The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings are clearly a big deal. All you have to do is look at the amount of transactions and news around the league over the last four days to see this. The meetings get the most attention during the off-season, and because of that, they often receive more focus than they should, at least in terms of grading the off-season moves.
The Pirates were busy during the meetings, adding left handed pitcher Scott Olsen, right handed pitcher Kevin Correia, outfielder Matt Diaz, and selecting shortstop Josh Rodriguez in the Rule 5 draft. That’s a lot of moves, considering that last year the Pirates only added Bobby Crosby and selected John Raynor in the Rule 5 draft during the winter meetings. The moves they made might provide some upgrades to the team, although that upgrade will be minimal without any additional moves. Fortunately, there’s about four months until the season begins, which means grading the off-season at this point seems very premature. As far as grading the individual moves:
I’m not a big fan of Olsen. He’s got a history of attitude problems, highlighted by a lot of confrontations and fights with teammates. He’s rebounding from a shoulder injury. Prior to the injury, his career wasn’t really that good. He started off strong, but for the most part he’s been way too inconsistent, similar to the career paths of Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.
From a baseball standpoint, the deal Olsen signed makes a lot of sense for the Pirates. Olsen will only receive $500,000 in 2011, with up to $3 M in performance bonuses based on starts. He also has an option in 2012 for $4 M. No buyout has been attached to that option, although it was said that Olsen was signed for $1 M guaranteed, so the buyout could be $500,000.
At that price, Olsen is a very reasonable signing. He will only make more money in 2011 based on how many starts he makes, and I have to think the incentives wouldn’t kick in unless he made a significant amount of starts. With the options the Pirates will have throughout the 2011 season, I don’t see Olsen making those starts unless he earns them. If Olsen somehow has a breakout year, the maximum the Pirates will be paying him is $3.5 M, along with a $4 M option in 2012. If he flops out of the gate, the Pirates probably won’t be paying him much more than $500,000.
My biggest concern with Olsen is the attitude problem, especially on a very young team. From a baseball standpoint, he’s a young pitcher on a very team friendly deal, and would be a steal if he ends up having a surprise season. The odds of that type of season aren’t strong, but at such a low investment he’s worth the risk.
I really like the addition of Correia, despite the fact that the consensus option for the move is negative. I explained why I like Correia in this post. As a recap, he had a strong 2009 season, and started off strong in 2010 until tragically his brother died in a hiking accident. Following the accident, Correia’s numbers were very poor, and he admits the tragedy played a big role there.
There are questions as to why he didn’t have success prior to the 2009 season. A look at his numbers (via FanGraphs) shows that Correia started focusing more on his off-speed pitches. In 2007, Correia threw his four seam fastball 56.2% of the time, his slider 34.6% of the time, and his changeup 7.4% of the time. He was basically a three pitch pitcher, which made sense, since he was working out of the bullpen for most of the season.
Correia moved to the rotation in 2008 and saw three trends. He threw his four seamer 49.5% of the time, and his slider 38.5% of the time. He also started throwing his curveball, throwing it 3.6% of the time. Correia relied less on his fastball, and started focusing more on throwing breaking pitches.
Those trends continued in his breakout season in 2009. Correia’s fastball percentage was at 48.2% and his slider percentage went to 32.1%. More notably, his curveball percentage went up to 10.8%. Correia’s strikeout rate went from a 5.40 K/9 in 2008 to 6.45 in 2009. His walk rate dropped from 3.85 BB/9 to 2.91. His home run rate dropped from 1.23 HR/9 to 0.77. He clearly made a change in his approach, relying on his breaking pitches more, which could explain his breakout 2009 season.
In 2010 Correia continued to make adjustments. He only threw his four seam fastball 22.2% of the time, and added a two seam fastball, which he threw 28.2% of the time. His slider remained the same, at 32.4%. His curveball dropped slightly, but remained high at 8.9%. His changeup, which saw a drop in 2009, returned to normal at 7.8%. The two seam fastball explains why Correia’s ground ball percentage shot up to 48% in 2010.
Correia’s strikeout numbers went up again in 2010, although his walk and home run ratios looked similar to 2008. His home run numbers were more of a fluke. In 2008 he had a 10.4% HR/FB ratio, which is in line with his career numbers. In 2010 he had a 14.8% HR/FB ratio. His fly balls went down, yet he allowed more homers, at a pace that was above average. Those are the types of numbers that tend to bounce back to normal, which is why I think Correia will avoid his home run issues going forward. His walk rate rose due to throwing just 45.1% of his pitches in the strike zone. His career numbers are 50.3% in that area, and even in 2008 when he had a high walk total, his ratio was 49.9%. Correia has never been that low, which is why I view the number more as an outlier, rather than something that he will struggle with in 2011.
