One of the biggest topics heading in to the off-season will be the roster crunch. The big focus here is who the Pittsburgh Pirates will protect from the list of players who will be eligible for the 2010 Rule 5 draft. However, the roster crunch also includes players who are eligible for arbitration.
Arbitration is a funny thing. If a player in his 0-3 years isn’t performing, no one has a problem with cutting him loose. When he’s due arbitration, it’s suddenly an issue whether he should be retained or not. For example, Sean Gallagher has been bad in his time with the Pirates, and is a league minimum player for one more season after this. However, I doubt anyone would complain if Gallagher was non-tendered. On the other hand, Wilfredo Ledezma has also been bad in his time with the Pirates, but will be due a significant raise over his $500,000.
A huge misconception that exists in Pittsburgh, and all across baseball, is that money equals talent. That’s not true at all. The truth is that talent equals money. Talented players eventually get paid big money. That said, with the way baseball is set up, even players who don’t perform well are rewarded with raises. Sean Gallagher would probably receive something around $450,000 if he was tendered. Wilfredo Ledezma could receive $1 M if he was tendered. The thing is, neither player has played well enough to deserve to be tendered, regardless of the money they could make. However, Ledezma is more significant, since he could potentially make more. The thought is that Ledezma is a better player. The truth is that both players are undeserving of a roster spot, regardless of their potential salary.
Dejan Kovacevic looked at the nine players who are eligible for arbitration. He placed them in to three categories: guys who are locks, the next tier, and guys who might not be tendered. The article includes a Neal Huntington quote that every player will be tendered, but that seems doubtful. That’s something that needs to be said to try and build some sort of trade value for these guys.
The locks that Dejan had are guys I think most people would agree with. Ross Ohlendorf (Super Two eligible), Joel Hanrahan, and Ronny Cedeno will definitely get tendered. Some may disagree on Cedeno, but he’s a league average shortstop, and it’s not like there’s an immediate solution available, both internally, and on the free agent market.
The next tier included Jeff Karstens, which is an interesting situation. The Pirates didn’t tender Karstens prior to this season, although Karstens didn’t have as good of a season in 2009 as he is having this year. Karstens is putting up a 4.88 ERA in 121.2 innings pitched, with a 5.3 K/9, a 2.0 BB/9, and a 1.6 HR/9. He’s actually been a little bit unlucky, with a high HR/FB ratio. When normalized, his xFIP is 4.48.
Karstens has been one of the best pitchers on the 2010 staff, but that’s more of a reflection on the staff. Karstens is really no better than a league average starter. In fact, his secondary numbers this year, and his xFIP, are very similar to Zach Duke. Duke finds himself in the third group, with the players who might not be tendered, despite the same level of performance with the secondary numbers (which are a better way of evaluating a player than ERA and wins and losses). So why tender Karstens and non-tendered Duke? The simple answer is money.
Duke could make close to $6 M next year, while Karstens will probably make between $1 and $2 M. The price for Karstens is more in line with the production he brings to the table. The price for Duke is way too much to pay a pitcher of his talent level. Duke and Karstens are basically the same pitcher, only Duke is left handed, and is favored more in Pittsburgh because he came up through the farm system, and had success in his first half season with the Pirates. I mentioned Ledezma earlier, and how people might view his non-tender as being more significant due to the money. Duke would be a much bigger example.
Duke could make close to $6 M, but money doesn’t equal talent. Duke simply isn’t worth the price he will receive through arbitration. Say what you will about the Pirates being cheap, but that’s not the case. There’s a big difference between being cheap, and avoiding wasting money on a player who isn’t worth the money. The Pirates made the same decision with Matt Capps last year. Capps ended up bouncing back, but the Pirates used the money to sign Octavio Dotel, and ended up trading him in a deal that is looking great right now. I talked a week ago about how the Pirates should non-tender Duke and use that money toward getting a free agent or a better player via trade.
As for Karstens, I wouldn’t be against tendering him an offer, but I think a big reason he is so favored is because he’s been one of the best pitchers on a poor staff. You put better pitchers in the rotation, and raise the expectations, and suddenly Karstens looks like a disappointment. I’d rate James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf, and Paul Maholm over Karstens. From there you have two open spots, one of which I would give to Brad Lincoln to start the 2011 season. The decision to retain Karstens really comes down to what they do with that last rotation spot. If the Pirates are going to wait for their AA pitchers to arrive in June 2011, then I say keep Karstens. If they’re going to bring in outside help, then Karstens would become a $1-2 M long reliever, which probably isn’t worth the price, especially when you can find minor league free agents who can put up the same production if the rotation needs extra help.
As for the other players on the third list, I wouldn’t tender Ledezma due to his performance. I also wouldn’t tender Delwyn Young. The Pirates have enough guys that can pinch hit and play corner outfield, and Young’s .238 average, .704 OPS, and poor defense doesn’t trump any of those other options. The big decisions will be Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge.
LaRoche hasn’t performed at all this year. He’s hitting for a .206 average and a .544 OPS. His defense has also gone from above average to below average at third base. He’s not needed at third base with Pedro Alvarez, and he can’t play any other positions that the Pirates would need. The Pirates seem to like having two backup infielders on the roster. In the past they’ve spent money on Ramos Vazquez and Bobby Crosby, trying to find a player who can play shortstop, second base, and third base. The Pirates will have Argenis Diaz or Pedro Ciriaco next year to backup shortstop, but LaRoche could fill the 3B/2B role. I’d rather see LaRoche offered arbitration and used in this role, rather than bringing in another Crosby or Vazquez.
As for Milledge, he has shown to have some value this year. Milledge is hitting for a .277 average, with a .712 OPS this year. His splits show that he is much better against left handers, with a .320 average and a .926 OPS against left handers, compared to a .256 average and a .602 OPS against right handers. The Pirates have talked about platooning Garrett Jones, and Milledge would be the perfect platoon partner. Jones is hitting for a .267 average and a .785 OPS against right handers this year, compared to a .216 average and a .605 OPS against left handers. Milledge would probably receive the same amount the Pirates gave Ryan Church this year, or Eric Hinske in 2009, and would definitely have some value as a platoon player.
At this point the only guys I would non-tender are Duke, Ledezma, and Young. You might add Karstens to that list, depending on what the Pirates do during the off-season with their pitching staff. Ohlendorf, Hanrahan, and Cedeno are locks, and I’d much rather have LaRoche and Milledge on the bench than the type of guys we’ve seen filling those roles in the past. At least Milledge and LaRoche have a shot at being something more than a bench player. A guy like Vazquez, Crosby, Hinske, or Church is only going to be a bench player, with little chance of having a surprise breakout season.