First Pitch: This Year’s Slow Free Agent Market

Buster Olney wrote an article on Monday that I wanted to share, talking about the slow free agent market. I thought the article was interesting, because this was the second time in the last few weeks that I read a national article talking about the entire market being slow. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the assumption is that the off-season is over because moves haven’t been made yet, and that all of the free agents are off the board.

I took a pretty big look on Sunday at what the Pirates need from this point in the off-season. The biggest need would be in the rotation, and they’ve been connected to guys like Scott Kazmir and Mat Latos, even after signing Ryan Vogelsong to fill out their rotation. But we’re about to turn the calendar to 2016, and no moves have been made yet. Normally, this would be cause for concern, but this year’s market is a bit different.

Olney points out how many free agents are still available, noting that Justin Upton, Scott Kazmir, Ian Desmond, and several other good players might end up in a situation where a one-year deal in a favorable place would be a smart move. He also mentions Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy as guys who might be better off signing after the 2016 season starts, which allows a team to sign them without losing a draft pick, and makes them ineligible for draft pick compensation next off-season.

One of the reasons there are so many free agents remaining is because there are several big spenders who aren’t expected to spend, due to a rebuilding process or other factors. Olney mentions the Yankees, Phillies, and Angels as some of those teams. He also mentions the Giants, Cubs, and Red Sox as teams who have filled their primary needs.

Eventually, the top guys will sign. But it’s kind of interesting how much talent is out there right now. Even if you just look at the pitchers, you’ve got Wei-Yin Chen, Gallardo, Kazmir, Kennedy, Latos, and Japanese pitcher Kenta Madea. That doesn’t include potential reclamation projects like Justin Masterson or Doug Fister, to give two examples.

My prediction is that the Pirates will add another starter. That’s just based on the rumors that still have them connected to starters, along with the fact that they’ve got payroll space and a glaring need. I don’t know if they’re waiting out the market to get a deal on one of the remaining guys, but that approach would make sense, as the market is slow right now, and the prices and contract years seem to be heading toward a decline.

In most years, if you don’t have a big signing done by the end of December, you don’t have the best players to choose from in January or February. This looks like it could be one of those years where really good players can be had into late January and early February. Whether the Pirates add one of those guys remains to be seen. But if the market plays out as Olney expects, and if the Pirates still have the payroll space they currently have, then it would only make sense for them to add a starter and take advantage of this rare situation.

**Tomorrow I will hold a Q&A about the 2016 Prospect Guide, and any other prospect related questions. I’ll post a thread for early questions in the morning, and will probably start answering questions around 10 AM. If you’d like to get in on the conversation, but you haven’t purchased the Prospect Guide yet, you can get the eBook version for just $15. Annual and Top Prospect subscribers can get the eBook for just $5, using the code “EBOOK”. Check out the products page to get the book.

**I’ll also be working on a year-end article, similar to the year-end articles from previous years, with a look at the key storylines to focus on in 2016. Expect that to go up early Thursday morning.

**This is usually the time of year where I’d take some time off. The baseball season is a long grind, and combining that with all of the roles I have on this site makes it even more exhausting. Following that with the Prospect Guide, and then the off-season moves usually leaves the need for a recharging period. Add in the fact that January is always slow, and that’s when I usually plan my vacation far in advance. This year, however, I don’t have a vacation planned, since I’m moving to a new place down here in early February. So instead of going somewhere on vacation in the next week, I’ll be packing up all of my stuff for a cross-town move, which is the most annoying type of move.

Just like previous years, we’ll still have all of the latest news and rumors covered on the site. We’ll also have our top 30 prospect countdown from the Prospect Guide, with one prospect each weekday. That is expected to start next week. Mini-camp will also be held the second week of January, and I’ll be covering that. As far as First Pitch articles, expect a reduced schedule until mini-camp. There aren’t many topics to write about this time of year, and if I have an article idea, I’ll just write it when I think of it, rather than saving it for this column. I may end up turning First Pitch into a daily discussion thread, at least until mini-camp and then Spring Training rolls around.

