The Pittsburgh Pirates will have an interesting playoff race over the next month and a half. They’re currently 4.5 games back in the NL Central, and half a game back from the second Wild Card spot. So far this season, they’ve had some interesting situations develop that are impacting the playoff race, and will impact the future plans. Those include the emergence of Josh Harrison, the sudden surge from Travis Snider, Pedro Alvarez’s struggles, or the strong play of Russell Martin (all year) and Francisco Liriano (second half).
Looking past the current playoff race, we’re about to be set up for a very interesting off-season, that will be far from the cookie-cutter off-seasons from previous years. There are several interesting financial decisions coming up, and I thought I’d take a look at a few of the bigger ones tonight.
Qualifying Offers For Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano?
I’ve written about how the Pirates need Russell Martin back next season. The catching market is thin, the Pirates don’t have a good starting option internally, and if they’re going to spend money on one position, that would be a position to spend on.
Francisco Liriano had a great season last year, looking like a top of the rotation guy. This year he struggled in the first half, but since the All-Star break he has a 1.89 ERA in 38 innings, with a 9.95 K/9 and a 2.84 BB/9. His 2.72 xFIP says that the performance is legit, and should continue if he keeps pitching like this.
Last year the Pirates didn’t extend a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett. This year, they could have two situations where a qualifying offer would be needed with Martin and Liriano. I don’t think the lack of a qualifying offer to Burnett means they won’t make any offers this year. Burnett was such a unique situation, whether it was him saying that he’d retire or play for the Pirates, or the fact that he’s 37 years old and not looking for a long-term deal.
Martin and Liriano would be looking for multiple years, which means a big one year offer wouldn’t be as appealing. In Martin’s case, I think the Pirates should try to bring him back, and pay market rate to do so, assuming that market rate is in the $13-15 M per year range. In Liriano’s case, they should make a qualifying offer, especially if he continues this performance the rest of the year. They don’t necessarily have to bring Liriano back. They’ve shown a good ability to find starting pitching at a good value. But they should be able to get some compensation for Liriano by making a qualifying offer.
It will be interesting to see how the qualifying offers are handled this year.
How Much Will Josh Harrison Make in Arbitration?
Josh Harrison is arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season. For the first three seasons he was in the majors, he was mostly a replacement level player. This year he has exploded, and is currently having a 3.5 WAR season. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll surpass a 4.0 WAR season, which will make his payday interesting.
I asked earlier on Twitter for comparisons to this situation, where a player has been a replacement level guy up until arbitration, then had a huge breakout season. Because this was a rare case, there is no perfect example. The closest suggestion I received was Brandon Moss, who had a breakout season in the second half of 2012 with Oakland, then received $1.6 M in his first year in arbitration.
Moss had a 2.3 WAR during his breakout season. The free agent value for that, at $5 M per win, would be $11.5 M. So his $1.6 M represented 13.9% of his free agent value from that one season. It’s not an exact science, but it’s a good starting point to figure out what Harrison could get.
Harrison’s WAR could end up around a 4.0. That free agent value would be $20 M, based on this one year. The same 13.9% of that value would be $2.78 M for Harrison next year. That might be on the high end of things, but I don’t think he will get below $2 M like Moss received. I think around $2 M is a conservative estimate.
At this price, Harrison would almost certainly be a starter. Either that or he would be a true super utility player, getting regular playing time. Either way, I don’t see the Pirates paying him that kind of money to just be a bench player.
The Finances of the First Base Options
The Pirates will have a mess at first base this off-season. The platoon at first this year has not worked out as planned. Ike Davis is making $3.5 M and Gaby Sanchez is making $2.3 M, but combined the platoon is struggling. Pedro Alvarez, making $4.25 M in his first year of arbitration, is working on making the transition to first base.
The starter at first will be interesting. I think it ends up being Alvarez, which means they’d be looking for a trade or a non-tender for Davis. Considering how Ike Davis always has some sort of value, and the first base free agent market looks weak again, I’d say a trade is more likely. The question is whether the Pirates keep Sanchez around as a bat against lefties and a possible platoon partner, or go with Alvarez as a full-time starter. The combo would make at least $6.5 M, and probably north of $8 M based on the raise they’d get from their career numbers.
One other situation to consider here is Travis Snider. I don’t think he’ll factor in at first base, but if he keeps hitting the way he has been hitting in the second half, then the Pirates are going to have to find a spot for him. He’s due a raise over his $1.2 M salary. He could be a bench bat and a fourth outfielder, but that bench could start getting expensive if Harrison is a super utility player and Sanchez is a bat against lefties.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.