A.J. Burnett was listed as a potential bargain. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Baseball Prospectus Looks at 12 Bargain Free Agents

A.J. Burnett was listed as a potential bargain. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett was listed as a potential bargain. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have done well in the past few years looking at bargain players, especially on the pitching side of the game. They look to be going the same route again this year, once again looking for bargain starting pitchers. Baseball Prospectus released a list of 12 players who are likely to be bargains this year. The list is numbered, but I don’t think it’s a rankings list, since each writer had one player.

The first player on the list was A.J. Burnett, although the write-up mentions that he’s not exactly like the other players on the list. Burnett is deciding between retiring and returning to the Pirates. If he returns, it will likely come at a below market rate. Pirates fans are worried Burnett will sign somewhere else, but it seems R.J. Anderson of BP shares my opinion that Burnett will only return to the Pirates if he returns.

If Burnett doesn’t sign, then the Pirates could find a replacement in Josh Johnson or Bartolo Colon. Johnson is number four on the list, and Harry Pavlidis of BP says that he looks like a bargain due to the lack of draft pick compensation, his five pitch mix, and the fact that his 6.20 ERA could lower his price. Ben Carsley looked at Colon, noting that he doesn’t look like a sexy option, but notes that he will come fairly cheaply and with less financial risk than some of the more desirable free agents.

The Pirates also have a need at first base, and Corey Hart could be an interesting option. He missed the 2013 season after surgery on both of his knees, which raises questions of how much he can bounce back, and how much the surgeries will limit him. Hart’s agents released a video of his workouts today. He looks healthy in the video, although the video is 30 seconds long and doesn’t say how he will hold up over a full season plus playoffs. If Hart returned to his pre-2013 numbers, he’d be a huge bargain at first base. Tim Collins of BP says that a .270/.325/.490 line with 20+ homers is well within his reach.

Finally, the Pirates would be fine if they went with Jordy Mercer as their starting shortstop, but Jhonny Peralta wouldn’t be a bad upgrade. BP had him as number 11 on the list, with Nick J. Faleris saying that Peralta could come on a 1-3 year deal at $5-8 M per year. He also says that Peralta could be a good six hole hitter in a first division lineup, could play shortstop in the short-term, and eventually move to third base to maintain value. Peralta would be an interesting option for that latter point, as he could replace Pedro Alvarez if Alvarez goes down with an injury.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • deacs

    Tim, you’re Neal for a day. If AJ comes knocking and says I’ll take $12 million for one more year. Do you do this or do you try your luck with a cheaper bounce back option?

    • Tim Williams

      I’d do that.

      • deacs

        What do you think the chances are of AJ A) Giving the “discount” and B) Neal going for it given his recent comments?

        Keep up the good work as always.

        • Tim Williams

          I really don’t know the answer to either of those.

          • deacs

            Fair enough. Next impossible question – over/under on Wandy’s innings – 100 IP?

  • Cato the Elder

    Corey Hart strikes me as an appealing option. He would come cheap and possibly very cheap if you offered him multiple years (2-3) . And while I’m not one for offering multiple years to 31 year olds, Hart could minimally be a power bench bat who mashes lefties and could possibly platoon at first base if he proves not to be an everyday player over the course of his contract. I’m not sure I am giving a full throated endorsement of this gambit, it would of course hinge on what cheap, or very cheap actually looked like, but it is a possibility that may merit consideration.

    • deacs

      I take it he would serve the same purpose as Sanchez. Do you then non-tender Gabby in hopes of getting a similar player with more power? Is he a little better against RHP I hope?

      • Cato the Elder

        In the long run, if Hart failed as an everyday option (and was under contract for multiple years), he might take Sanchez’s role, but I wouldn’t worry about that for next year. I think Sanchez, if used correctly, brings great bang for his buck and I would like to keep him around for this coming season. Hart did play some RF (poorly; before knee surgery) so it wouldn’t be out of the question to start him in RF against LHP for the odd game here or there, while Sanchez manned first, and double switch after the starting pitcher comes out – either moving Hart to first and bringing in a RF or bringing Hart out directly and letting Sanchez finish at 1st on account of his defense. Moreover, I think Hart would want/need regular rest anyhow so being able to throw Sanchez out there for 20-40 games a year would be value in and of itself.

        You are right, the fit might not be perfect, but value is value and you take it when and where you can get it. I think not only fans, but coaches and general managers, too often can fall into the trap of trying to construct an ideal lineup or finding prototypical players fit particular positions/roles. I think the Pirates have extracted (will extract) a lot of surplus value by contenting themselves with a future outfield patrolled by 3 CFs instead of looking to deal one or more of those players for a more typical corner outfield bat. We’ll see. It probably won’t happen, but on the off chance that it did, I think I would like the gamble. My primary concern would be signing a right handed power hitter – whose speed is diminished and therefore whose power will rely on the long ball – to play in PNC.

