First Pitch: Should the Pirates Be Involved in This Free Agent Market?

Just to provide some confirmation, the winter meetings don’t start until NEXT week. It seemed like the meetings started today with all of the transactions that went down throughout the day. If you’re a Pirates fan, there’s a chance that you didn’t notice, since the Pirates weren’t involved in any of the moves. Here is a rundown of all of today’s transactions, with some Pirates-related thoughts below.

**The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven year deal at $22 M per year. They also signed Kelly Johnson to a one year deal.

**The Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three year, $21 M deal.

**The Astros acquired Dexter Fowler from the Rockies for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes.

**The A’s sent Seth Smith to the Padres for Luke Gregerson.

**The A’s also acquired Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom from the Rangers for Michael Choice and Chris Bostick.

**The Rays added Ryan Hanigan from the Reds and Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks in a three team trade. Cincinnati got left-handed pitching prospect David Holmberg from Arizona, while Arizona received minor league right-hander Justin Choate and a player to be named later from the Rays. The Rays immediately extended Hanigan, who gives them a great pitch framing combo after yesterday’s addition of Jose Molina.

**The Tigers signed Joe Nathan.

**The Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski.

Justin Morneau received two years and $13 M from the Rockies. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Justin Morneau received two years and $13 M from the Rockies. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

**The Rockies signed Justin Morneau to a two year, $13 M deal with a mutual option for a third year.

**The Phillies signed catcher Wil Nieves. They also traded Erik Kratz and Rob Rasmussen to Toronto for Brad Lincoln.

That’s a lot of moves. Some of those moves were similar to the Pirates trade for Chris Stewart yesterday in that the impact isn’t going to be that big. As for the other moves, some of the free agent deals were ridiculous.

The biggest question mark was Morneau’s deal with Colorado. Morneau was worth $3.9 M last year, and that was his best season in the last three years. In the last three years combined he has been worth $2 M. He’s basically a replacement level player with a high priced name. The Rockies added the name.

Then there was the Jacoby Ellsbury deal. Ellsbury will be getting $22 M per year, and he’s worth that when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s rarely healthy. He played 134 games in 2013 and 158 in 2011, but was limited to 74 games in 2012 and 18 in 2010.

A trend I’ve noticed so far is that free agency hasn’t had many good values this off-season. In fact, there have been a lot of bad values. A few weeks ago I looked at some of the early free agent deals. A lot of those deals were bounce back candidates, and those candidates were getting paid for their pre-bounce back performances.

On the flip side, some of the best deals have come through the trade market, especially in deals where a team is taking on salary. Two big examples came in the last 24 hours. The Washington Nationals got two years of Doug Fister — a very underrated pitcher — in exchange for a mid-to-back of the rotation starter, right-handed reliever, and a utility infielder. This was due to the Tigers trying to clear salary to extend Max Scherzer. Today the Rays got Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan in a three team deal for a 22-year-old left-hander in short season ball and a PTBNL, all because they picked up the $5.5 M owed to Bell.

There are still free agents out there. Corey Hart, James Loney, Kendrys Morales, and the “too expensive but perfect fit for the Pirates” Mike Napoli are available at first base. There are still some bounce back starting pitching candidates, including a few new guys who entered the market recently like the seeming favorite Tommy Hanson (who I have concerns about due to his injury history and declining fastball velocity). But the prices in free agency are looking ridiculous, and the odds of the Pirates finding a fair deal in free agency don’t seem to be strong.

It’s possible they could find a better deal on the trade market like the Fister trade, or the Bell trade, where they just have to take on salary without giving up any key prospects. That would be about the same as spending on a free agent, with the key difference being that the guys who have been traded this off-season for salary relief have provided much better values than the free agent signings.

As I’ve said before, Neal Huntington has earned trust this off-season. Rather than take a “panic first and see what happens later” approach, I’d rather just wait and see how things play out. But if the Pirates avoided the free agent market, and opted for better values on the trade market, I wouldn’t blame them. If the free agent market is leading to Justin Morneau getting $6.5 M per year, then that might be a market to avoid.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**Pirates View Mike Napoli as the Perfect Fit at First Base, But…

**Pirates Sign Another Minor League Catcher

**Winter Leagues: News on Lambo and Polanco

  • The Pirates can only play in this FA market if the price is right and they utilize patience, as time goes on the prices will come down and they might find a bargain. I don’t think Neal is dumpster diving any more, but I do think he is shopping at the dollar store and that often nets something very usable.

  • Well I think Huntington heard the clamor from the masses,

    Jayson Stark :Clubs that have talked to #Pirates believe James Loney emerging as their top choice at 1B. Heard they’ve also asked on Adam Lind & Moreland.

