First Pitch: Pirates Will Have Some Interesting Financial Decisions This Off-Season

The Pittsburgh Pirates will have an interesting playoff race over the next month and a half. They’re currently 4.5 games back in the NL Central, and half a game back from the second Wild Card spot. So far this season, they’ve had some interesting situations develop that are impacting the playoff race, and will impact the future plans. Those include the emergence of Josh Harrison, the sudden surge from Travis Snider, Pedro Alvarez’s struggles, or the strong play of Russell Martin (all year) and Francisco Liriano (second half).

Looking past the current playoff race, we’re about to be set up for a very interesting off-season, that will be far from the cookie-cutter off-seasons from previous years. There are several interesting financial decisions coming up, and I thought I’d take a look at a few of the bigger ones tonight.

Qualifying Offers For Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano?

I’ve written about how the Pirates need Russell Martin back next season. The catching market is thin, the Pirates don’t have a good starting option internally, and if they’re going to spend money on one position, that would be a position to spend on.

Francisco Liriano had a great season last year, looking like a top of the rotation guy. This year he struggled in the first half, but since the All-Star break he has a 1.89 ERA in 38 innings, with a 9.95 K/9 and a 2.84 BB/9. His 2.72 xFIP says that the performance is legit, and should continue if he keeps pitching like this.

Last year the Pirates didn’t extend a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett. This year, they could have two situations where a qualifying offer would be needed with Martin and Liriano. I don’t think the lack of a qualifying offer to Burnett means they won’t make any offers this year. Burnett was such a unique situation, whether it was him saying that he’d retire or play for the Pirates, or the fact that he’s 37 years old and not looking for a long-term deal.

Martin and Liriano would be looking for multiple years, which means a big one year offer wouldn’t be as appealing. In Martin’s case, I think the Pirates should try to bring him back, and pay market rate to do so, assuming that market rate is in the $13-15 M per year range. In Liriano’s case, they should make a qualifying offer, especially if he continues this performance the rest of the year. They don’t necessarily have to bring Liriano back. They’ve shown a good ability to find starting pitching at a good value. But they should be able to get some compensation for Liriano by making a qualifying offer.

It will be interesting to see how the qualifying offers are handled this year.

How Much Will Josh Harrison Make in Arbitration?

Josh Harrison is arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season. For the first three seasons he was in the majors, he was mostly a replacement level player. This year he has exploded, and is currently having a 3.5 WAR season. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll surpass a 4.0 WAR season, which will make his payday interesting.

I asked earlier on Twitter for comparisons to this situation, where a player has been a replacement level guy up until arbitration, then had a huge breakout season. Because this was a rare case, there is no perfect example. The closest suggestion I received was Brandon Moss, who had a breakout season in the second half of 2012 with Oakland, then received $1.6 M in his first year in arbitration.

Moss had a 2.3 WAR during his breakout season. The free agent value for that, at $5 M per win, would be $11.5 M. So his $1.6 M represented 13.9% of his free agent value from that one season. It’s not an exact science, but it’s a good starting point to figure out what Harrison could get.

Harrison’s WAR could end up around a 4.0. That free agent value would be $20 M, based on this one year. The same 13.9% of that value would be $2.78 M for Harrison next year. That might be on the high end of things, but I don’t think he will get below $2 M like Moss received. I think around $2 M is a conservative estimate.

At this price, Harrison would almost certainly be a starter. Either that or he would be a true super utility player, getting regular playing time. Either way, I don’t see the Pirates paying him that kind of money to just be a bench player.

The Finances of the First Base Options

The Pirates will have a mess at first base this off-season. The platoon at first this year has not worked out as planned. Ike Davis is making $3.5 M and Gaby Sanchez is making $2.3 M, but combined the platoon is struggling. Pedro Alvarez, making $4.25 M in his first year of arbitration, is working on making the transition to first base.

The starter at first will be interesting. I think it ends up being Alvarez, which means they’d be looking for a trade or a non-tender for Davis. Considering how Ike Davis always has some sort of value, and the first base free agent market looks weak again, I’d say a trade is more likely. The question is whether the Pirates keep Sanchez around as a bat against lefties and a possible platoon partner, or go with Alvarez as a full-time starter. The combo would make at least $6.5 M, and probably north of $8 M based on the raise they’d get from their career numbers.

