Avoid free agency

Neal Huntington stated in today’s Post-Gazette that the Pirates plan to be more aggressive in the free agent market this offseason. The players mentioned in the article are a great reminder of why the Pirates should mostly avoid free agency until they get farther along in the rebuilding process. Dejan notes that some recently traded players are possibilities, mentioning Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson and John Grabow as the most likely. Jack and Freddy have both been disappointments since they were traded, performing poorly and battling injuries. Jack has never shown much with the bat, and Freddy is now two years removed from his last productive offensive season. Both are relying only on defense at this point, and are likely to see their production decline further as they age and injuries become more frequent. The Pirates could use some left-handed bullpen help, so I wouldn’t mind bringing Grabow back if the price were right.

Another player mentioned in the article is Rick Ankiel. Ankiel has performed poorly for the Cardinals this year, hitting .234/.286/.390 for a wOBA of .290. He posted above average numbers in 2007 and 2008, so there is some thought that he could bounce back. I just don’t see it, though. Ankiel has had a strange career, moving from the mound to the outfield in his mid-twenties, so it is somewhat hard to project his future. But he only had two productive years before falling apart in his age 29 season. He has been a bit unlucky this season, supported by a .284 BABIP. But even if we neutralize for luck, that only brings him up to an approximate line of .251/.302/.407. His walk rate is down to just 6.4% this year, the result of chasing 33.7% of pitches outside the strike zone. His ISO has also dropped to .157, down 85 points from last year. Defensively, Ankiel plays a solid corner outfield and can handle center in a pinch. He seems like the kind of mediocre hitter that had a few solid seasons during his prime years and hit a wall as he approached 30. Essentially, he’s Brandon Moss, only more expensive, four years older, without the limited upside.

That is my point. For the most part, anyone that arrives through free agency will be approaching 30 years of age. Since we are talking about the Pirates, who will never sign a Mark Teixiera or a CC Sabathia, it is unlikely to be someone who is much of an upgrade over who is already here. The Pirates should not be trying to eke out a few extra wins in 2010. There is simply not enough talent on the roster to compete, and there is no difference between 70 wins and 75 wins. The focus should be on figuring out who might be a part of the future. I have serious doubts about Ronny Cedeno, Delwyn Young, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Garrett Jones, Steve Pearce, Jeff Clement, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, etc. But these are all players that have had success in the minor leagues, are cheap, and are still young enough to possess some upside. I highly doubt Ankiel will be much better than Moss, Jones or Pearce in 2010. I doubt Jack Wilson or Freddy Sanchez will be a large upgrade over Cedeno or Young. They may actually be worse. The Pirates currently have a large group of question marks on the roster. The goal of 2010 should be to figure out which players can help the team for the next few years.

The Pirates nearly missed out on some very good solid years of Freddy Sanchez because of a commitment to playing Joe Randa. They certainly wasted a few valuable years of Craig Wilson, blocking him with useless players like Jeromy Burnitz and Randall Simon. This year, management decided to give Nyjer Morgan an opportunity to play, instead of playing veteran mediocrity like Eric Hinske or Craig Monroe over him. They were rewarded with a career year from Nyjer, and eventually an impact talent in Lastings Milledge. Other than some bullpen help and maybe a bench player or two, the Pirates should completely avoid free agency. Look for some freely available talent instead.

Author: Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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  • http://jag mike vracar

    I agree with a lot of your comments but I disagree that they should limit free agency to bench players and bullpen help. The Pirates owe it to the fans and to MLB in general to put a competitive team on the field. I support the Pirates in building a strong foundation but it will take another 6-8 years to fully put together a solid organization that will compete. Next year they must find two players capable of hitting 25 HR each, to play 3b and 1st or RF.I wish they didn’t have to spend the money just to be respectable but they just cannot put another team on the field like this one.

  • Matt Bandi

    To put a competitive team on the field, we would have to sign about five new starting position players and probably a couple top-of-the-rotation pitchers. That’s not realistic. I don’t think the current team is as bad as it has looked since the trade deadline, but it is still far from being able to actually compete.
    I hope that we will be able to sift through some of the current borderline players and add Alvarez, Tabata and Lincoln during the 2010 season. Then, by 2011 or 2012, we could be able to add maybe two impact free agents to fill out the lineup/rotation.

  • http://jag mike vracar

    I did not mean competetive in the sense of competing for a title but in being represenative of a MLB club. I don’t know if the Pirates could even acquire two players like I spoke of but if they could put two players like that in the middle of the lineup surrounded by Jones, Milledge, Doumit and McCutchen that would give the Pirates 6 decent hitters and a CHANCE to win provided the pitching holds the other team to a reasonable amount of runs.

  • http://mvn.com/pittsburghlumberco Randy Linville

    Matt – agree 100%. The trades of 2008/2009 will make it impossible for this team to contend in 2010 without some impact moves. For this team to be mediocre (.500), some free agents will have to be signed. But, that’s following the same script that brought us Derek Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, et al over the past several seasons. We, as fans, know that doesn’t work. And worse – as you pointed out – it might actually block the development of younger talent. The front office hopefully also realizes that and won’t take the bait. If all goes well, the 2010 team will be like the 1987 Pirates when a seemingly endless stream of ballplayers were brought in to see who could play and who couldn’t. Hopefully Huntington won’t fall into the same trap that Cam and DL did and search for the bandaid to mediocrity. I’d much rather watch the 2010 Bucs lose 95 games and be ready to go in 2011.

  • http://www.sterling-advertising.com/Pittsburgh-Advertising-Agency.html Pittsburgh Ad Agency

    I think that they(The head honchos) are trying to figure out how to be “smart” with free agency. Personally, I think that the only way to be smart in free agency to find a sure thing and pay him the ridiculous amounts of money he would get from a serious contender. The attempt to find bargains usually doesn’t work out and what you end up with is players on the downside of their career. I just don’t think that free agency is a place for the bucs right now.