First Pitch: Welcome to the Early Off-Season Panic

Today the Philadelphia Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 M deal with an option for a third year at $8 M. Almost immediately after the report came out, there were Pirates fans complaining about how the Pirates aren’t going to do anything to upgrade the team, they’re not going to spend money this off-season, and so on. Keep in mind that we’re about a week removed from the moment where free agents hit the open market.

Basically, the off-season reactions are right on schedule.

Every year there are fears that the Pirates will stand pat throughout the off-season. There’s always a move or a set of moves that draws panic and anger, and usually that involves losing a player from the previous year’s team.

In 2011 it was the Pirates declining the options of Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder, Paul Maholm, and Ronny Cedeno. They replaced Cedeno with Clint Barmes, and added A.J. Burnett to replace Maholm. Rod Barajas was the 2012 catcher, and he was a disaster, but they signed Russell Martin last off-season. Doumit’s option was a two-year deal, and probably would have prevented the Martin signing if exercised.

Last year the Pirates non-tendered Jeff Karstens, feeling that he wouldn’t be worth his projected $3.8 M salary through arbitration. A lot of people felt this was a mistake. I don’t have to go far to find one of those people. I was one of them. As it turned out, the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano later in the off-season. They also brought Karstens back for $2 M, although he never pitched an inning, missing the entire year with an injury. So they were right to initially non-tender him.

So far this off-season we’ve heard that the Pirates don’t have $14 M in the budget for A.J. Burnett, and today we watched Marlon Byrd sign with the Phillies. Just like the previous two off-seasons, there’s a situation where the Pirates might not bring back one of their own players early in the off-season, all because they’d rather spend the money elsewhere. The reaction?

It’s November 13th. The Winter Meetings are a month away, and that’s usually when most of the free agent signings happen. The Pirates hadn’t even signed Russell Martin by this point last year. We hadn’t even heard a Russell Martin rumor by this point. Spring Training is about three months away. That gives the Pirates plenty of time to make some moves.

It’s possible the Pirates might not make moves at every position. The reports today were saying that the hang-up with Byrd was the amount of years. They’ve got Gregory Polanco in the wings, and he could arrive in the second half of the 2014 season. They also have Andrew Lambo, who hit 33 home runs last year, and Jose Tabata, who had an .848 OPS in 170 plate appearances in the final two months of the 2013 season. With Polanco on the verge of arriving, this is the last chance to see if Lambo’s power is legit, and if Tabata’s hot streak was more than just a hot streak.

What we do know is that the Pirates will make moves. They will spend money, even if it’s not on guys who played for the 2013 team. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure this out. Just look at the last two years. Not all of the moves have worked out (Barajas), and some were exceptional (Martin/Liriano). At this point I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt that they will make some additions to the team.

Links and Notes

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**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**Clint Hurdle Wins the NL Manager of the Year Award

**Phillies to Sign Marlon Byrd to a Two-Year Deal

**Pirates Expected to Stay Internal in Search For Hitting Coach

Winter Leagues

**Winter Leagues: De Jesus Stays Hot With Two Hits

**AFL: Phil Irwin Makes His Final Fall Start

Tim Williams

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Probably many millenials in the audience and they are the first generation to grow up completely in the “now” generation of the internet, e-mail, texting, etc., etc. One of their traits is the need to accept the next challenge and get it done now instead of later. This type of cat and mouse waiting game amongst teams, GM’s, Agents, and players drives them crazy, but it is classic negotiations and, luckily, we have a guy like NH who understands the game. Marlon Byrd for $8 mil for years 37 and 38 and an option for year 39 is not for the Pirates – not with Gregory Polanco looking more and more like the guy who will be in RF for a long time beginning in June 2013. The Phillies needed to get a RH power hitter and Byrd will love hitting in that Philly bandbox.