One other situation to consider here is Travis Snider. I don’t think he’ll factor in at first base, but if he keeps hitting the way he has been hitting in the second half, then the Pirates are going to have to find a spot for him. He’s due a raise over his $1.2 M salary. He could be a bench bat and a fourth outfielder, but that bench could start getting expensive if Harrison is a super utility player and Sanchez is a bat against lefties.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.

**Prospect Watch: Big Night For JaCoby Jones and West Virginia’s Bats

**Scout: Nick Kingham is a Poor Man’s Gerrit Cole

**Morning Report: Revisiting the Comparison Between Two Five-Tool Outfielders

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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  • rickster

    Would there be any possible trade targets at catcher that we could trade marte for? That would free up an OF spot for jhay/snider and ideally bring in a younger version of martin

    • CamJay87

      I don’t see a Marte trade being a move that NH makes. Marte is proving valuable in CF with McCutchen injured. My hope is that Martin is at least extended the QO, and if he gets more somewhere else in this poor catchers market, good for him.

      • rickster

        Which is also proving he can play the premium position full time for another team. Lol. We would still have polanco to back up cutch in center.

    • emjayinTN

      Marte is signed to a very club friendly long term contract thru 2019, and then 2 more years of Club Options. He had a 4.6 WAR in his first full season in 2013 and is “only” at 2.5 WAR in 2014 due to injury absences (concussion). He will finish up near 3.5 to 4.00 in 2014 where he has been paid $500K. Make room for JHAY/Snider? Not happening in this Pirate Outfield of Marte, ‘Cutch, and Polanco – one of the best in MLB in 2014 and on the way to being the best in 2015 and beyond.

      • jaygray007

        if they DO trade Marte, it had better be for a similarly young, similarly awesome, similarly inexpensive, similarly under-control, player.

        there will be a point when the Pirates have to trade a fun young outfielder. maybe trading Marte for a king’s ransom and letting Jay Hay/Snider cover the OF until Josh Bell is ready is a legitimate path of action.

        if they DID find a great young cheap catcher, they could make a serious run at one of the aces this offseason because they’d have the payroll room for it.

        • rickster

          This is what I was trying to say in my reply. You said it much better tan I jay!!

        • SportOMania

          No way the Indians move Gomes. That would create a huge hole for them because they like Santana as the backup catcher and as a starter playing a corner infield position.

          • jaygray007

            Yeah. He’s probably the closest approximation to Marte that there is as far as team control, ability, cheapness, but yeah the other team needs to have a reason to make the deal as well.

      • rickster

        The reaaon for proposing marte is his value, much of which is tied to his defense. To me, having a cf type of glove playing rf is excess. If we moved marte for an equally valued, young affordable catcher we would be a better team over the next four years. I’m not trying to say I believe marte isn’t worth starting.

  • emjayinTN

    Whether or not to sign Russell Martin is not the question. The question is how much do we offer on a long term contract? Is this the normal Russell Martin we are seeing in 2014? No, he is having his best season by a bunch in at least the last 5 or 6 years, and we are talking a contract for years 32 thru possibly 34 at a position where you get beat up for a living? I already said previously that my max offer would be 3 years/$39 mil and that would include a $3 mil Signing Bonus. Russ came in and has given us leadership that was sorely missed for years behind the plate, and I think he can be excellent to have another year or two to bring either Sanchez or Diaz along slowly. Would a QO be worse – $15 mil for one year? He stays another year or we get his signing team’s No. 1? That could be the best option.

    • Scott Kliesen

      Martin is not accepting a QO. No way, no how. And I’m nearly as certain he will be offered more than 3/$39mm, too.

      • emjayinTN

        SK: I think the decision on the QO is entirely that of the team holding the expiring contract – it is only good business to do that if we are unable to sign Russell Martin to a long term contract that would be beneficial to both parties. If he does not accept our offer and becomes a FA, the Pirates should benefit from the team signing him, or if in the case of the SS from Boston or the OF from the Mariners in 2014, the player could refuse to accept the QO and sit out the 2015 season. At age 32, I doubt that he would want to sit out.