    But seriously, Morneau will be lucky to hit at replacement level, can we hold the dismay until free agency/off season is finished.

  • I know he didn’t do what we had hoped when we brought him over for September and playoffs but I would have taken a chance on Morneau for 2 years at 13 million myself since Gaby will be here as well.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit well at Coors Field and people to get rowdy about not bringing him back. No idea what the RF porch is like in Colorado but if he couldn’t hit any HR’s here I don’t know how many he has left in the tank.

      I will say this though – I never appreciated the defensive value at first like I did when he was here.

  • Really hope they aren’t planning on Gomez and/or Mazzaro to start.

  • I thought about that. I’d rather they not give Wilson a shot because Wilson could be a decent starter but I feel he could be an excellent reliever. I know relievers pitch less innings but I think they have more SP options than they do lefty relief options. But if Wilson can be a #3 so to speak than maybe.

    As far as Mazzaro and Gomez go I don’t know if they have enough pitches. I’m asking, I really don’t know. WTM was telling me a couple weeks ago he thought Stolmy would be a better relief options because of 2 very good pitches but after that he’s not as reliable. I really don’t know how Gomez and Mazzaro stack up here.

    Also how long would it take these guys to stretch out from long/middle relief to a starter? A full season? Spring training?

  • Is anyone else thinking they may try Jeanmar or Mazzaro as a SP if AJ doesn’t sign and Wandy can’t go? Both were mostly SPs before last year. I know Justin Wilson has been menioned before, but he was only a SP in minors, never MLB. Since they’ve added 2 bullpen arms (Welker and Mikolas) everyone expects a trade. Why not slide a bullpen guy with starting experience into the rotation?

    • Don’t forget Pimentel. He’s out of options and would have to be added to the 25 man out of spring training.

      With the decision to tender Mazzaro, the Bucs are now carrying 8 arms for 7 bullpen spots (and that doesn’t even count Welker and Hughes). Someone is getting dealt, and there are a few AL teams in sudden need of late innings arms.

  • The short answer to the title question is No, the Bucs shouldn’t play in this free agent market. Let other teams overpay for them. As teams sign 1B and thus take themselves out of the market, see if a mid-level guy (Loney, Hart) will actually settle for true value. If not, look for a trade.

    Worst case scenario, we’ll have the same production from RF and 1B as last year, until Polanco arrives. Tabata alone can provide that in RF and Lambo/Gaby can’t be any worse than Garrett/Gaby was. Or bring Garrett back on the cheap and see if he can be a bounce back guy. His BABIP was a career worst, so maybe a little luck would go a long way with him.

  • Noticed the comment about the Rays getting Hanigan and now having two very good pitch framing catchers, just like the Bucs with Martin and Stewart. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
    Are the Bucs and Rays ahead of the curve in looking hard at a catcher’s defense, particularly pitch framing, and it’s effects on the pitching staff?

  • The Pirates currently have 3 starting pitchers, and a massive hole at 1B. So, yes, they need to get involved.

    • I trust Neal. But I’m just not sure why you don’t sign or “overpay” for AJ Burnett. A fifth starter is a lot easier to fill than a 4th AND 5th starter. Sign Burnett and let Locke, Taillon (doubt it), Wandy or Cumpton win the 5th job. And then when Taillons ready someone else will be hurt and Jameson can take his spot.

      A starter and a 1B option and really I think they’re done. But Neal may be working on Melancon or Grilli for a starter deal that we don’t even know about. But signing AJ gives you one less hole to fill and he’s not a long term committment.

      I’ll tell you this though – the grocery list these days is a helluva lot shorter than it used to be.

      • Did anyone here get the message : AJ was NOT committing to playing ! It isn’t a matter of ” sign or “overpay” for AJ Burnett ” if the guy hasn’t made up his mind to play at this time.

        • Clearly I did not. So you think the first move is definitely AJ’s and not Neal’s? How long do you think they give him? Quite frankly the options left for SP’s are all about the same for me. The affordable ones anyway. So I’m not sure they’re missing out on anyone by giving him a decent amount of time.

          • He has told them through his agent that it would be ” after Thanksgiving ” till he makes a decision. The ball is definitely in his court,and if you ever saw him and the boys in a picture,you would understand why he is having a difficult time making a decision. It seems to me that some posters here just don’t understand at all.

    • What do you mean? They have the injured Wandy and Jeff Locke….and NH is the greatest GM ever, so he’ll find the second coming of Christ for a buck-fifty and a case of Coke.

      I actually agree with you, in case you couldn’t tell by the above.