    Nice hearing NH being interviwed at the GM meetings stating the interest in AJ Burnett, but at the right price and it has to be the right situation for AJ. Well spoken. This GM meeting is the first date and a lot of GM’s are laying a lot of groundwork for the Owners meeting that usually takes place the first week of December. I still see a possibility of a 3 way involving the Pirates, Yankees, and Cubs. In my plan we get two top prospects in Dan Vogelbach, 20, 1B from the Cubs (A/AA), and Ian Clarkin, 19, LHSP. and first round pick of the Yankees last year. Why? We will end our RF search this year and we need to project an end to the 1B conundrum – Vogelbach has done very well in the lower minors and will be at A+/AA this year which could mean as little as a year, but probably 2 years. With our future draft status, we can help ourselves by stockpiling picks for the future, and Clarkin would fit that need.

    • jaygray007

      Yeah i don’t know why it’s so hard to just wait to see what the team looks like in a few months instead of panicking now.

      That’s why it’s hard for me to get worked up about Byrd signing elsewhere. For all we know, they’ll end up with someone better.

    • stickyweb

      MJ, what do you see the Bucs giving up in your potential trade?

      • emjayinTN

        The only thing we have to interest the Yankees is Francisco Liriano. They need a front line starter badly and if he is the player we trade, they also have a kid by the name of Rafael DePaula who pitched lights out at Lo A last year. For Liriano, the Yankees would have to give 3 prospects – 2 to the Pirates (DePaula, Clarkin) and then they would have to give the Cubs a prospect for Vogelbach who would also come to the Bucs. This is based on having AJ to be the #1, with Cole, Morton, Locke, and Rodriguez behind him, and also possibly Cumpton and/or Gomez, and Jameson Taillon probably in June. It may have flaws, but Liriano is at the highest point – I think the Pirates have to move him before ST.

    • Kevin_Young

      I’m fairly certain they can’t trade Clarkin yet.

    • Cato the Elder

      I know plenty of inter-what? old, farts whose instinct is to criticize the Pirates for everything they do – including those things they didn’t do. I don’t know that it is fair to blame the kids for everything, but they sure as hell can get a job and stay off of my lawn.

    • buster09

      emjay : I am sure you meant June 2014 for Polanco. But,I love that Vogelbach idea. This kid is a hitter, a shorter version of Matt Adams,but is going to be blocked by Rizzo in Chicago the way I see it.

      • emjayinTN

        Exactly, and Rizzo just signed a long term contract with the Cubs. That makes Vogelbach very available for the right price. At only 20 he was a full year or two in many cases younger than the other players in Lo A this year but still hit for average and power. He also has a very good glove at 1B and his work ethic is very strong. If you want to see some strong pitching stats, look at DePaula in 2012 and 2013. A steady 95 and tickles 98 and has good control of 2 or 3 other pitches. He was the #10 Prospect of the Yankees after his 2012 season in the Dominican. In 2013 he went straight to Lo A and was 6-2, 2.94 ERA in 13 starts, 64IP, 96 K’s and an average against of only .168. If we compare Liriano to James Shields, this is still not enough, but Liriano does not have the consistent numbers of a Shields.

        Yes, I meant 2014.1

  • https://www.facebook.com/jrgst3 Jason Gardner

    Voted, you’re up to 230 now!

  • https://www.facebook.com/tim.dixon.167 Tim Dixon

    I was vote 299′ so you have more than enough votes to qualify

  • stickyweb

    Tim, you are being totally unreasonable here. Absolute panic is the only possible option for us right now. The Bucs didn’t make the first free agent signing. They’re doomed. Obviously the Phillies are way better at managing a roster and paying appropriate contracts than the Pirates are. Can I still become a Phillies fan?

  • https://www.facebook.com/bruce.humbert Bruce Humbert

    I thought Byrd was a big longshot to return so losing him to the Phillies does not raise any concerns at this point. I do think they should have tendered AJ [particularly once the presumably knew they could not Byrd to agree to a one year deal].