  • I still think melancon goes. Id love a trade to dodgers who still really want another closer, to get either seager or urias. I’m sure we would have to add prospects but it would be worth it for either. Seager sure up the lineup, adds some pop to a lineup.that desperately needs it, flexibility to play short or 3rd, kang insurance til he is ready, and will allow harrison to be used more in utility at times when Mercer plays 2nd. If not urias would be last piece to a strong young rotation likely in 17. Then go get a starter with extra cash.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      December 30, 2015 11:19 pm

      Melancon is not going to get you Seager or Uria – no chance.

    • Obviously easier said than done, but it’s a shame Huntington hasn’t worked something out with Arizona, who seems to care shockingly little about quality prospects and is/was looking for closer and/or second base help.

      Archie Bradley seems like the kind of struggling prospect on the surface, but with huge talent upside, that Dave Stewart would be happy to trade for present value.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    December 30, 2015 8:34 pm

    Scratch Kazmir from the list…although I never believed the Pirates were really pursuing him.

  • This year doesn’t seem too different from recent years. This chart below I created last off-season, covering the 2011-2013 free agent periods. Week 0 starts Oct 1st. We are currently in week 13.

    There are 3 bubbles of signings. The biggest one ramps gradually after the WS and peaks at the winter meetings before slowing down around the holidays, i.e. now. This is the only bubble that has happened so far. The next is about to start. Then the stragglers find jobs in March and April.

  • For awhile I thought Cervelli was going to get an extension. Couple journalists around town were mentioning it. Now im not so sure. Another guy that could be moved in July if things go bad.

  • Dodgers just signed Kazmir for 3 yrs and $48MM. I guess they’re out on Maeda.

    • Ang interest in a crowdfunding page to raise the $20m posting fee?

    • And an opt-out after the first year.

      This is the offseason of the opt-out.

      • Bit baffling LAD was willing to give that opt out. They guaranteed to only have Kazmir for 1 year unless he tanks or gets hurt in that year.

        Makes sense if they see him as best available and are thinking mostly about next year, but with their resources one would think they could have just offered a higher AAV and have him over 3 years if they like him enough.

    • All lefty rotation!

  • I still think a trade for a pitcher might be the best avenue, and I like the possibility of Cashner or C J Wilson, with the Angels picking up a good chunk of salary in Wilson’s case

    • Its possible, maybe Morse goes the other way. They are still in dire need for an outfielder, not that Morse is a good one, but have you seen their roster??

      • blackandgoldpgh
        December 30, 2015 12:09 pm

        I know Tim mentioned the possibility of trading Morse earlier this week. I have difficulty picturing a market for him considering that the Dodgers had to take our bad contract (Tabata) and send money back to make the deal late last season. I guess anything is possible though.

        • He could be a part of July firesale if things go south. Been awhile since theyve been in that position and they do have some things to move with 1 or less on some guys deals. Plus the Harrison deal escalates. I find it hard to believe they wont move that if able, with all the 2nd baseman in the pipeline.

          • Maybe, but Harrison really never reaches poor value territory unless he regresses to 1 WAR value.

            If he’s that bad, his value isnt good enough to get a return fans will like as a seller. If he’s good, his value is likely in excess of his contract even for 7.75 million in 2017 unless Hanson is just clearly a better player.

            With all the 2Bmen we have, most still can use another year of seasoning in AAA/the bench before assuming they can take over at 2B for 500 at bats. Bench roles make sense.

            • By those standards, Neil Walker never reached poor value territory. Charlie Morton never reached poor value territory.

              But they were still dropped and their “resources” allocated somewhere else.

              Just as with Jon Niese, if the Pirates have cheap alternatives giving them relatively equal contributions, it could make complete sense to trade both players depending on needs in the moment.

              • Right, those guys weren’t terrible value.

