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.