    My biggest concern is that there does not seem to be – at present – a lot of viable options for upgrades. The numbers being tossed around for even B level free agents are pretty scary. Even Byrd getting $8M a year for two years off of one good season seems a bit excessive.

    I know I am pretty much alone in this – but I would be pretty happy to go into the season with Lambo, Tabatha, Sanchez and GI Jones covering RF and 1st base.

    Wonder if there has been any serious discussions with Jones about what it would take to bring him back for a year. Bill Brink over at the PPG thinks he ill get a raise in arbitration, but he really had an awful year. My hope would be that they could keep him for less and play him exclusively at 1st base letting Tabatha and Lambo share RF

    • stickyweb

      Bruce, I agree that you’re probably alone in wanting to bring all 4 of Lambo, Tabby, Gaby and Jones back. I think every fan will find at least one of those to not want back. Mine is Jones. I’ve loved him since he broke onto the scene here, but it’s time to cut ties. Tim had an article (http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2014-arbitration-estimates.html) that referenced MLBTR arb estimates and had Jones at $5.3 million for 2014. Unfortunately his bad 2013 won’t hurt him too much in arb, as everyone says service time is more importnat than last year’s stats.

      My ideal scenario is keeping the other 3 and signing Loney to replace Jones. According to another article (http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/more-free-agency-rankings-and-salary-predictions.html), the average of what an agent, a GM and a sports writer think Loney will get is $16.3 million over 2 years. If that’s the case, I like him over Jones because he’s 3 years younger, hasn’t shown any sign of decline (unlike Jones) and plays much better defense. I think those factors make the additional $3 million a year worth it (especially since it ain’t my money I’m spending here!)

      Incidentally, I also like signing Loney over signing Byrd because of age, consistency and I think 1B is more of a need position for the next 2 years. I think Tabby and Lambo will be fine holding down RF until Polanco arrives, whenever that may be.

    • Cato the Elder

      I think they could do worse than getting the old band back together (Lambo, Tabby, Gaby and Jones) with the reasonable expectation that Polanco will join the team mid-season. I disagree with regards to AJ, he said he would play with the Pirates or retire, which taken at face value means there is no reason to extend him a QO. Doesn’t matter now, the point is moot, but I think the chance of the Pirates hurting in free agency is far greater than them helping themselves.

  • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

    Thanks to everyone who voted for the grant. The odds that the site will win are smaller than the odds of MLB making rules to help small market teams, but it’s worth a shot.

  • CalipariFan506

    I’d be panicking if we were signing Byrd and Burnett for this much money. They’re old!

    • stickyweb

      I’m pretty sure I’ve never agreed with you more Calipari :-)

    • Mr. Goodkat

      Exactly. I love what both players did for us last year, but that is not how a small-market team needs to be operating in order to be successful. On cheaper, 1-year, contracts I would have welcomed them both back (or in Burnett’s case, will), but $22M for both of them in 2014 is just not justifiable in my eyes.

      COULD they afford them at that rate? Probably. But that just isn’t the smartest allocation of resources. You don’t pay old players that kind of money — especially when you have other options.

      It’s amazing how last year’s offseason success has not boosted trust in the FO a single iota in some people.

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      Byrd I’m not concerned about as Bucs need to find out about Lambo and Polanco is on the horizon. Burnett maybe as there’s no certain replacement who’s as good right now.

      Here’s the thing I take issue with: with the uptick in attendance and season tickets sold, merchandising, ticket price increases, plus the new TV revenue share, Nutting’s ability to spend $85-90 mill on payroll while still making a solid profit is there. Yet it appears to me that many posters on this board would actually prefer that Nutting only spend $75 mill and pocket the rest because they don’t perceive “top value” for certain proven players, as if the competition wasn’t to win a WS, but to have the most wins for dollar spent.

      It’s also not as if there’s no faith in NH. I’ve been an NH supporter since he blew up the team in 2008. But the reality is, there’s no surprise like Liriano out there this year.

