender candidate due to injury concerns.
Chris Resop – 2nd year of 3 arb years, $1.1M estimate.  Working off of $850K platform, Resop had a solid, unspectacular year in middle relief.  He is a good 6/7th inning guy and this won’t break the bank, but the Pirates have a slew of rookies (Wilson, McPherson, Morris, Black) that could be candidates for that position out of spring training.  Potential non-tender candidate.
James McDonald – 1st year of 3 arb years, $2.3M estimate.  Perhaps the most challenging case of them all.  McDonald had an unheard of line of 4.21 ERA/4.21 FIP/4.21 xFIP, so we definitely know what his true talent was this year.  He also pitched the exact innings in 2012 as he did in 2011 (171 IP), but this year it resulted in a 1.7 WAR.  He was a Cy Young candidate in the first half and a washout in the second half.  If you average his WAR over the past 2 years, it is 0.95 WAR/year.  That gives you $1.9M on the 40-60-80 scale.  I gave him a little extra based on his upward trendline.
Gaby Sanchez – 1st year of 3 arb years, $2.9M estimate. Sanchez picked a bad year to have a down year.  His first 2 years were solid (19 HR each year, wRC+ of 111 and 113, WAR of 2.3 and 3.0) but he cratered this year with the Marlins and Pirates with only 7 HR, wRC+ of 68, and a WAR of -0.2.  Total his 3 full years up and it’s 1.7 WAR/year.  On the 40-60-80 scale that would be $3.4M, but I’m rounding down a touch for his sub-par year in 2012.
Neil Walker – 1st year of 4 arb year, $2.7M estimate.  Prior to his finger and back injuries, Walker was on track for a fantastic season.  Instead he had to settle for a merely “good” season.  His average WAR in his 3 years is 2.6 WAR/year.  On the 20-40-60-80 scale for Super 2’s, that’s $2.6M.  Gave him a boost for his upward trendline.  Should be the prime extension candidate this off-season for the Pirates.
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Richard Haft

I am not a sport journalist, but I cannot fathom how someone can sit there and hear that Karstens will be non tendered, or Barajas might be brought back without some severe questions for Hurdle and/or the front office.

I am sick of the excuse making for the economics of this team and the rationalizations. The focus of any article should be who are the best 25 guys they can get period. National articles have repeatedly pointed out that they are not the smallest market in the country. Paying a dependable pitcher 4 or 5 million is not alot of money in 2012 MLB dollars. I don’t care if Hanrahan was to make 20 million dollars next year, its not my money. If he is the best closer on the team, pay him what he is worth. Or trade him. If they have him walk like Doumit did last year, they should be held accountable. All I saw last year was Doumit cost too much. So what? What does that have to do with anything from a fan perspective? Seven million for a good hitting catcher is the going rate.

If a guy leaves for free agency and a team makes a good faith offer, then that is a legitimate excuse. Not paying guys options they agreed to or getting rid of guys because they may make market rate in arbitration may be “reasons” for the team itself to let someone go, but everyone else should be asking them some hard questions about their commitment to winning.

Skinny Merlino

Ill shoot myself if fat rod comes back


With Karstens, Hanrahan and Morton getting offered the numbers listed it’s approximately $28M for everyone. We have another $27M guaranteed with Cutch, Tabata, AJ, Barmes and Wandy. Add $5-7M for the league min guys and there’s $60M+. I wish that $60M wasn’t such a threshold. It would be nice to hold onto Karstens and Hanrahan AND acquire/sign a $10M piece.

Bryan Graham

If only I could believe that if Barajas in brought back he would be a backup. Obviously the Pirates don’t feel that McHenry is capable or Barajas already would have been the backup.


Barajas is not suspect, that is very generous adjective; he terrible. 6 of 93 runners caught…pitiful. Must be replaced. Bucs can’t bring him back, he offers no benefit to winning. We still haven’t heard a good reason Hurdle started him over Fort in the 2nd half.


Just to be fair in the 2nd half (post All Star Break) Barajas received 160 PA to McKenry’s 156. Should it have been in favor of McKenry instead and heavily so? Yes. But the way you say that above makes it sound like Barajas was the no doubt clear #1 catcher when in actuality time was split basically evenly.


Karstens WAR numbers are interesting. You used the Fangraphs data. Baseball-reference.com has him at 2.3 WAR in 2011 and just 0.6 in 2012. Any idea why there is such a big discrepancy between the two types of WAR calculations? I’m guessing but am open to suggestion that the baseball-reference calculation places an emphasis on innings?

Also, if Karstens and Hanrahan are gone and if Morton never returns from the injury, the Pirates enter 2013 with Tabata, Harrison, Locke, Morris and DCutch plus the minor leaguers left from the roster overhaul of 2008-09. Hopefully something of value can be had in a deal for Hanrahan. Even if Karstens, Hanrahan and Morton all stay with the Pirates, the value NH got in return is still subpar. How people defend those trades as being okay boggles me.

Tim Williams

Baseball Reference bases their pitching WAR on actual results. FanGraphs bases it on FIP.

I prefer BRef WAR if you’re reviewing a season and what actually happened. But if you’re looking at what kind of player a pitcher can be in the future, I think the FanGraphs approach is best.

Lee Young

No wonder I don’t ‘get’ all this WAR stuff….3 different ones? Makes my head spin…..lol

I’m old school…I didn’t need WAR to know that Bob Veale and Vern Law were good pitchers. 🙂

VRR Cards

If you need WAR to determine if a pitcher is good or not he probably isn’t.

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