      • CTBucco

        I agree on both counts because he’ll take the long term contract that he will be offered over the 1 year $15M ($14M?) qualifying offer. This makes giving him the QO a no-brainer. It’s a win-win. If he accepts, we buy another year for the succession plan (Sanchez, Diaz). If he leaves, we get a draft pick. I think the same logic will apply for Liriano. He’s just as valuable because #1/#2 starters aren’t easy to come by.

        • emjayinTN

          CT: That’s what I had in mind. But, I want us to make a serious offer to Martin that he will have to consider, and which identifies how much we want him and the leadership he has brought to the Pirates. His career sort of plateau’d in NY where he was struggling to hit ,220, but it has taken off since joining the Pirates. He is a Catcher, which means he is just a tad bit more intelligent, therefore I hope he will not overlook the fact that he has a good thing going with the Bucs. It went right over AJ’s head last year, but he’s a pitcher!

  • Scott Kliesen

    I have to believe JHay will go into 2015 as starting 3B. Alvarez is a trade candidate if they can find someone who will make a decent offer for him, otherwise he’s the starting 1B. I believe Gaby will be brought back for 1 more season to platoon and PH.

    I sure do hope Pirates FO can put on their best salesman hat and convince Martin to come back. But I’m pessimistic, as I believe someone will blow him away with an offer he can’t refuse.

    As for Liriano, he should be offered a QO. It will be interesting to see how this affects his marketability since he’s very inconsistent. But I believe he will also leave for a big multi-year deal.

    Even if Pirates lose Liriano and Martin, I’m still bullish on 2015. Obviously not as much w those two, but I still think they’re a legit contender for playoffs and beyond.

    • Jared

      Liriano has to be given the QO and I really would love for him to be re-signed, but the QO is a MUST. IF he goes elsewhere he will do so on a multi-year deal where the QO will not matter. Further, even if he accepts the QO you can still further negotiate with him on a long-term deal. Both Martin and Liriano seem like they are “musts” for the QO.

      • Andrew

        Liriano is interesting he has top of the rotations upside, but has thrown more than 165 innings only once, and his elbow is eventually going to rupture based on how many sliders he throws. Not sure how many years and dollars the Pirates should be willing to commit to him.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    The rotation is going to be interesting next year. I think what happens over
    the next month in Indy and Altoona will dictate off season moves. You
    have 3 of your top 20 prospects logging innings with a fourth having already
    logged time at Indy.

    You would have to think that ideally they would have some combo
    of Kingham/Taillon/Sampson up by mid season. So do they approach the off
    season with that in mind trying to use stop gaps such as Cumpton and Sadler to
    get to that point or do they sure up the rotation during the off season and cross
    that bridge when it comes?

    You also have Glasnow in AA. What if he had three or four dominating starts
    there to end the season?

    We know 4/5th of the rotation for next year: Cole, Morton, Locke and Worley. If you offer Frankie and he accepts, what happens in early 2015 if two of the three or all three prospects in Indy are pitching lights out? Or better yet, what happens if Glasnow is moves up to Indy after only a couple of months in Altoona next year and you have all four in that rotation and no where to put them in the Major league rotation?

    I great problem to have, but never the less a problem.

    • Dylan Bott

      If Liriano comes back on a 1 year QO, he could be traded to a team like the Yanks. Morton too. Worley could go to the pen. But like you said, good problem to have.

    • Y2JGQ2

      you trade someone. How is this a problem

  • leadoff

    IMO, the Pirates already know who they can keep and who they can’t keep and who they don’t want to keep. It would seem to me that a major task for next year would be to find some veteran bullpen people. In this world of modern baseball starters are only expected to go 6 innings, maybe 7, a lights out pen wins a lot of games, games the Pirates are losing this year.

  • Spa City

    Obviously the Bucs should extend qualifying offers to Martin and Liriano. That is a no-brainer. And obviously they keep Harrison and Snider as their utility players. The arbitration salaries will not be outrageous for part-time players.