      Every GM in need of pitching is looking at Josh Johnson for the same reasons Neal is. And JJ will make $10 mill easy on a one-year deal. There is nothing in his peripheral stats that indicates Phil Hughes would be a success in the NL. Anyone suggesting Arroyo as a stopgap because he’s an innings eater… well AJ eats innings too.

      It might be a different scenario if one felt Locke was trustworthy, Wandy was a given to come back and pitch like he did before getting arthritis and McPherson was ready to step in. But none of those things are happening. So you’ve got Liriano, Cole and Morton and two question marks.

      So forget about AJ’s age and value compared to other potential acquisitions and just pay the man if he wants to play. There are no other FAs out there who can give the Bucs what AJ does. You’ve got Taillon for 2015 and depth for the 2nd half of 2014. Bucs can win it all this year. IMO, they’d be stupid not to pay AJ if indeed he wants to play. They can pay AJ and there’s plenty more money for 1b/RF or even paying Peralta for SS if the Bucs want to do that.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

        I think you’re looking at Liriano’s situation in hindsight. Liriano didn’t look great last off-season. There were concerns that he wouldn’t bounce back, and he wasn’t being considered as a potential ace…at least not a guy who had a good chance of being an ace.

        Also, the rotation last year looked like Burnett, Wandy, and three question marks. James McDonald struggled for the second half of the 2012 season. Jeff Locke was expected to get a rotation spot and was unproven in the majors. And Liriano was a question mark because no one knew what to expect. So they’re already ahead of last year’s situation.

        Burnett would definitely eliminate one question mark. But is that the goal here? Is the goal to add comfort heading into the season, or is it to try and build a contending team? Burnett would help to build a contender, but he’s not the only option. They’ve had success gambling on upside and going with bounce back candidates before. That approach again could also make them a contender, just like it did last year.

        • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

          Tim, with all due respect, I think you (and others here) are looking at the Burnett vs. “other bounceback candidate” issue in a vacuum.

          It seems everyone’s “bounceback candidate” du jour is Josh Johnson. Well guess what, he’s not going to be the kind of hidden value an AJ or Liriano was. He’s going to get at least $10 million for one year, if not more.

          I am not opposed to going after JJ, but it’s not even close to an AJ/Liriano situation as pretty much every other GM sees the xFIP numbers and will consider acquiring JJ. Thus he’s not going to be cheap. The Jays won’t be underwriting any salary. And odds are strong JJ only signs a one year deal as he knows a bounceback year will set him for a huge payday come 2015.

          As far as AJ goes, it’s ONE year. The Bucs aren’t tying themselves to a commitment that takes away salary from another pitcher nor blocks any promising AAA guy from coming up.

          The popular sentiment here appears to be to sign Loney for 1b, go with Tabby/Lambo in RF and then jettison AJ for someone less proven and less expensive, in effect making the rotation worse. People are assuming Locke is the 5th starter.

          In that world you’re talking about a payroll that’s what, $70-$75 million? Why? Out of principle? That’s silly.

          Pirates are in good position to win the NLC and make an even longer post-season run if they don’t do anything dumb and don’t get racked with injuries.

          Here’s a thought. Why not pay AJ AND go after JJ. The Pirates can afford to do that for 2014. One year. It’s not going to cost them any draft choices and has no effect on future player development.

          Make the team better, not worse.

          I sure as hell hope Neal is aiming higher than the majority of posters on this board.

          • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

            I’m looking at it the same way you are. In my article on bounce back pitchers I noted that Johnson is the obvious bounce back, and for that reason he might not come at a discount. Johnson doesn’t look like Burnett or Liriano. He’s more of a comfortable choice if you want a bounce back guy, and Liriano/Burnett weren’t comfortable choices.