                But Morton provided basically zero excess value and Walker had a replacement ready that was far more ML seasoned than a player with 0 ML time.

                So yes, I’d trade Harrison next year if Hanson gets a few hundred reps off the bench between this year and next. I wouldn’t trade him in August with Hanson the only guy ready to take over after possibly 1.5 months of time.

  • “Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the assumption is that the off-season is over because moves haven’t been made yet, and that all of the free agents are off the board.”

    This is so laughably dense.

    • I think you overstate that NMR. Many are aware of the FA left, including SP like Kasmir and Fister who many have discussed.
      Bats other than Davis who would be an interesting fit at an impossible cost are obviously not in play, and are therefore off the board.
      Don’t slam the burgh with your negativity.

      • Wait, what?

        Tim is the one “slamming the burgh” here. I’m the one defending Pittsburgh as being smart enough to understand that the Pirates will not be signing any of the QO pitchers or $100m outfielders/first basemen.

        The obvious reality is that there are very few actual targets for the Pirates remaining.

    • From what I’ve seen, it’s a fair criticism of the Pittsburgh sports media, though, which is whom I think he most had in mind when writing that. I made the horrible mistake of watching the nightly sports call while I was visiting family, and their “insights” into the Pirates’ offseason were absurd, especially what they had to say about the John Jaso signing. (They basically said the Pirates should have not prized their prospects so much and traded for Moreland for more “certainty” at the position, even though Jaso’s bat is a much more certain–and better–thing than Moreland’s, indicting it specifically with “Nutting is cheap” rhetoric, even though Jaso is a larger total dollars commitment.)

      • Im kinda over a lot of the offseason now, and am honestly looking forward to when all the Indy guys get here in June or whenever. Finally start answering the NH draft and develop questions.

      • Isn’t that the literal definition of a strawman? Fabricate an argument so that it can easily be defeated?

        I share no less contempt for old guard Pittsburgh media than you, and because of that I don’t bother myself with reading or listening to any of it. I don’t see value in someone like Tim sniping comments that turn out to be the basis of an article, especially when they were actually correct if ever made in the first place.

        The free agent market, for all intents and purposes relative to the Pittsburgh Pirates, is practically empty at this point. And I’m not exactly sure why a site that often preaches that answers won’t be found on said market for the Pirates – instead relying on smart drafting and development – is really making a case for the opposite in the first place.

    • No kidding, how does it feel to be the poster whose understanding of all things MLB is above the rest of us ?

      • It takes a shocking lack of self awareness for YOU of all people to call somebody out like that.

        Pot, meet kettle.

  • I have an unintentional conspiracy theory. Maybe all the pitchers have just more or less decided on their own to wait for a chance to join the Bucs?!! Like NH said, it’s getting to the point where pitchers should be happy to pay to play in Pittsburgh. So maybe all of them are sitting there like reclamation Cinderellas waiting for Prince Huntington to arrive with a glass slipper.

    Oh, and on a personal note: Vogelsong is the spitting image of this guy I know who I just cannot stand and every time I see him pitch it makes me super unhappy. And the image I get in my mind when I think about Doug Fister is just awful. So there’s the potential for me to be unhappy during baseball season 2 out of every 5 days? Ug.

    Someone up there is testing me.

    -Wabbit

  • The last time I remember decent free agents sitting like this I was a kid and there ended up being a collusion lawsuit. How long before agents and the players’ union start rumbling?

    • I think this is simply the market correcting itself.

      Far too many agents bought into the stupid “no one has taken a QO yet” logic. There was always a practical limit to the type of player who should be offered and the type of player who should accept; 2016 is simply the year where that limit was crossed.

      If there weren’t an idiotic cap on draft spending, teams would be far more willing to give up a pick knowing they could go overslot later in the draft. With he current monetary constraints so heavily tied to draft order, the loss of purchasing power is a bigger deal than draft position.

      • However as the QO has risen it’s actually been more interesting of who would actually get one, deserved one, and or accept – such as the Houston CF… can’t recall name at this time.