    They should not trade Pedro Alvarez at the low-point of his value. He should be the left-handed part of a platoon at 1B. That would allow them to trade Ike Davis if he has any trade value left, or non-tended him if he does not.

    After Martin and Liriano reject their offers and after Ike Davis is traded or non-tendered, the Bucs should have plenty of money to retain Harrison, Snider and Alvarez, with room to add a backup catcher and back-end starter.

    For the most part, the Pirates will rely on adding Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon in the rotation, Alen Hanson at 2B, Neil Walker at 3B, Pedro Alvarez and Gaby Sanchez at 1B, and Tony Sanchez as their catcher.

    • Lukas Sutton

      Ill bet you a million dollars they dont start the year with Hanson at 2nd (or in the pros at all) Walker at 3rd and J-Hay without a starting spot.

      • Spa City

        I agree with you about Hanson starting 2015 in the minors. But I can’t see sticking with Walker at 2B. Pedro has never been very good defensively, but his throwing errors are going to force a move to 1B. Why not use that opportunity to move Walker to 3B?

        Harrison’s has been inflated by his .342 BABIP. That is not sustainable. His BB% is only 5.2%. His .182 ISO is an outlier based on his career so far, and it is probably not reasonable to expect his to maintain his power. I am not saying he is a bad player, but he is due for serious regression. Harrison is a utility player, not a starter. He might get a chance to start 2015 as the 2Bman, but with his questionable defense and likely regression as a hitter I suspect he will lose his starting job to Hanson by June 2015.

        A bigger problem in my opinion is shortstop. Mercer is not terrible, but is he really a major league starter at short?

        I could easily be wrong. This is just my opinion.

        • keithconto

          Why waste time with Pedro at all ? I agree that Walker needs to be moved from 2nd in order to keep him healthy. Maybe Harrison at 2nd and Walker at 3rd. I’d cut bait with Pedro. Don’t care if he’s got value or not, time waiting for him to “get right” is time wasted on a guy you know isn’t going to be here much longer. Concentrate on people you have a realistic chance to keep around. Build your team around productive players, not ones your hoping to be productive.

          • Spa City

            I remember a couple of other 3Bmen who took a while to get straightened out and the Bucs lost patience prematurely – Jose Bautista and Aramis Ramirez worked out pretty well for their new teams. Across the diamond, Brandon Moss has been great for Oakland after Pirate fans gre weary of him. I have no idea if Pedro will ever amount to much, but it seems premature to completely write him off. What is the harm in moving him to 1B and giving him another chance? We don’t have any 1B prospects on the horizon, and first-year arbitration salaries generally are not too hig (especially after disastrous seasons like Pedro is having).

  • http://twitter.com/wondertaint Will

    Gotta offer QO to both Liriano and Martin. I’d like to see Martin offered four to five years as added incentive to resign. I don’t believe he’s done it this season, but I think he should be given more games at third base to spell him behind the plate. The Pirates could probably afford to lose Liriano, but Kingham is really the only high ceiling rotation depth the Bucs will have early in 2015. Taillon won’t be rushed coming back from TJ; and with the lost season, he can’t be expected to throw 200 innings next year. I think that’s why they’re so steadfast in holding onto Stolmy this year. If they can get Liriano back on another two year deal? That creates a great competition for the fifth spot next season and builds up the depth that’s kept them strong the last two.

    • FrankRestly

      I honestly don’t think the Pirates will go more than a four year contract. As has been previously discussed – catchers get beat up. I am thinking something along the lines of 3 years at $30-$36 million with a fourth club option year at $7.5 to $8 million. Financially for the Pirates it would make sense to front load the contract, first year at $15 million with a fall off afterwards. This would help mitigate the escalation in the Marte and McCutchen contracts.

      • smurph

        You won’t get Martin for 3 years at $30-36 million, and he certainly wouldn’t agree to a 4th yr. club option at $8 million. Not the way things work. Even though his .280 average is a one-time thing, it is still a bargaining chip for one of the top defensive catchers in the majors. You would have to go $39-43 million for 3 years, and if you add an option year it would have to be in that same neighborhood (13 million). Ideally, you could use him for 2 years, and then maybe trade him in 2017 if one of the young catchers has arrived.

