Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Joyous Kwanzaa. A few dozen players later, and around $35,000,000 spent on free agency, how is the offseason of the Pittsburgh Pirates under GM Neal Huntington progressing? (Signings or trades that appear to be purely for minor league depth are omitted.)
11/3/12: SP Kevin Correia, RP Chad Qualls, and C Rod Barajas elected free agency. See you guys. Correia was an underappreciated back-of-rotation starter during his 2 seasons in Pittsburgh, but still only posted ERA+ of 78 and 88 (remember, 100 is aveage).
11/9/12: Signed 3B Jared Goedert. This is probably just minor league depth, but I’ve always liked the 27-year old that has posted OPS of .890, .858, and .875 over his past 3 minor league seasons. He could be a decent bench player.
11/21/12: Signed CF Felix Pie. The once-heralded Cubs’ farmhand has bounced around forever, and is now 27. Pie owns an .824 career minor league OPS, plus speed, and posted Major League OPS+ of 98 and 95 in 2010 and 2011. Like Goedert, he could wind up on the bench at some point.
11/28/12: Traded RP Zach Stewart from Boston. The 25-year old Stewart has spent time with 3 MLB teams, yet his career MLB ERA (6.82) is astronomically higher than his minor league total (3.19). He’s a candidate for a bullpen spot at some point.
11/28/12: Traded SP Luis Rico and SP Luis Santos to Kansas City for RP Vin Mazzarro and 1B Clint Robinson. For a franchise supposedly “rebuilding” with young pitching, this minor move was a bit odd. Both Rico (18) and Santos (21) are young arms that have shown potential in the Dominican Summer League, Santos especially. Mazzarro is a throw-in, but Robinson is at least an interesting bat. Despite now being 27, he compiled a career .302 BA and .902 OPS with good walk totals in Kansas City’s system. He could show up at 1B at some point during the season if the MLB options falter.
11/30/12: Traded RP Chris Resop to Oakland for RP Zach Thornton. Resop was lights-out for the Pirates in 2010 (217 ERA+), but has been slightly below average ever since. So in trade, the best they could acquire was a 24-year old with a great minor league K/IP, who spent all of 2012 beating up on batters 3-5 years younger than him at High-A ball.
11/30/12: Traded INF Yamaico Navarro to Baltimore for SP Jhondaniel Medina. Decent move to acquire a young SP prospect with a low-3.00′s ERA and nearly 1K/IP for the rarely-used utility infielder.
11/30/12: Non-Tender SP Jeff Karstens. Arguably the most significant downfall of the Pirates over the past 2 decades has been lack of proper talent evaluation, both in players acquired- and players released. The last remaining arm from Huntington’s once-heralded Xavier-Nady-and-Damaso-Marte-trade to the Yankees, Karstens posted ERAs of 3.38 (110 ERA+) and 3.97 (94 ERA+) in 2011 and 2012. He rarely walks batters (only 15 free passes allowed in 90+ innings this seasons), and when he effectively changes speeds, Karstens can dominate a lineup, as he did multiple times in 2012. Yet the Pirates non-tendered the 29-year old to save approximately $3.4MM, and would spend over double that amount to sign an older, wildly erratic SP just a few weeks later…
11/30/12: Signed Free Agent C Russell Martin to a 2-year, $17MM contract. More on Martin in future articles, but this is a pretty terrible deal. Neal Huntington’s free agent signing woes continue. The Pirates actually offered Martin a 3-year deal, but Martin somewhat saved the Pirates from themselves by only taking two. When the dust clears- and the Pirates get done patting themselves on the backs for outbidding the Yankees- they’ll be stuck with a 30-year old catcher that hasn’t posted a 100 OPS+ since 2008. Like Rod Barajas before him, Martin can hit home runs (career high 21 last year), but struggles to make contact otherwise, posting career lows of .211 BA and .311 OBP last season as well. It’s a tradeoff not worth making. Once again, the Pirates will be paying big money to an offensive liability.
12/5/12: Traded C Ramon Cabrera to Detroit for SP Andrew Oliver. Cabrera is young, and has put up solid minor league numbers, but may be even shorter than the 5’8″ at which he’s listed. Oliver was a Baseball America top-100 prospect as recently as 2011. But minor league ERAs near 5.00 for two years straight will quickly drop a player from such lists, despite a still solid K/9 of 8.5. Oliver could see some spot starts at some point.
12/10/12: Signed RP Jason Grilli to a 2-year deal. After excellent 2011 (151 ERA+) and 2012 (128 ERA+) seasons, the Pirates rewarded the journeyman with a multi-year deal, with the intent of making him the club’s closer. Fans will certainly be excited to see the likeable Grilli return, but already 36 years old and with no previous closing experience, it will be interesting to see if Grilli can take his success from the setup role into the 9th inning.
12/21/12: Signed Free Agent SP Francisco Liriano to a 2-year, $12.75-14MM contract. More on this one later as well, but again, a pretty awful deal. Like Martin, the Pirates seem fascinated by acquiring “name” free agents which casual fans will recognize. The problem is that they’re paying for the name more than the production that made these players “names” years ago. As much as this author loves pitchers with great K/IP (which Liriano still has), Liriano is one of the most volatile pitchers in the game, with a BB/9 hovering around 5 (!!!) the past two seasons. It’s tough to win games when you’re handing your opponent 5 free passes a night. Supporters of the signing point to a FIP (fielding independent pitching, a sabermetric stat) among the top 60 pitchers in baseball last year. But I can’t even get that far, without getting hung up on the following numbers:
Year ERA ERA+
2009 5.80 76
2010 3.62 112
2011 5.09 80
2012 5.34 78
Which year looks like the career outlier to you? The Pirates may have just dropped $14,000,000 on a pitcher that should’ve only received a minor league invite.
12/26/12: Possbily traded CL Joel Hanrahan (+ player) to Boston for 1B/OF Jerry Sands (+ 3 players)? I’ll have a write-up on this if it actually goes down. For now, it just looks like a so-so deal. The 24-year old Sands is the prototypical power bat the Pirates desperately need, but is somewhat limited ceiling-wise. If the other 3 Red Sox’ players involved are just throw-ins, it would be disappointing to not receive more from an organization desperate for a closer, despite Hanrahan’s value probably peaking in 2011.
Unfortunately, this is a lot of treading water that doesn’t make the Pirates any better, and wastes a lot of precious financial resources in the process. The Pirates lost a good, affordable arm in Jeff Karstens for nothing. They used $31,000,000 to sign two veterans that have name recognition, but have produced at well-below average levels over the past few seasons. The Pirates acquired two power bats that could factor into the lineup, yet neither are the type of elite prospects that will command the positions from the start. At best, they’ll compete with a host of older bats for playing time. Given the magnitude of what other small market clubs have accomplished during this time, once again, it doesn’t appear that the Pirates have done enough.
More offseason updates to come. Thanks for reading.