        • blackandgoldpgh
          December 30, 2015 11:51 am

          Colby Rasmus. He will go down in history as the first MLB player to ever accept a QO.

          • BuccosFanStuckinMD
            December 30, 2015 11:22 pm

            This year, I think a guy like Dexter Fowler is going to sit on the market a good while, because of the QO he declined and the first round pick it would cost to sign him. He just isn’t a good enough player to justify that, unless you are desperate for a centerfielder and draft at the very back end of the first round….

  • I think the QO is reducing the action of the offseason past the top few FAs. It’s also hindering those guys getting to sign a contract with another team.

    • It has definitely not been a good offseason for former solid guys who had an off-2015.

    • Which is also why pretending all these options exist for the Pirates is hilarious.

      In reality, they have very few targets available.

      • Do you really believe that NMR?
        Should we go through a list of who is or is not in “the options for the pirates” – truly now not just historically speaking of what they have done. Are these guys arguably still reasonable targets – ie: reasonable meaning potentially under $100M
        Like Tim how about tiers?
        1. Maeda, Kasmir, Gallardo,
        2. Morneau, Kendrick, Desmond, Freese, Kennedy, Linsecum
        3. Fister, Pearce, Uribe, Billingsly, Harang,

        • Brian, besides cost one of the main reasons they arent committing money anywhere is the number of guys due to be promoted from Indianapolis. We are talking maybe 5 or 6 players right? They arent going to block those guys, with anything other than a Vogelsong like deal they can eat easily.

          Retooling bud.

          • We need a #3 regardless of the youngsters- You never expect any rookie to fill a 1-3 slot for at least 2 years when they come up, so they will still sign a #3, and then remove those 4,5 guys as they faulter/get injured in place of the rooks

            • As I said, Im not telling you what they SHOULD do. Only what I believe they can and will do.

              Many people bring up on this site a lot and its true. Had Taillon not be injured the last two years, we may have never had #3s like Burnett or Happ in the first place.

          • This statement is right on the money. Everyone knows the prospects were going to come sometime and 2016 is going to be the year. NH has to deal for not only the usual free agents that fit the bill but also ones that are temporary pieces that wouldnt cause a logjam w the up-and-comers. The Vogelsong deal is a classic example of that.

        • It’s not a matter of opinion, Brian.

          The Pirates will not be giving up their first round draft pick nor posting $20m for the right to negotiate with any free agent. They won’t. If you’re interested in making meaningless arguments about the far reaching possibility of either actually occurring, have at it.

          Their lineup is already extremely right-heavy and they’ve already signed a LH 1B so also eliminate every hitter you have listed.

          This leaves Kazmir, who the Pirates haven’t been connected to for a month and already has at least 3 yr offers in hand, and a smattering of crappy pitchers interchangeable with the crappy pitcher they already signed, Ryan Vogelsong.

          The only realistic free agents remaining for the Pirates greatest need are Latos and Fister if you believe his shoulder isn’t ground meat.

          • I agree with everything here. Kudos NMR and Happy New Years!

          • Don’t forget Cliff Lee.

          • It’s certainly not a fact that the won’t give up a draft pick to sign a free agent tied to a qualifying offer. That’s your *OPINION,* plain and simple.

            Sure they haven’t done it to date, but the system has only been in place for what, 5 years now? So who the hell knows. But this same type of argument has been repeatedly proven wrong. First it was they’ll never draft a Boras client, then Pedro happened. Then it was “they’ll never sign a free agent to a $10+ million contract,” then Liriano happened. Then it was “the payroll will never exceed $100 million,” then last year happened (not exactly sure if it finished over $100M, but it was close, and the target payroll this year is “around $105M” for this year). Point being, no one really knows if they will/won’t sign a free agent attached to the QO, so to sit here and proclaim it as *fact* is foolish.

