The Pirates had a busy day. They traded Chris Resop, who was arbitration eligible for the second time and projected to make $1.3 M. They also dealt Yamaico Navarro (same link), who wasn’t arbitration eligible, but was designated for assignment the other day.
Finally, they tendered contracts to everyone else on the roster, including arbitration eligibles Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, James McDonald, and Gaby Sanchez.
With those moves, and the Russell Martin signing being made official, the 2013 payroll is at a projected $64 M. To make sense of the biggest topics today, let’s take a closer look, starting with Karstens.
The Inconsistent Approach With Jeff Karstens
There’s one thing I don’t understand with Karstens. The team non-tendered him, and then on the same day agreed to a deal with Charlie Morton for $2 M in 2013. Morton is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He will miss at least half the season. When he had the surgery last June, it was said he could miss 12-18 months. Usually players return one year later, so I’d expect him to return in 2013. But we know that he’s a guarantee to miss at least the first two months of the season.
Karstens, on the other hand, has had some injury history, but his injuries aren’t guaranteed. Make no mistake about it, the reason Karstens isn’t back is due to the lack of trust with his durability. This isn’t new. Back before the 2011 season, Neal Huntington had the following quote to Rob Biertempfel:
“We’ll be putting (Karstens) out there a little more frequently so we can evaluate how he can help us,” Huntington said. “Later, we can either push him deeper into games (as a starter) or get him more prepared to come out of the bullpen.”
The issue with Karstens, 28, is durability.
“Sometimes, he got to the sixth or seventh inning and seemed to hit a wall,” Huntington said. “Can he put up 180-200 innings (in a season)? That’s a question we’ve got to answer.”
Then, here is Huntington again to Biertempfel at the end of the 2012 season:
“Jeff gives you everything he has every time he gets the ball,” Huntington said. “We’d love to have a thousand (players) with his mentality because he’s doing everything he can to get the most out of his abilities. Unfortunately, at times, his body lets him down, and it has been various body parts.”
It’s true that Karstens is injury prone. If the Pirates felt he might miss half the season, then they’d be justified in letting him go. The problem is they’re not consistent. We know that Morton will miss half the season, and they gave him $2 M. We only think Karstens will miss time, and we don’t even know how much time that will be. Karstens was projected to make $3.8 M. So the Pirates paid $2 M for, at-most, half a year of Morton, but balked at Karstens for $1.8 M more over the risk that he might miss an unspecific amount of time.
It’s not just Morton and Karstens. Last year the Pirates signed Erik Bedard to a one year, $4.5 M deal. If there’s anyone who is a bigger injury risk than Karstens, it’s Bedard. Yet the Pirates felt that he was worth $4.5 M, even though at the time of the signing he looked like a guy who would be lucky to top 15 starts (which he only did once from 2009-2011). Karstens made 15 starts last year, and pitched 162 innings in 2011. The last time Bedard topped 129 innings was in 2007. Yet the Pirates gave Bedard $700 K more than Karstens was projected to make, plus incentives if he stayed healthy.
The kicker is that if you look at the numbers from the last two years, Karstens has been one of the better pitchers on the team. His numbers would be good on any team. He doesn’t have flashy stuff, but he knows how to pitch. The Pirates did try to reach a deal with Karstens. They tried to trade him. Both were unsuccessful. It’s not a surprise that the trade attempt was unsuccessful. First, teams could just hold off and see if Karstens would be non-tendered. Second, look at all the pitchers who were non-tendered:
Manny Parra, Tom Gorzelanny, Jair Jurrjens, John Lannan, Mike Pelfrey
I’m sure teams were shopping those guys, and any team looking for pitching probably expected most of them to reach the free agent market. The only chance the Pirates had was tendering Karstens, and hoping his value increased later in the off-season. Worst case, they would have been stuck with him for just under $4 M, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing. As I said yesterday, if you got a pitcher who put up the numbers Karstens put up in 2011-2012, and that pitcher put those numbers up over a full season, he’d cost three times as much as Karstens. I feel Karstens at $3.8 M is a value when you look at the prices on the free agent market.
I guess time will tell on this. We’ll have to see what Karstens gets on the open market. I was asked yesterday how this compares to Matt Capps. It’s very similar. Both had zero trade value because it was well known the team was considering a non-tender. Capps signed for about a million less than what he would have received in arbitration. We don’t know yet what Karstens will get. The key difference is that the value with Capps was low. He had no trade value. If the Pirates brought him back, they had to hope for a rebound the following season in order to get any value. That ended up happening in Washington, while the Pirates signed Octavio Dotel and flipped him for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. I don’t believe the value with Karstens is low. The Pirates, or any other team, don’t have to worry about his numbers. They just have to worry about his health. That’s a concern, but since he comes at such a low price, it’s not a huge concern.
To sum it up, think of it this way. Karstens made 15 starts in 2012 and FanGraphs had him as a 1.7 WAR player. Russell Martin was a 2.2 WAR player in 2012, according to FanGraphs. The Pirates gave Martin $8.5 M a year for two years (about $3.8 M per WAR). They declined Karstens, who was projected to make $3.8 M. If we assume he only pitches 90 innings again in 2013 with the same results as 2012 (which I believe is a fair assumption), then Karstens would cost $2.2 M per WAR, which is a much better value than Martin. When you consider that, and you consider the inconsistent history of giving contracts to injury prone players, the decision to non-tender Karstens makes very little sense.
The Bullpen Could Look Different in a Few Weeks
Today we heard two rumors. One is that the Pirates were trying to retain Jason Grilli. The other was that they have been shopping Joel Hanrahan, including talking to the Dodgers about a swap for Chris Capuano.
I’m not against a trade of Hanrahan. I’ve been calling for that since the middle of the 2010 season, back when Hanrahan had a ton of value. Now he could probably land one Grade B prospect, or a swap for a guy like Capuano. I said earlier that Capuano would be fair, and would upgrade the 2013 team. However, it wouldn’t have the long-term impact that people have been expecting with a potential Hanrahan deal.
The best outcome for the bullpen would be dealing Hanrahan and signing Grilli to be the closer. The Pirates will probably have to sign Grilli first to make this happen. The rumors today said that he’s drawing interest from other teams, including some that want him as a closer. That will probably drive his price up to a lower tier closer (around $4 M a year). That’s expensive for a set-up man for the Pirates, but a fair value for a closer. It wouldn’t be much of a risk, since the Pirates won’t have any trouble dealing Hanrahan this off-season.
If you’re wondering if Hanrahan could get Capuano and a prospect, you’re over-estimating his value. Capuano was a 2.1 WAR pitcher last year. Hanrahan was -0.4 at FanGraphs, and 1.1 at Baseball Reference. He was in the 2.0 range in 2011. The swap would be even, since the prices are about the same, the production is the same, and the expected years of control are the same (Capuano has an $8 M mutual option in 2014 and I doubt he exercises that, especially if he has another good year in 2013). Hanrahan for Capuano is about as fair value as you can get, so don’t expect anything more. Now if they went for a Grade B prospect as the centerpiece of the deal, that would be a different story.
Finally, the Pirates traded Chris Resop, which isn’t a move to lose sleep over. Resop would have made a projected $1.3 M in 2013, and would have been a middle reliever. The Pirates have several options who can fill that role for the league minimum and do just as good of a job as Resop. They’re better off putting that money somewhere else this off-season, even if it’s only a small amount.
Links and Notes
**Pre-order your copy of the 2013 Prospect Guide, which will be shipping in a few weeks.