Monday, September 16, 2013

A Look Ahead to the 2014 Pirates

Excuse me if you find this post premature, but I’ve been conditioned over the years to use August and September as times to look ahead to the next season for the Pirates.  This “winning” thing will take some getting used to.

Using the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts for the Pirates, you can see that the Pirates have $31.875M of salary commitments for the 2014 season.  This includes buyouts and also the $13M (but only $7.5M paid by the Pirates) player option for Wandy Rodriguez.  With things looking increasingly bleak on Wandy’s elbow, it seems a near certainty that Rodriguez picks that up and rehabs on the Pirates/Astros dime.  If he doesn’t, then that corresponding amount will get deducted from 2014’s payroll and they will pop champagne on Federal Street.

Let’s take a look at the Arbitration Eligible players and try to determine who’s coming back and at what potential salary:

1B/RF  Garrett Jones (3rd yr Arb) -- probable non-tender.  His stats are down across the board and he’s looking at a potential arbitration figure of $6.5 to $7M.  The money is better allocated elsewhere.

2B  Neil Walker (2nd yr Arb) -- I definitely bring him back around $5M.  His defense has greatly improved and, when healthy, he has an above-average bat for 2B.  He need to stop switch-hitting, though.

RHP Charlie Morton (3rd yr Arb) -- Under the theory that you can never have enough pitching, I think they go one more time into the breach with Morton for around $3.5M.  If they were willing to set $2.5M on fire and give it to Karstens, they’ll definitely go $3.5M on Morton.

1B  Gaby Sanchez (2nd yr Arb) -- Sanchez has many downsides to his game, but he is the short side of a 1B platoon and he can draw a walk with some regularity, plus play a decent defensive 1B.  I would bring him back at a $2.8M salary.

OF  Felix Pie (3rd yr Arb) -- non-tender candidate

3B  Pedro Alvarez (1st yr Arb) -- He’ll be retained because of the huge power potential and decent defense, but he’s reminding me of Mark Reynolds.  His first year should mimic Reynolds’ first year of being arb-eligible and I’ll put Alvarez at $4.5M.

RHP  Vin Mazzaro (1st yr Arb) -- In a season full of surprises, Mazzaro’s great work out of the bullpen ranks near the top.  I would bring him back for $1M, as his previous work to date in the majors will help suppress his value to an arbitrator.

RHP  Mark Melancon (1st yr Arb) -- Melancon is definitely coming back, but his value is a little tricky to identify.  He was a closer, then he failed in Boston, came here as a setup guy and assumed the closer role for a spell.  He’s probably closer to Heath Bell’s salary path, but I’ll bump him up to $2.2M.

RF  Travis Snider (1st yr Arb) -- Very tough call for me on this one.  He won’t be making much money, so it’s almost a waste to not bring him back.  But on the other hand, with Marte/McCutchen as definites and Tabata’s contract needing a spot, plus Polanco knocking on the door and Lambo still available, playing time will be limited.  I think the Pirates give him one final shot in 2014 at a salary of $1.2M, but a non-tender wouldn’t surprise me.

The total from the arbitration-eligible that I would retain is $20.2M.  Combined with the $31.875M of commitments, that brings the total to $52.075M.

There’s also one player with a Vesting Option that I think the Pirates will welcome back -- Francisco Liriano.  He has a very complicated vesting schedule, but I’m going to assume that between the vesting and the bonuses, he’ll get the full $8M.

So before an offer is extended to a single free agent, the payroll is at $60.075M in this scenario.  What positions will the Pirates need to fill?

C -- Martin
1B -- (open)
2B -- Walker
SS -- Mercer
3B -- Alvarez
LF -- Marte
CF -- McCutchen
RF -- Tabata

Bench -- T. Sanchez, G. Sanchez, Snider, Lambo, (middle infielder)

SP1 -- Liriano
SP2 -- Cole
SP3 -- Locke
SP4 -- Morton
SP5 -- (many internal candidates such as Cumpton, Irwin, Pimentel, Taillon)

Bullpen --Grilli, Melancon, Wilson, Mazzaro, Gomez, Watson, Morris

So the Pirates need a starting 1B, a backup middle infielder, and a starter if they don’t feel confident in going with just the internal candidates.  The $60.025M represents a figure just below the Opening Day 2013 payroll of $66M, so it appears as if the Pirates don’t have a lot of wiggle room.  However, remember that the new national TV deals kick in next year and each team will have additional $27M coming their way.

That money could be use to lure A.J. Burnett back for one more year at $14M, get a backup infielder for $2M, and put the rest towards either obtaining a 1B in free agency or via trade.  The Pirates have been connected with Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu and he’s thought to be in the $12M/year range of a contract.

Either way, things are looking very stable for the Pirates going into 2014.  They’re no longer building for the future, now they can just tweak the roster.

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