            I’ve also never heard NH come out and directly say they won’t give up a draft pick to sign someone. It’s always something along the lines “if it’s the right fit at the right cost.” If they can sign Ian Kennedy to say a 3/$30M deal, you’d have to think they’d be open to the idea. But again, this is just my opinion, not fact.

            • I knew there’d be “that” guy who just hasss to chime in…

            • I never thought they would trade a draft pick for half of a platoon.

            • The Pirates structure is no different from the Steelers structure on how they build their teams. Draft picks are a necessity to both bc they build within. The sacrifice has to be a guarantee or no choice at all. I’m not even going to talk posting fees over $5 million. FA spending is rare and they are mostly small, smart pickups to good affordable deals.

              NMR is right on with their targets. It’s obvious after a while watching this FO work. Our version of big spending is in the trade market. That’s the only thing that’s unpredictable right now.

          • NMR, albiet a few days later, I still have to debate with you your point as it still holds true even though shoes have dropped so to speak.
            Posting $20 million was reported to have occurred by almost every team in the league as if you didn’t reach agreement it was refunded 100% – in other words, it doesn’t cost a thing to negotiate when everyone pays 20 mil.
            The hitters I listed still have potential players the team could and should consider such as WS MVP David Freese. A RH bat counter to your post, and would be a solid add to the 3b defense, power ability, and bench – for one.
            No argument Vogelsong is garbage – and Latos and Fister may both be over-rated and receive more than they’re capable of delivering. Kasmir is gone – so the market on pitching is shrinking.
            Giving up draft picks is an interesting topic though, because when you pick in the top 10 that’s a big deal, but if your asking me would I be ok – would you be ok, would / should the team be ok with giving up Kevin Newman – (after seeing him live, not that big a deal) to sign a guy? For the right guy I don’t think that’s as big a deal anymore picking end of the first round. Besides we should start to see some compensatory picks coming soon for losing some of this talent right? So, lose one get one.

        • Billingsly is done- you can put him in the tier with Lincecum as “retired or should be” you can throw harang in the same place. Maeda- no chance given the amount of posting fee we’d have to pay plus his contract demands. Gallardo with the QO problem, completely out of the question. – Our starting pitching possibilities are Latos, Fister, and anyone still coming off serious arm injury (think cliff lee, Brandon beachy for example, theoretically billingsley would be in this group, scott baker maybe)

        • HartHighPirate
          December 30, 2015 5:49 pm

          Tim
          Every start as a Buc Linsecum gets in PNC will be sold out. Dollar wise, how much revenue results from a sell out? Tickets, concessions etc?

          That said, what year will negotiations start for the TV contract ending in 2019? 2017, 2018?

          Free Agent contracts can be purchased with annuities. Example: Denny Crum was hired from UCLA by Louisville. It was conditioned if he stayed 10 years he would receive $1million from annuity. The rest is history.

  • To avoid the draft pick issue, they’d have to wait until after the draft. A couple of those pitchers should have took the qualifying offer.

    • Yes, and the ones left with QO’s are Kennedy, Chen, and Gallardo, none of which I would give up a 1st Round pick for the privilege of overpaying them. The Pirates are up to pick #25 in the first round and may get into the high teens because of the 8 QO players/pitchers still on the market.

      The Pirates are looking for a young LHRP – the Marlins have a kid named Cody Ege who they got in a trade from Texas at the trading deadline in 2015. He pitched well for Texas at AA and then did well for Miami at AA and AAA. Big K numbers and fairly low amount of walks.

      • All 3 of those pitchers should have taken the QO- great opportunities to make a great salary, not have to move their family’s, and restore their value for a multi-year contract later. Whomever the agents are for these guys…..are delusionary if they think those guys are going to get huge multi-year deals

        • Chen will do very well, Gallardo is past his prime and how good is Kennedy. Agents and the union have hurt baseball as much as the owners held it back for decades.
          Great, great point about uprooting families. Not something fans consider.
          Also, the guys who took the QOs aren’t going to be working for peanuts in ’16. Maybe since the ice has been broken, there will be more taken.

