A few years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates tried to go after Jorge De La Rosa, offering him a three-year deal. He ended up re-signing with the Colorado Rockies, in part because they gave him a player option and the Pirates wouldn’t, but also to remain with a team that he was familiar and comfortable with.
A year later, they pursued Edwin Jackson on a three-year deal. He ended up turning them down to sign a one year deal with the Washington Nationals.
Even last year they went after James Loney, although they didn’t want to give him the amount of years that Tampa Bay gave him, and Loney wanted to remain in a familiar place with the Rays.
That’s how it has been for a long time for the Pirates. They were just short on a lot of free agents. Players didn’t want to come to Pittsburgh. And that’s not universal like some make it seem. Obviously they were able to sign guys like Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano. But to do so, they needed to see value where other teams didn’t, and get a discounted price on a deal that everyone else initially viewed as going above market rate. When it came to going after highly sought after free agents, where everyone agreed on the value, the track record wasn’t good.
That changed today. The Pirates agreed to a deal with Francisco Liriano, paying him $39 M over three years. That’s about what he was expected to receive at the start of the off-season. And the surprising thing about all of this is that Liriano wasn’t expected to sign until Jon Lester set the market. That could have potentially given him more bidders, and driven his price up higher. Instead, he signed early with the Pirates, while every other team looking for pitching is waiting for Lester to make his decision.
Neal Huntington was on MLB Network tonight, and talked about this very subject.
“I think, quite honestly, if this comes to fruition, Francisco probably left money on the table to come back to Pittsburgh,” Huntington said on MLB Network.
If that is true, then it wouldn’t be the first time it happened this off-season. A.J. Burnett declined a $12.75 M option with the Phillies, and immediately went to the Pirates to give them a discounted one year, $8.5 M price. He had no intentions of testing the market. There was just one team he wanted to play for. And after everything with De La Rosa, Jackson, Loney, and every other sought after free agent the Pirates pursued, it’s nice to see them on the other side of things. It’s nice to see Pittsburgh as a competitive destination for top free agents, and a place where people want to play.
“What’s been so phenomenal in the two years that we’ve become a playoff calibre team is that more and more guys are wanting to come to Pittsburgh,” Huntington said. “Not only is Francisco staying in Pittsburgh, but we’re becoming a place that agents are calling us. I’ve met with more agents this winter meetings than I have in the past.”
The Pirates entered the off-season with the need for two starting pitchers. While almost every other team looking for starters is waiting on the market to open up, the Pirates have already added the starters they needed. This is definitely better than their situation over the last few years.
Here is the Huntington interview on MLB Now:
I doubt the “Nutting is Cheap” arguments are going to die anytime soon, even with this move. But if you’re still using that line of thinking, you are missing what is happening. Their payroll has been increasing steadily, as pointed out a few weeks ago. After the Liriano deal, they should be in the mid-$80 M range, with more moves expected. Even with no moves, they will probably top the expected $90 M after in-season spending (which usually amounts to about $8 M a year).
I don’t care much about how much they spend. I’m more interested in how they spend it. The Pirates have been spending smart money. They’ve spent to lock up impact talent like Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, buying out control of three free agent years each. They spent a lot in the draft and international markets, and that is starting to pay off at the Major League level. They focused on value in the free agent and trade market, getting a huge discount on Russell Martin before everyone learned about pitch framing, and getting five great seasons worth of stats from A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Vance Worley for a combined $30 M. And now they spent money on a need, adding a top of the rotation starter when they could really use a top of the rotation starter.
You can focus on the final number, but that doesn’t get you in the playoffs to have a shot at the World Series. How you spend that money is what gets you there, which is why the Pirates have been more successful than the Reds and Brewers the last two years, despite those two teams having a higher payroll figure that is desirable to a lot of Pirates fans.
Links and Notes
**The 2015 Prospect Guide will be sent to the publisher on Friday, and will be released at some point next week, aka, whenever I get the first shipment back from the publisher. You can pre-order your copy of the book here. All orders placed before Friday morning are guaranteed to go out in the first shipment.
**I’ll be updating the payroll pages on the site when the Liriano deal becomes official and the specific contract details are known. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens after the Rule 5 draft. Until then, as shown in the links below, the Pirates could be on the lookout for relievers next.