        • FrankRestly

          It might work if the contract is front loaded ($15 million first year, $12 million second year, $9 million third year = $36 million) with the intent for him to play less at catcher the last two years.

          First 2 years at $27 million (at the high end) is in the same range as 3 years for $39-43 million ($13-$14 million a year). By the beginning of the third year Martin will be 33 years old. The hope would be by then, the Pirates would be able to have him move to split time between catching and playing 1st / 3rd (similar to what Piazza did with the Mets in 2004).

          $13-$14 million a year makes a lot of sense for a full time catcher. Not so much for a platoon catcher / first baseman / third baseman.

          I would not pay a 34-35 year old catcher north of $10 million. Others may disagree – Cardinals – Molina – signed thru 2017 – will be 35 years old in last contract year and Twins – Joe Mauer – signed thru 2018 – will be 35 years old in last contract year.

  • C Shint

    Tim, do you really think they won’t or should not pay 2M to have some quality bench players? I’m just curious, because I don’t think Harrison will be on the bench but I wouldn’t mind have Gaby (or someone else) to platoon with Pedro or guys like Snider and Barmes for around 2M

  • pilbobuggins

    One other option tim did not bring up is trading alvarez, it makes sense to trade him with two years of control left assuing he hits one of his few and far between hot streaks at some point this year to enhance his value. An amaerican league team like texas would be a perfect fit for both the pirates the rangers and pedro. Regardless of what is said or not said publicly I’ve gotta believe the bucs are pretty fed up with pedro so a trade looks to be the best thing for all parties.

  • piraddict

    It is a great situation to be in when you have too much good performance to reward for the money you have available to spend. My priorities would be to sign Martin, QO Liriano, sign Jay Hey to an extension as a super utility guy (who else can play six defensive positions while maintaining an OPS over .800?) or regular 3B if Alvarez moves to 1B, trade Snyder to make room for Lambo or Rojas, trade Davis to make room for Alvarez or Lambo, trade G. Sanchez to keep Hague as the specialist 1B to face lefties (this is a cost saving move to free up more money for signing Martin) and a cheap bench bat. But the biggest target has to be signing Jon Lester out of free agency.

  • BellSupplyCO

    So if Martin and Frankie are offers QO’s and don’t accept them, they have to sit until after the draft? I imagine that should benefit the Pirates in negotiations somewhat. I far as I know they are not Boras guys.

  • CalipariFan506

    With Walker’s increasing salary and coming off a career year and also knowing he’s really not going to be able to stick at 2B defensively much long and considering Harrison then eventually Hanson can play 2nd, I don’t see any reason why Walker isn’t the guy you trade.

    That would free up quite a bit of money to potentially bring back Martin.

    I think you put Alvarez back at 3rd and let Lambo sink or swim at 1st like they did with Mercer this season.

    I also think you have to spend a few million on improving infield depth with a veteran so you aren’t stuck like they are this season. Maybe a Ramon Santiago or Nick Greene type guy.

  • smurph

    I have been with the Pirates history of not overpaying for veteran FAs who are at or past their primes. However, I feel if the Pirates want to challenge for a WS title, they need to re-sign Martin. He is a key player at possibly the most important position on the field, that they do not have a replacement for. I would QO Liriano, but not get into a bidding war if he wants 3 or 4 years. I think we have a large enough sample to conclude that Harrison is a quality player who deserves to be on this team next year. I agree with most of what Tim said. However, you’re saying Pedro will move to first (I agree). If that happens, then the obvious move is that Hrrison becomes your 3rd baseman. Then you have room for Snider as your 4th OF. DO NOT trade Marte. Why would you trade a guy with a longterm team-friendly contract, who has a huge upside? Otherwise, I think the remaining moves are fairly obvious. Send Ike packing. Then all you have to do is add a couple of upgrades for your bench and your bullpen.

    • Spa City

      Wouldn’t it make more sense to move Walker to 3B and play Harrison at 2B? Walker has never been a good defender at 2B, but he has been brutal this year.