      The only 1B worth it right now would be Corey Hart. The others require pick loss or simply aren’t worth the $$$. And the best starting pitcher is, well, we know him well: AJ Burnett. But I’ll leave that horse well beaten.

  • When looking at the way teams attack Free Agency you know year in and year out who is going to be the players and who isn’t. The Yankees are the power hitters of the group. They swing for the fences year in a year out because they have the money and can afford to strike out. The Pirates barely have enough money to get the ball out of the infield that’s why they don’t even put the bat in their hands. Last year was a fluke, Neal finally got the courage and ran o the batters box before anybody noticed and swung at the pitch that Russell Martin was throwing and hit it out of the park. So instead of trying that again Neal is back in the dugout looking for that magical bat while every other team is taking their hacks. He might find that bat or it might be lost forever. As I read how much these players are getting more money each year I doubt that bat will ever be found again at PNC Park.

    • The difference between the Rod-Barajas-Sized hole that NH had to fill last year and the 1b hole this year is that Martin was the only catcher worth getting last year. He was worth being aggressive for. When there is only one player on the market who can really fill the hole that a contending team has, THAT is when “poor” teams like the Pirates should consider overpaying because signing a crappy catcher, and allocating the rest of the Martin contract elsewhere wouldnt have had the same effect on the 2013 and 2014 teams.

      This 1b situation is different because all of the options are pretty equally decent (yet unspectacular). They have the luxury of waiting for a little while for one to fall on their lap.

      I agree with your post in a lot of ways. It is kind of scary that the Pirates just can’t compete for the greatest players. But this situation is different from the Martin one. It is promising that it appears that when neal sees someone he really likes as a solution to a dreadful hole on the team, he will be aggressive and “hit it out of the park” as you said.

      • Great post 007. I agree there are many 1B options still out there (however flawed in their own ways), but didn’t remember Martin being basically the only C option last year. Patience may indeed be a virtue here.

  • The Bucs may be planning on giving Lambo first crack at 1b for all we know. I have no problems with it either.

  • Ok, a couple of folks left one available free agent off the list…. Garrett Jones. Where does he end up? Jaygray said, that the Brewers, Pirates and Astros may be looking for a 1st baseman. Does he get a MLB contract with someone or a minor league deal with invite to spring training with some team. If he’s not worth 6m, what is he worth to a team that needs a platoon 1st baseman? I know one team who has
    that need. Does one below average year end a career?

  • sometimes the best FA signings are the ones that a team DOESN’T make. The Pirates could fully well be better off with internal options. A trade for a platoon partner with Gabby looks to be the most likely move other than depth… however, you never know. Something big could be in the works. Actually, the talent starting to bubble to the top in this organization is something big and it has started happening. I like where the Pirates are at very much.

  • I hope the Pirates strike below-market deals with some guys, but guys are going off the board quickly.

    I’m all for holding out for the bargains, but i’ll be a little annoyed if they lose out on all of them and then Gaby Sanchez is the everyday 1b.

    Just thinking… what teams are even still in the market for 1b? There might actually be more 1b on the market (FA + Trade) than teams that are really in need. If this is the case, maybe it could turn into a buyers’ market. I could be totally wrong and maybe half the teams need a 1b.

    • Teams i can think of with a 1b need:

      Milwauke, Buccos, i guess the Astros would add talent if given the opportunity, the mariners COULD since theyre desperate for anything but they have Smoak and Montero. I guess the Red Sox, even though they could get away with the guys they already have. Rays?

      Probably missing some obvious ones, but i think there could be a good chance that there are more 1b for sale than 1b jobs open.

  • I’ve said all along the Bucs should address 1B thru trade. The trade market is saturated with flawed first basemen. Loney is the only real free agent fit. He is far from perfect too, and some team is going to overpay in this market. I’d rather the Bucs flip a reliever for Davis, Moreland, or Morrison than overpay Loney.

    • I’d rather see them flip a reliever for those guys, also, but I doubt the other teams would do it….not to be flippant, of course…. 🙂 🙂

    • I’ve always liked Morrison. He’s nothing spectacular, but on the right team I’m sure he could produce.

      He can be a real piece of work on the Twitter, which might scare away the squeaky clean front office, but he’s good friends with Tony Sanchez, would be cheap, and fits a need.

      I used to like Davis a lot, but I’m not so big on him recently.

    • The Rangers already have a crowded bullpen. So,it is going to take more than a reliever to get Moreland ,or any one else from them. Personally,I would like to see them sign a guy like a Loney for 1st base partner.