      • Cato the Elder

        Why is it that all money not spent in free agency this year has to be pocketed by ownership? It as if there are not other ways to reinvest money in the franchise. Why can’t extra money be put into international scouting, or hiring more/better analysts, or extending players already on the roster, or keeping money aside to acquire players at the trade deadline, or saving money this year to spend next year. This sort of stark cynicism may have been warranted in the past – either a free agent or another yacht for Nutting – but seems out of place now that we have years of smart spending and a promise to spend more in the future.

  • https://www.facebook.com/marty.leap Marty

    Come on you guys. Nutting, despite spending money on Liriano, Martin, Morneau, Byrd, in the draft, Latin America, etc., is cheap and doesn’t care about winning!!!!!!!

    • csnumber23

      I assume this is a sarcastic post? There is no panic for me, the only thing I think we really have to do this off season is acquire a First Baseman. That could be by trade or FA. Byrd got way more than we should have given, considering his age and Polonco coming. Whether AJ comes back or not we will be fine in the rotation. I expect Taillon up in June and to do similar to what Cole did this year. We have enough quality arms even if we don’t sign someone, even though I have a feeling we are going to sign Josh Johnson. I also have a feeling we are going to sign James Loney. I think they are going to be our moves via FA this year. I do expect some kind of trade as well.

      • https://www.facebook.com/marty.leap Marty

        100% sarcasm, yes. And I agree with you. Get a 1B and a SP and I’m happy. I also have a gut feeling we end up with Loney, and I’m 100% okay with a platoon of him and Gaby at 1B.

    • buster09

      Has anyone on here today realized that there also can be an off season collapse ? After all,those looking for it during the past season were probably mighty disappointed and need something for their self confidence.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

        The Pirates haven’t won a game in over a month.

        • stickyweb

          And haven’t signed a free agent in about 9 or 10 months. What’s wrong with these clowns running the Bucs?

        • buster09

          Exactly Tim !

  • piraddict

    The most important thing for the Pirates to determine immediately is whether Lambo can play 1B at a Major League level. Hopefully they are scouting his winter league performances. If he can then they can fill RF / 1B with the troika of Lambo/ Sanchez/Tabata until Polanco is ready in mid Summer.

    In the ist Half:

    Against RHSP: Lambo 1B; Tabata RF
    Against LHSP: Sanchez 1B; Lambo LF

    In the 2nd half:

    Against RHSP: Lambo 1B; Polanco RF
    Against LHSP: Sanchez 1B; Polanco RF

    Then in the 2014 offseason they look seriously at whether they need to buy a major upgrade at 1B depending on how Lambo has performed. I think that the Pirates can be competitive as is for 2014, but won’t have a mature enough team to really compete for the WS. The young pitching (Cole, Tallion, Kingham) needs 2014 for seasoning among other things. In 2015 and 2016 the Pirates have a real opportunity to dominate. So I would non tender Jones and not spend any money in free agency this year, saving all of that money (over 20+MM) for upgrading the team for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The only thing I would do to spend money this offseason would be to extend Liriano through 2016 if that could be accomplished. The Pirates really need quality LHSP in 2015 and 2016 and Liriano is the most accessible and possibly most willing.

  • piraddict

    One other position that the Pirates should upgrade is base running coach. With the speed that the Pirates will have on board in 2015 (Cutch, Marte, Polanco, Hanson) they could be a terror on the bases. But frankly Cutch and Marte look unschooled and have a caught stealing % higher than what you would expect. Did the great thieves, Wills, Brock, Henderson create their careers on natural talent alone or is there an art to base running that someone taught them? If one of those guys could be hired as a consultant for Spring Training to teach their craft the Pirates would really benefit.

  • https://www.facebook.com/andyrshaw Andy Shaw

    Good luck on the grand #voted
    I do love all the early off season panic. But I am not used to off season panic about what the Bucs will do to stay in contention. Usually it’s “If we don’t sign Correia, our rotation won’t be strong enough… to get to .500″

    • https://www.facebook.com/andyrshaw Andy Shaw

      * grant.