        • Andrew

          I agree with almost everything you wrote, especially the idea of attempting to construct an ideal lineup/pigeon holing players, as opposed looking to improve the team.

          I think your concern about Hart and his power is justified, PNC kills RHH’s power, HR park factors for right handed hitters is 88, Miller playground in 108. Also Hart’s home versus road splits is .50 wOBA (Home .380 v Road .330) points, a lot of that because his HR/FB ratio is 17% at home and 11.2% on the road. He was .330 wOBA hitter on the road and has power to all fields so there is definitely talent there.

          My biggest concern is the injury it sounds like he had microfracture surgery, which is red flag. One year deal with incentives maybe an option year based on ABs is not the worst, but I would not give multiple guaranteed years. As you state it is all very dependent on the price.

  • polymorphicvt

    I’d love to see him in a platoon with Alverez against LHP, and his splits are good enough that he could split time with mercer against RHP at shortstop. Having Peralta and Mercer (throw J-hay in at 2nd) mashing lefties seems like it’d be worth the signing alone, plus whatever value he gives you at shortstop while splitting time with Mercer. Gives you all kind of matchup possibilities.

  • Stephen Brooks

    I’d jump at Peralta if he really could be had for $5-$8M/year, but MLBTR is projecting 3/$36M.

    Also I’m not sure how much of an upgrade he would be over Jordy Mercer – Peralta’s defense rates higher, but Mercer slashed better in 2013 than Peralta’s career line of .270/.330/.435, and that career line – not Peralta’s .374 BABIP-inflated .303/.358/.457 from 2013 – is what you should expect from his Age-32+ seasons.

    And who wouldn’t want the Pirates to sign Colon just to watch him hit?

    • Y2JGQ2

      I’d pay 3-36 for peralta. That’d be my ceiling for him.

  • jg941

    Based on most recent rumors, FWIW, Peralta’s range is now projected to be 3/$36 to 3/$45 or more, so I’m not sure he belongs in this conversation anymore.

    One other issue with Hart is whether his career numbers are beefed up by some home/Miller Park factor – where his OPS has been 130 points higher (!) in his career than on the road. Maybe that’s why he’s been willing to offer that hometown discount :-)

    Of course, one of the few places he’s been better in his career than Miller has been PNC Park, where he has over a .900 career OPS. That’s always a little tricky to analyze, though – has it been 8 years of hitting in PNC Park, or 8 years of hitting against the Pirates’ pitchers (at PNC Park)?

    Still seems like finding a good lefty to pair with Gaby – the best-hitting 1B against LHPs in all of baseball last year! – is the smarter way to go next year. Loney, Morneau, maybe Lind if he hits the market (probably won’t), even Duda or Carp or Smoak …..just someone who can hit righties at a decent clip, period. Gotta be someone we can snag at a reasonable rate, right?

  • IC Bob

    Its my understanding Hart wants a one year deal to allow all teams to see he is fully rehabilitated. If he has a big year he could really cash in next year. Had he not injured himself he would likely be looking at a 4 yr 50-60 million type deal. Not likely he signs a three year deal for 12-15 million the Pirates or any other team would offer at this time unless he is really chronically hurt and then in that case I really don’t think I would want him.

  • dirtydavid4

    Its crazy that the Pirates fans and team would want to even consider signing Josh Johnson the guy has only ever had 2 seasons of starting over 30 games in a year. This guy ends up on the dl way to much for the pirates to ever consider giving this guy even a 1 yr deal which even with all his issues will be in the range of 6-10 million with possible incentive clauses in there to go with that. Also there is no reason AJ Burnett should even consider coming back for less than fair market value no matter how much he has made in his career. The Pirates are nuts to not give him a 14 million qualifying offer the guy is a leader that puts up over 30 starts a year eating over 200 innings a year and striking out around 200 a year and the mans era the last 2 yrs here were 3.51 and 3.30 but lets go bargain shopping for guys like Josh Johnson who have more question marks than anything.

  • piraddict

    If we are willing to pay for a FA 1B why not look at the Mexican League for possibilities? For instance, there is a 1B named Miranda, age 30, with a 1.131 OPS and a huge guy named Amador, age 26, with a 1.111 OPS. Both guys have high OBP in addition to good power numbers. From what I have read the Mexican League is roughly equivalent to a AAA League. The Pirates would probably have to pay a decent fee to the club for the players contract, but wouldn’t this be a viable option for obtaining power at 1B, versus what’s available in the MLB FA market? The best players from Japan find their way to MLB. Why not from Mexico?

    • Y2JGQ2

      Mexican leagues are not even on par with AAA- that’s why. Would you consider a 30 year old who has been in AAA for 4-6 years to be able to accomplish those stats as a ML star potential? No….. same thinking here

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