First Pitch: Can the Pirates Find Value Off the Bench Again This Year?

Last offseason wasn’t a good one for the Pirates, with their track record of finding value on the pitching market coming to a halt. That, combined with their entire pitching staff performing below projections, led to their first losing season since 2012. But if there’s one thing that went right last offseason, it was the signings they made for the bench.

The Pirates got tremendous value from Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, and Matt Joyce. They paid $6.5 M for the trio, and all three put up years good enough to guarantee them deals in the two-year, $11 M range. Their performances also helped to hide some down years for the offense, leading to the Pirates being one of the top five offenses in the NL.

There has been a track record of the Pirates finding reclamation projects on the pitching side, but they don’t have the same track record on the hitting side. That’s probably because the hitting side can be a bit more difficult, with hitters generally showing more year-to-year consistency than pitchers, and the mechanical factor allowing for drastic changes on the pitching side. There can be adjustments to hitter mechanics as well, but hitters don’t develop mechanical issues in the same way that pitchers do.

If the Pirates want to repeat their success on the bench, they would need a mix of opportunity and just downright good performances. They saw a 1.9 fWAR from Rodriguez, a 1.9 from Freese, and a 1.3 from Joyce. Those players all played to the best of their abilities, and a bit beyond in some cases. But it’s not like those performances were uncommon for these players.

Joyce had put up a fWAR around 1.8 each year from 2010-2014, with a 3.6 fWAR being the outlier in 2011. He declined in 2015 with a -1.4 fWAR. He probably over-performed a bit in 2016 with the Pirates, but the performance showed that 2015 was just a down year, and he still had something left in the tank.

Freese was an interesting situation, because he was coming off two years with a 2.0-2.2 fWAR each year. He had a down year in 2013, but had a 3.8 fWAR and a 2.3 fWAR the previous two years. For some reason, he was still available and able to be signed for $3 M in March. He responded with a 1.9 fWAR, which is right where he’s been the previous two years. The Pirates were fortunate in this case that a value slipped to them so late.

Rodriguez didn’t have the immediate track record of the other two, but did have a good history. He was a 2.0 fWAR player in 2010 and 2011, and had a 1.2 fWAR in 2013. After two replacement level years, he bounced back with a 1.9 fWAR n 2016. But prior to that, he started hitting in the final two months of 2015, and carried that performance to the 2016 season.

I’ve thought that John Jaso could be this year’s version of Rodriguez. He also finished strong, with a .307/.413/.568 line in 104 plate appearances over his final two months. He also started pretty strong, with an .845 OPS in April, and a .775 OPS in May. The down months in June and July definitely count, and you can’t remove them, but Jaso showed some promise and something seemed to click for him at the end of the year. Whether that carries over to 2017 remains to be seen.

But what about finding another Freese or Joyce? The Pirates do have internal options competing for the bench, so they don’t need to rely on veterans this year. But Joyce was a minor league free agent who won a spot out of Spring Training, and if another Freese comes along, they can’t pass that up. The question is whether there would be an opportunity available again, with similar players still available at low prices.

Fortunately, it seems that will be the case. Buster Olney wrote an article on Monday pointing out the enormous amount of unsigned free agents remaining this time of year. Some of the guys on the list are eventually going to get good deals, such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, and so on. But there are plenty of names still available, and odds are that one of them could drop down to David Freese territory.

The area where this could be the most attractive to the Pirates is the outfield. They don’t necessarily need an extra outfielder, due to all of the super utility players on the roster. But if someone is available and looks like a good overall fit, it would make sense to sign them. The list of outfielders remaining is pretty interesting:

Colby Rasmus*

Ben Revere*

Coco Crisp

Jeff Francoeur

Michael Bourn

Angel Pagan*

Michael Saunders*

Drew Stubbs*

Chris Coghlan**

Austin Jackson*

Nolan Reimold

Rajai Davis*

Peter Bourjos

Rickie Weeks

This list also doesn’t include trade options, which Olney lists as J.D. Martinez, Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, and Charlie Blackmon.

