First Pitch: Should the Pirates Be Involved in This Free Agent Market?

Just to provide some confirmation, the winter meetings don’t start until NEXT week. It seemed like the meetings started today with all of the transactions that went down throughout the day. If you’re a Pirates fan, there’s a chance that you didn’t notice, since the Pirates weren’t involved in any of the moves. Here is a rundown of all of today’s transactions, with some Pirates-related thoughts below.

**The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven year deal at $22 M per year. They also signed Kelly Johnson to a one year deal.

**The Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three year, $21 M deal.

**The Astros acquired Dexter Fowler from the Rockies for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes.

**The A’s sent Seth Smith to the Padres for Luke Gregerson.

**The A’s also acquired Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom from the Rangers for Michael Choice and Chris Bostick.

**The Rays added Ryan Hanigan from the Reds and Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks in a three team trade. Cincinnati got left-handed pitching prospect David Holmberg from Arizona, while Arizona received minor league right-hander Justin Choate and a player to be named later from the Rays. The Rays immediately extended Hanigan, who gives them a great pitch framing combo after yesterday’s addition of Jose Molina.

**The Tigers signed Joe Nathan.

**The Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski.

Justin Morneau received two years and $13 M from the Rockies. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Justin Morneau received two years and $13 M from the Rockies. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

**The Rockies signed Justin Morneau to a two year, $13 M deal with a mutual option for a third year.

**The Phillies signed catcher Wil Nieves. They also traded Erik Kratz and Rob Rasmussen to Toronto for Brad Lincoln.

That’s a lot of moves. Some of those moves were similar to the Pirates trade for Chris Stewart yesterday in that the impact isn’t going to be that big. As for the other moves, some of the free agent deals were ridiculous.

The biggest question mark was Morneau’s deal with Colorado. Morneau was worth $3.9 M last year, and that was his best season in the last three years. In the last three years combined he has been worth $2 M. He’s basically a replacement level player with a high priced name. The Rockies added the name.

Then there was the Jacoby Ellsbury deal. Ellsbury will be getting $22 M per year, and he’s worth that when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s rarely healthy. He played 134 games in 2013 and 158 in 2011, but was limited to 74 games in 2012 and 18 in 2010.

A trend I’ve noticed so far is that free agency hasn’t had many good values this off-season. In fact, there have been a lot of bad values. A few weeks ago I looked at some of the early free agent deals. A lot of those deals were bounce back candidates, and those candidates were getting paid for their pre-bounce back performances.

On the flip side, some of the best deals have come through the trade market, especially in deals where a team is taking on salary. Two big examples came in the last 24 hours. The Washington Nationals got two years of Doug Fister — a very underrated pitcher — in exchange for a mid-to-back of the rotation starter, right-handed reliever, and a utility infielder. This was due to the Tigers trying to clear salary to extend Max Scherzer. Today the Rays got Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan in a three team deal for a 22-year-old left-hander in short season ball and a PTBNL, all because they picked up the $5.5 M owed to Bell.

There are still free agents out there. Corey Hart, James Loney, Kendrys Morales, and the “too expensive but perfect fit for the Pirates” Mike Napoli are available at first base. There are still some bounce back starting pitching candidates, including a few new guys who entered the market recently like the seeming favorite Tommy Hanson (who I have concerns about due to his injury history and declining fastball velocity). But the prices in free agency are looking ridiculous, and the odds of the Pirates finding a fair deal in free agency don’t seem to be strong.

It’s possible they could find a better deal on the trade market like the Fister trade, or the Bell trade, where they just have to take on salary without giving up any key prospects. That would be about the same as spending on a free agent, with the key difference being that the guys who have been traded this off-season for salary relief have provided much better values than the free agent signings.

As I’ve said before, Neal Huntington has earned trust this off-season. Rather than take a “panic first and see what happens later” approach, I’d rather just wait and see how things play out. But if the Pirates avoided the free agent market, and opted for better values on the trade market, I wouldn’t blame them. If the free agent market is leading to Justin Morneau getting $6.5 M per year, then that might be a market to avoid.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**Pirates View Mike Napoli as the Perfect Fit at First Base, But…

**Pirates Sign Another Minor League Catcher

**Winter Leagues: News on Lambo and Polanco

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, 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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