As I’ve said before, Correia is not an ace or a top of the rotation starter. He might be one of the best pitchers in the rotation next year, but that’s due to the talent level of the rotation. If he can return to his 2009 numbers, he would be a steal at two years and $8 M. I project that he ends up in the 4.25-4.50 ERA range, which represents the numbers of a number three starter or a strong number four. That’s still a good investment at two years, $8 M, since most pitchers with the same numbers cost that much per season on the open market.
Diaz is basically Lastings Milledge with better historical numbers against left handers, as I pointed out in my analysis of the signing. The Pirates haven’t said anything about Diaz, since the signing isn’t official, although Neal Huntington did make several references to finding a right handed platoon option for right field, a role that Diaz fills. Currently Diaz would be platooned with Ryan Doumit, although the Pirates are pushing hard to trade Doumit. From there, his options would be John Bowker, or Garrett Jones if the Pirates add a first baseman.
I don’t like the idea of Diaz as an every day outfielder, since he’s not an every day outfielder. As a platoon player, he works out well, since he has strong numbers in his career against left handers. The ideal scenario would have Diaz and Jones pairing up in right field, with the Pirates adding an every day first baseman. Despite the addition of Diaz, the first base and right field positions still remain incomplete. Until we see what the Pirates do with those positions, it’s hard to grade this move.
I analyzed this move yesterday after the selection was made in the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates missed out on shortstops Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy, which means that Rodriguez looks like he could be the backup shortstop, with Ronny Cedeno starting. The Pirates could still add a shortstop, such as Brendan Ryan. Considering the returns that Hardy and Bartlett fetched, Ryan should come cheap. That would push Cedeno to the backup role. Rodriguez could still make the roster in that scenario, since he is more of a super utility player, rather than strictly a backup middle infielder. Like the right field/first base situation, the shortstop position remains unsettled, although it’s looking more like a Cedeno/Rodriguez pairing at this point, based on the available options.
More to Come?
The final day of the winter meetings left the Pirates with a lot of unanswered questions. That’s a reference both to the makeup of the roster and to some of the rumored deals that have yet to be completed. They seem to be close to a trade for Atlanta Braves’ starter Kenshin Kawakami. Kawakami would come cheap, as the Braves are reportedly willing to pick up as much as $5 M of his $6.667 M salary in 2011, and don’t want much in return.
The potential Kawakami trade could be tied to another move, as the Pirates are said to be shopping Paul Maholm. On the surface it looks like the Pirates could be dealing Maholm in a favorable market for starting pitchers, and replacing him with Kawakami, while taking a gamble that he can be closer to the 2009 version, rather than the 2010 version. I looked at Maholm’s value, and guessed that he would be worth anything from a grade B pitcher or hitter to a top 76-100 pitching prospect, depending on how much the other team values his 2012 option.
Each of these potential deals are worth watching, as they could mean more than just the Pirates adding Kawakami and prospects. They could try to get something of value from Atlanta in exchange for picking up more of Kawakami’s salary. They could get an important piece for Maholm, such as a young option for the rotation, shortstop, or first base/right field. They could use the prospects in a Maholm return, pair them with Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek, and try to fill one of those positions. It sounds like the Kawakami deal is bound to happen, which makes it seem like a Maholm deal has a good chance of going down. The series of moves wouldn’t be a bad thing if the Pirates could bring in a young starter, or fill a need at shortstop, first base, or right field.
The Pirates are also pushing hard to trade Doumit, and it seems that a deal could be made this off-season, especially since they seem to be willing to pick up part of his 2011 salary. The Pirates are also making offers to relievers, specifically the back of the bullpen types. That could mean they’re offering the closer role again, which could open up a trade of either Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek.
The winter meetings may be over, but the off-season is far from over. My current payroll estimate is $36.4 M, counting Correia’s $2 M signing bonus (the 40-man roster/payroll projections will be updated when the Correia/Diaz/Olsen moves are official). The Pirates have some money to spend, and seem to have a lot of potential deals in the works. It almost gives the feeling that one move (such as a Maholm trade, for example) could lead to a series of moves that would drastically change the current roster. That’s definitely something to keep an eye on in the upcoming weeks.