The Pittsburgh Pirates enter the 2011-12 off-season with ten players eligible for arbitration, including five players who are first time eligible. The decisions to be made are interesting. 2011 breakout players Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton will both be eligible for arbitration. All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan will be eligible for his second year, and could see a significant raise. Four other members of the bullpen will also be eligible for arbitration. Ross Ohlendorf will be eligible for a second year, after a disaster of a year in 2011. Here is a preview of every situation, including my prediction for each decision.
Previously Eligible For Arbitration
Ross Ohlendorf - Ohlendorf was a Super Two eligible player in 2011 and won his hearing, which awarded him $2.025 M. After a season which featured poor results and a lot of time on the disabled list, Ohlendorf is probably a candidate to be non-tendered, especially with his injury history in the past. The arbitration process looks at the entire body of work for a player, which means he’s likely to receive a raise, even though his 2011 season was a disaster. I think his injury history plays a bigger role here. There’s a chance he could bounce back to his 2009/2010 numbers, but the odds that he does that and stays healthy for a full season are slim, and not worth the $2.5-3 M he would get through arbitration.
Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan is a lock to receive an arbitration offer, after anchoring the bullpen as one of the best closers in the game in 2011. He made $1.4 M in 2011, but should see a big raise to the $4 M range in 2012, as the arbitration process favors saves. I’m comparing him to Heath Bell, who received $1.255 M in his first year of arbitration, then jumped to $4 M in his second year, after putting up a 2.71 ERA and 42 saves in 2009. Hanrahan had a 1.83 ERA and 40 saves in 2011, making him a strong candidate to receive the same pay raise, or better.
Jeff Karstens - Also looking to receive a big raise will be Jeff Karstens. Karstens made $1.1 M in 2011, his first year of arbitration, but his 3.38 ERA in 162.1 innings should give him a raise to something in the $3 M range at the least. That shouldn’t be an issue, as Karstens had solid ratios, with a 5.3 K/9, a low 1.8 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9. His xFIP showed that he was closer to a 4.00 ERA guy, which makes him a #3 starter, but $3 M for that production is worth it.
Jose Veras - Veras was signed for $1 M as a free agent in 2011. Following the season, he’s got two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. His work out of the bullpen wasn’t bad in 2011, but I couldn’t see the Pirates giving him an offer for two reasons. First, the bullpen looks loaded with guys like Chris Leroux and Jared Hughes stepping up in 2011. Second, Veras made 79 appearances in 2011. The combination of a lot of internal options, plus a heavy workload for Veras, doesn’t speak well to his chances of sticking around.
Jason Grilli - The same bullpen depth argument applies for Grilli. The Pirates have a lot of options, so paying a lot for a middle reliever might not be a smart move. Grilli pitched well for the Pirates after being acquired in mid-July, and seemed to enjoy his time in Pittsburgh. If the Pirates could retain him for something around $750 K or less, I could see them keeping him in a pre-arbitration deal, similar to what they attempted with Wilfredo Ledezma last year, who signed for $750 K, but was later lost via waivers.
First Time Eligible for Arbitration
Evan Meek - It will be interesting to see how much Meek gets through the arbitration process. He had a strong year in 2010, a good year in 2009, and his overall 3.48 ERA wasn’t bad in 2011, although his 5.2 BB/9 ratio and his injuries show his year wasn’t as good as the ERA indicates. However, the arbitration process factors in the body of work, not just the most recent season, and has a history of focusing on stats like ERA. I’d say Meek will get around $1 M in his first year.
Garrett Jones - Here’s a fact that might be surprising: out of the six Pirates with 300+ plate appearances, Jones ranked second on the team in OPS with a .753 line. That’s not saying much, considering how bad the offense was throughout the year. However, it does show his value. He’s a good power bat off the bench, with 58 homers over the last three seasons, including 16 in 2011. He will likely cost in the $1.5 M range as a Super Two player, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets it from the Pirates. He’s probably going to be the top option off the bench, as he won’t start in the outfield, and I don’t see the Pirates going with him as the starter at first base. They’ve had their chances to trade him, and they seem to like him enough to keep him around. I don’t see that relationship ending just because he’s eligible for arbitration.
Charlie Morton - The “body of work” argument gets brought up for players who had a down year, but it is also relevant in situations like this one. Morton was one of the worst, if not the worst, starters in the league in 2010. He bounced back with a nice 3.83 ERA in 171.2 innings in 2011. There are some concerns with his high walk rate and his high WHIP, but his extreme ground ball rate limited hitters, and his xFIP of 4.08 validates his 3.83 ERA. He’s more of a #3 starter, but he probably won’t get paid like that based on one season. This could be a Ross Ohlendorf type situation, where the Pirates offer something in the $1.4 M range, and Morton goes for something around $2 M. I’d hedge my bets and say he gets $1.7 M, but if it comes down to a decision, I think his 2011 season was enough to award him the $2 M.
Chris Resop - Resop is in a similar situation as Jose Veras. There are a lot of bullpen options, and he pitched a lot of innings in 2011. However, he’s two years younger than Veras, and arbitration eligible for the first time, which should keep him on the cheap side. His 10.2 K/9 ratio led the team, and makes him an option for the 8th inning, although he’s probably better as a strong 7th inning guy. I could see him getting something around $800,000 for his first year of arbitration.
Brandon Wood - This might be the hardest situation to predict. The Pirates liked Wood enough to claim him, keep him all year, and give him 257 plate appearances, which was the eighth most on the team. He’s got the “former top prospect” potential, although the results in the majors have been poor, and he turns 27 in 2012. The big thing in his favor is that he can back up pretty much any infield position, including shortstop, all while having some power. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him signed for around $800,000 because of his versatility. At the same time, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him non-tendered, because of all of the young bench options the Pirates have. I’m going to lean more towards “non-tender”.
Steve Pearce - Pearce will be eligible as a Super Two player this year, although based on his injury history, and based on the fact that the Pirates haven’t used him much when he’s been healthy, I don’t see him getting an offer.
Joel Hanrahan – $4,000,000
Jeff Karstens – $3,000,000
Charlie Morton – $1,700,000
Garrett Jones – $1,500,000
Evan Meek – $1,000,000
Jason Grilli – $750,000
Chris Resop – $800,000
Ross Ohlendorf – Non-Tender
Jose Veras – Non-Tender
Brandon Wood – Non-Tender
Steve Pearce – Non-Tender