    • Cato the Elder
      December 4, 2013 11:39 am

      “I’d rather the Bucs flip a reliever…”

      If other teams are being so charitable, we might as well ask if they would just give a us a first basemen for bag of baseballs.

  • Rumor has it Nutting is in negotiations to have parking meters installed at the soon-to-be rechristened “Robinson Cano Town Center” in order to help pay for his acquisition. Additionally, Nutting will finance a two-story party deck with admission of $1000/night to be built atop the Renaissance to Jay-Z’s specs and staffed with Beyonce look-alikes. Robbie will be given the kayak concession, to be renamed “Cano’s Canoes” and is also co-named on a trademark for the phrase “CANOball Coming” which will spawn a lucrative t-shirt/towel business.

    As JayZ is terrified his client will end up in obscurity in Seattle and never reach the celebrity status envisioned, he will agree to an 8/200 deal with the Pirates provided Cano also gets his choice of every pitchman opportunity currently held by Bob Pompeani.

    • Funny stuff Scott. Seriously though, do the Ellsbury and McCann signings take the Yanks out of the running for Cano? Even they can’t spend half a billion $ in one off season can they? It’s not like the extra $20 mil in TV revenue will do anything for them close to what it will do for the Bucs. And finally getting out from under the ARod contract only goes so far.

      If the Yanks reduce their interest in Cano, his price goes WAY down. After all, none of the other big spenders (Dodgers, BoSox, Cubs, Angels) seem to be interested. It will be interesting to see what happens, even if the it doesn’t affect the Bucs one way or the other.

      • The Yanks have spent a half billion at least two times that I know of.

      • New York could also use some starting pitching, and while people want to debate that the Pirates true talent level was less than 94 games, I do not think anyone could argue that last year’s New York roster talent was less than 81 win team.

        But they will be okay.

  • Tim: Justin Morneau was averaging $16 mil/year of worth before suffering the head injury and losing half of 2010 where his numbers were MVP Quality up to the date of injury, missing almost all of 2011, and about half of 2012. I discounted those numbers due to injury and looked at the improvement made in 2013 to a $3.9 mil worth, and the upside that a former MVP brings to the table in addition to the glove and leadership which are both excellent. He signed for $6.5 mil/year in an inflated market which, IMO, would be cheap to assure the Pirates would have one of the best defensive 1B combo’s in he and Gaby Sanchez. Since the end of 2013 I had said that if we could re-sign Morneau for $8 – $10 mil/year it would be a smart move for all of the things he brings to the table, and then we go after 1 or 2 young 1B prospects in other organizations like Vogelbach or Skole who are guys with big upsides who are unable to move up due to young players with long term contracts ahead of them.

    • Cato the Elder
      December 4, 2013 11:30 am

      ” Justin Morneau was averaging $16 mil/year of worth before suffering the head injury and losing half of 2010 where his numbers were MVP Quality up to the date of injury, missing almost all of 2011, and about half of 2012″

      Another way of saying that is : Justin Morneau hasn’t had a good full season since 2009.

      • Correct. I remember the MVP and another year where he was 2nd in the MVP Voting, and the fact he was hitting .345 with 20+doubles and 18 HR’s in less than 300 AB’s when injured. He may never make it back to that level, but looking at the defensive stats for 1B last year, he was 2nd in fielding percentage behind Todd Helton, and 2nd in Range Factor behind Goldschmidt. When the team has been built around GB pitchers, I can sacrifice the O for the D, especially with Morneau’s contributions in the clubhouse and in the community. I liked the Chemistry Factor. He was not a house afire after coming from the Twins, but during his time with the Pirates I saw some plays at 1B that I had not seen in a long time. We can agree to disagree.

  • I thought the Bucs would be in on Brett Anderson but I haven’t heard any rumor of them yet. He is an injury risk but fits the Bucs perfectly if he could stay healthy.

    I still think there is a good chance it will be Loney and Burnett. If not, I think a trade will happen for first baseman. I think Loney or trade for 1B. I think we will sit still in RF with Polonco so close. If Burnett chooses to retire I think we could see a trade for Porcello, Anderson type. I also still think we may see a move for a SS, I don’t think they are sold on Mercer. One thing is for sure something will happen soon.

  • I think Loney and Burnett could still prove to be relative bargains – if you could get both for 20m you’ve got maybe 5 WAR for about the same price someone is going to pay Napoli, who might only be a 3-win player. Bart Colon might still be available at the right price. Everyone else I would stay away from.

    Lacking that, I would target Lind, Brett Andersen and/or Mitch Moreland in trades. It’s probably going to cost a Kingham or Bell to get one of the first two, but the alternatives are really unappealing.

  • everybody the owner is tightwad