You might notice that several of those guys listed above have a star next to their name. The guys with one star are the guys who have put up at least one 2.0 fWAR season in the last three years. The guy with two stars also put up at least one 2.0 fWAR season, but I’d rather see the Pirates lose 120 games than sign him.

Some of those guys will sign contracts bigger than what Freese received last year. But with so many options available, and additional options available on the trade market, there could be another value out there this offseason. That’s especially the case when we’re entering the normal Christmas down period with very little activity taking place.

For now, this is something to keep on the back burner, as we won’t know about potential value players until Spring Training gets closer, or until the market finally picks up and we see who is remaining.

**Order a Last Minute Pirates Prospects Gift Subscription. Get a gift subscription for a friend or family member, and help expand the site’s content in the process.

**Pirates Among Numerous Teams Interested in Tyson Ross. The Ross market is interesting. Any team could have had him for his projected arbitration price of around $10 M just by trading for him. He was non-tendered, so it’s not like he would have cost much. You’d think that would mean his price will be below $10 M. But with so many teams interested, he might end up getting near that amount.

**The Mets Have Spoken to the Pirates About Andrew McCutchen. Not really much to this, as the teams have talked, but the Mets have a lot to do before they could add a center fielder, starting with trading two corner outfielders.

  • When the 2016 season started, I said to myself
    “man, we have a good bench.” As it turned out
    we did have a good bench, but they spent a lot
    of time as starters too. Adding Frazier made us
    even better.
    They added a lot of excitement to the team.
    I hope we can put together another good bench.

  • Aren’t Manny Mota, Jerry Lynch, Gene Clines or Vic Davalillo still available?

  • The Buster Olney twit on the sidebar is of interest if you haven’t seen it.

  • andrew.oneill88
    December 21, 2016 7:41 am

    I see what you did there with Coghlan…I absolutely agree.

  • The unexpected power delivered by Joyce and Rodriquez will be missed as well. In fact, I think one could argue that without the performance of Freese, Rodriguez and Joyce the club would have been toast very early last season.

    Let’s put aside the McCutchen trade possibilities, speculation and focus on arguably spare assets. I rank them in value in this order:
    1. Watson
    2. Bastardo
    3. Jaso
    4. Rogers
    In the current market for MLB starters, could we offer up a package or two from this pool(potentially including a good minor league arm) to obtain a veteran arm to pencil in at number #3? Or am I dreaming?

    • You are likely dreaming. With all of those players still available in Free Agency, Jaso and Rogers will have zero trade value. Watson and Bastardo each have trade value, with Watson’s higher, but a team likely isn’t going to want to trade for both of them, and teams aren’t going to trade a #3 starter for a reliever.

      • I agree with you about Rogers and to some extent Jaso. With the new willingness to trade prospects(queue Liriano trade) to free salary, what I am throwing out there is something like……
        PACKAGE ONE:
        WATSON
        JASO
        BRAULT OR KINGHAM
        PACKAGE TWO
        BASTARDO
        JASO OR ROGERS
        BRAULT OR KINGHAM OR HANSON
        Are the prospects plus the headliners enough to get the arm?
        Is the arm now better than keeping the prospect? Are the Pirates going to try and compete in 2017?

        • The problem is, most teams looking to add a bullpen arm are contending teams, and what contending teams with a need in the bullpen have a surplus of rotation arms, other than maybe the Mets.

          Then you have to look at that team and see if Jaso would have enough value to them to include a rotation arm rather than trading a prospect or two and going to Free Agency for their Jaso like bench player.

          Rogers will likely be able to be had on the Waiver wire, so teams arent going to place much value on him, and Kingham is coming off TJ, so while he may have value, it is likely at it’s lowpoint and would be a terrible time to trade him.

          Ultimately, of all of those players, Watson is the only one with real value, and taking 4-5 players with minimal value and packaging them together doesn’t really increase their value as a whole. You dont see trades like that in baseball

    • You are definitely dreaming! All of those 4 might bring back a 4 or 5. Watson is the only one with real trade value. The higher end 1b or DH options like Bautista, Encarnacion and Trumbo are still out there. Unfortunately the market for Jaso and Rogers is probably next to nothing.