    • You can erase anyone in the draft pick issue scenario, since we need a pitcher opening day…..not may 15th once he is actually ready to pitch if we don’t sign him until april 1st. We don’t have the depth or the offense this year to go 45 games into the season with 2 #5 starters in the rotation- not with the cubs in our division.

  • Buster Olney knows his stuff and the Pirates are in a very good position going into January. When that 30 day countdown to Pitchers and Catchers reporting begins in a few weeks, then the pressure is on for players, agents, and GM’s. I said a few days ago on another thread that the Pirates are uniquely positioned to just sit back and wait because they have been contenders for 3 years, they play in a very pitcher friendly ballpark, and they have established a reputation for being able to salvage and restore pitching careers.
    That said, I think they are pitcher-ready to start right now, and they can afford to be very selective. Sure, we may be a little thin at No. 3 in the Rotation, but not so much that we have to make a move.

    • This is exactly what they are doing. The Pirates will only make their moves as the market moves along and other teams clear some FA hurdles.

  • Count me in the Doug Fister camp.

    • No disrespect intended, but why?

      • Accidentally upvoted myself.

      • Because he was still serviceable last year even with diminished velocity- this is a control pitcher, and is only one year removed from a 16-6 record and sub 3 ERA- He has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the majors in the last 6 years, and because of his struggles last year- could be had at a discount. If he hadn’t had the problems in 2015, we wouldn’t even be able to afford him cause he’d be a 4-80 pitcher at this point

        • Fister is someone I am neutral about. He made $14MM last year. Coming down to the Pirates price range doesn’t seem like it would be in the cards. He’s not a bad pickup at the right price, certainly far better than Voggy.

    • With Glasnow, Taillon, Kuhl at AAA count me in on any guy mentioned above. They just need another decent option that can throw strikes and get ground balls to come in and compete. We’ve seen crazy stuff happen but you have to believe there is a solid chance one of the 4-5 AAA pitchers becomes a decent 4 or 5 or better before the season is over.

      • I agree. Furthermore, I’m confident Pirates brass will sign one who will perform at a high level.

    • His FB velo has dropped every year. Count me out of the “Fister Love” camp.

      • so “every year” is starting when? His best year in his entire career was in 2014

        • And then his velo dropped again after 2014 and 2015 proved difficult.

          He sure could be useful, but guys throwing 88 have 0 room for error and haven’t been what PGH goes after in 1 year turn around guys

          • 2014 also seems to clearly be driven by BABIP luck as he wasn’t able to come close to replicating the same contact management with reduced strikeouts in 2015.

          • This, to me, is what makes the Vogelsong’s, Fister’s, and to a lesser extent Niese’s scary. With the successful reclamation pitchers of the past, you always could point to what was needed in order for them to succeed; control/command, pitch selection, ground balls, etc.

            Very difficult when that need is “major league-caliber pitches”.

            • Agree on everyone but Niese. His stuff isnt at that level of degraded, and are ML caliber. Not elite by any means, by ML caliber.

              He needs health and command. Vogey needs a time machine and Fister needs velo.

              • You’re right, Niese is out of context in that group. I was thinking two things and wrote one.

                I’m not optimistic Niese returns to a 2+ win pitcher for the same reason, but his floor is still firmly a reasonable back end starter. Questionable investment, but by all means a useful pitcher. I’m not sure the same can be said for Vogelsong.

            • Happ was an outlier then ?

              • You didn’t respond to this when I posted it before, for obvious reasons, so I’ll post it again:

                Over the three seasons prior to joining the Pirates, JA Happ had a 20.6% K-rate and a 106 FIP-.

                Over the three seasons prior to joining the Pirates, AJ Burnett has a 20.0% K-rate 106 FIP-.

                JA Happ had far more indicators common to the successful reclamation pitchers of Pirate past than people gave him credit for initially, myself included.

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