  • I believe that Jaso is one of those players who hit best when they do not play everyday, but still get a lot of at bats.

  • Tim: Freese appeared in 141 games with almost 480+ PA. Rodriguez appeared in 140 games with 330+ PA. Joyce appeared in 140 games with almost 300 PA. Toss in Jaso and his appearances in 132 games and 425+ PA. The Bridge Club.

    They may fit the Hurdle definition of a bench player, and they did contribute, but could the Pirates have been better served to use some of those 1500+ Plate Appearances on players they knew were going to be the future of the franchise?

    There were many teams in MLB that were playing their youth the last few years and finding ways to win and build for the future at the same time.

    • Without the Bridge Club, the PBC might have been 90 game losers.

      I had no idea of the games played and PAs they contributed. Freese especially had more playing time than I thought he did.

    • A big reason they got so much playing time is because they were filling in for injuries. Freese filled in for Kang on two occasions. He also got a lot of time at the end of the year at 1B when the outfielders were hurt.

      Jaso was a starter for half the year, so he should get a lot. The 300-330 range is normal for a bench player like SeanRod and Joyce. But there were also a few injuries which helped to drive these totals up.

      The Pirates did give some chances to young guys, specifically Adam Frazier, who got starts at the end of the year. I think they should have given more opportunity to Hanson at the end of the year when they were out of it, but it wouldn’t have drastically changed the numbers above much.

      • Tim: I know 2016 was a different kind of season, but Bell had less than 150 PA, and Hanson had less than 35 PA. The Transition I thought the Pirates were talking about prior to the 2016 season was for preparing for the future. Instead, we bought the past from others and made it our 2016 with little, if any, concern for the future.

        In 2014 when the Cubs were winning only 73 games (5 less than our 78 in 2016) they were able to get Javier Baez 213 AB even though he only batted .169/.227/.324/ .551 OPS. In 2015 they found a way to get Addison Russell 475 AB, Kyle Schwarber 232 AB, and Jorge Soler 366 AB. Some teams can get it done.

  • Doesn’t Hanson have to stay up all year? That makes the bench Freese, Frazier, Hanson, Jaso and Stewart. With 12 pitchers it doesn’t appear they have room for an outfielder. Also I think they lose Rodgers if he doesn’t make the team.

    • I’d like to see an upgrade at catcher.

      Unless he gets traded, I don’t see Hanson surviving when the team breaks North. Hanson and Rogers might be exposed on the last cut.

  • Looks like the bounce backs this year are on the hitting side and some intriguing possibilities! Rajai Davis!

    • I would like him, but would probably cost more than they want to pay for a 4th outfielder.

  • Sorry for the ignorance but why the vitriol for Coglin?

    • No pretense of understanding the inner workings of another man’s mind (the author of this article), but I’d assume it would have to do with Chris Coghlan and Jung Ho Kang sharing a locker room when the former obliterated the latter’s knee about 16 months ago on what should have been a routine ground ball, double play.

    • Because of the filthy unnecessary slide that injured Kang. With that I would rather see the Pirates lose 161 than sign him. And with where son of Cubs’ billionaire owner will be working I wish them a new curse of 216 years! Anyone else with me?

    • You could put together a video of this clown intentionally, and on multiple occasions, launching himself at defenseless infielders and their planted legs.
      He has exhibited no respect or remorse for his actions…..and the way he does it is in not “part of the game.” He’s not a throwback, hard nosed player……he’s a coward and cheap shot artist.

  • Saunders and Pagan are two names that jump out at me from that list, but for some reason I see Stubbs as a better fit/RH platoon for Polanco

    • For some reason, Austin Jackson sticks out to me. If the front office believes that all the team needs in the outfield is a place holder until Meadows is ready given that Marte and Polanco are entrenched both now and in the future, it makes more sense to skew preference towards defense instead of offense and Jackson should be really cheap, as in minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training cheap, a la Joyce last year.

Menu