First Pitch: Trying to Make Sense of Today’s Moves

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.

They non-tendered Jeff Karstens, then reached a deal with Charlie Morton for $2 M (I’ll get into this in a bit).

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 Pirates non-tendered Jeff Karstens today.

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.

**Pirates Agree to Terms With Morton, Non-Tender Karstens, Tender Everyone Else.

**Pirates Trade Yamaico Navarro and Chris Resop.

**Pirates Non-Tender Jeff Karstens.

**Pirates Shopping Hanrahan to the Dodgers, Others?

**Pirates Make the Russell Martin Signing Official.

**Pirates Trying to Retain Grilli.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Another Solid Outing by Ryan Reid.

**Pirates Release Three Minor League Players.

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For some reason, I can’t reply to what you wrote, Tim. But in looking at what I wrote, I believe you are correct. The word ‘many’ isn’t the right word. I think it would be more accurate to state that a small number of readers have frequently accused you of a lack of objectivity. That’s different than saying many have accused you of a lack of objectivity.

And I agree with you that, in general, your critics don’t acknowledge the instances where you are pointing out mistakes made by the front office or being critical of them.

My point in bringing it up is that your opinion holds weight.


If you can’t judge GMs on how trades turnout because humans are not machines, can’t you use that same logic on drafting, player evaluation, and development?

How do you judge a GM!

Fred Langford

Ha! Exactly! You judge them on every move they make! Even if they hire a new peanut vendor.

Kerry Writtenhouse

I would have tendered him a contract, but I don’t claim to know the circumstances behind all that went on. It amazes me how all of us arm chair GM’s sit here and criticize every move they make. They set his value at X, he wanted Y. Now he gets to find out how much he’s worth.


Here are some facts:
1. Karstens is going to walk….NOT A FACT, JUST A PREDICTION
2. The Pirates will get nothing in return for him….NOT A FACT, JUST A PREDICTION
3. All that is left of the Nady/Marte trade is the hope that Jose Tabata can put his career back on track…..A FACT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH KARSTENS SITUATION AT THIS TIME. DEBATING THE MERITS OF TRADES IS ANOTHER SUBJECT FOR ANOTHER DAY.


So, if both 1. and 2. above come true, will it be okay to be critical of the front office? I mean, if I can’t be critical until I have all the facts then I hope I can be critical once all is said and done.

Part 3 points to Huntington’s continued struggle to do his job well. We’ve been told to trust his process. The Nady/Marte trade was considered a win for a number of years. With DCutch and now Karstens (likely) gone, that trade looks less likely to have a significant impact on winning seasons in Pittsburgh. Because we have been told to trust his process, I’m critiquing his moves not in a manner that examines each move as an individual move in a vacuum but, rather, looking at the overall job he has done. So the trade in which Karstens was acquired is a part of critiquing Huntington if/when Karstens leaves the franchise.


If both one 1 and 2 come true, there still won’t be enough facts available to be critical of the FO. Do we know how much they offered Karstens? Do we know how many years he wanted in a contract? Do we know what guarantees he wanted? The answer to all of these is no.
A lot of teams are letting players go for nothing, should we be critical of all of them? As I stated above the Yankees let a solid veteran catcher go because they did not want to pay what he wanted and they got nothing, right or wrong it happens to all GMs.
Trades judged in hindsight are not exactly the way to judge trades, they have to be judged before the trade and after the trade both. Most trades these days are made via stats and all GMs use the same stats. There are also many forms of trades. I never judge a GM on how a trade turns out because he is not trading for a machine, he is trading for a human and there are no guarantees.


Tim Williams, who many have accused of being unwilling to criticize the Pirates management, is fully and wholly criticizing this move.

So, on what basis would you actually criticize a GM? What would a GM have to do for you to say, ‘Maybe this guy isn’t the right man for the job?” If you aren’t critical of a poor trade record and you aren’t critical over roster decisions that are questionable, what would you be critical of?

The Yankees have the resources to go out and get another catcher if they so choose, even by overpaying.


I did not say that I am not not critical of trades, I was saying I needed all the facts before I make an evaluation and most of the time I can’t get all the facts, therefore trades are hard to evaluate IMO.
I can honestly say I don’t know whether I would have kept Huntington after this year or not, I probably would have given him 2013.
What am I critical of:
When it comes to Huntington, I don’t like his hires and his managerial control policy. I think Huntington has assembled enough talent to win a large number of their games if players are used properly.


the question I have is would the Bucs have tendered Karstens if the payroll was going to be $70 million instead of $65 million?

Why non-tender him? No cash is paid until season starts. Surely if the team needed to get that money later it could swing a deal to get some cost savings.

Dealing Resop should have created a little more financial flexibility.

Maybe the team has a surplus of pitching and doesn’t need Karstens. Well perhaps tendering Karstens would have made it easier to trade from that depth later (like in spring training). So definitely vote that this is another example of poor asset management by the team. To be successful the Bucs need to have one of top GM’s in baseball and it looks like they are along way from that.


If Karstens can’t get what he wants he may still be available to the Bucs, some teams have signed non-tenders and the Pirates have stated that they want to keep him, just not at his price.
What will be interesting is to see what he actually does get, I would be surprised if he gets 4mil.
All GMs know what a player is worth down to the penny, they have turned value into a science.
If a couple mil doesn’t mean anything, the Yankees gave up a catcher for nothing that they wanted to keep and they may not be able to replace over a couple mil.

Fred Langford

I dont think te bucs can resign JK until May right? He will be long gone by then.

Joe Sweetnich

There is no conspiracy theory. The question was (is) “Will Jeff Karstens be a starting pitcher in 2013?” If the answer is yes, then $4mm is not too much and he should have been tendered. If the answer is no then $4mm is too much to pay for a reliever, at least the type of reliever that Karstens is.

I agree with the decision to non-tender. I don’t think Karstens will last 100 innings next year.

But we will see…


I have always liked Karstens, but when the GM tries to trade him and tries to sign him to a contract and neither can be done, signing Morton was an easy choice, the people knocking Huntington and Coonley ought to get their facts straight once in a while.


Why would an opposing team without an artificial, self-imposed payroll cap trade for a player (Karstens) that they think is going to be non-tendered in a couple of months, allowing them to pick him up for a fair market price and not give up any talent?

Why would a player (Karstens) who feels he is due ~$4 million in salary on the open market take a pay cut to stay with his current team?

I’m not going to give the front office credit for failing to escape the grave that they dug for themselves and then jumped down into.


I stated “getting their facts straight”.
1. No team to my knowledge was told by the Pirates that the Pirates were automatically going to non-tender Karstens,
2. The Pirates tried to sign Karstens that is a fact, does not seem likely they were making it clear to other teams that they were going to cut him automatically.
3. The facts are we don’t know what other teams may have offered if anything and we don’t know what kind of contract the Pirates offered Karstens, we do know the Pirates tried to keep him, just not at 4mil. As I said lets get the facts straight.


We have Tim Williams suggesting a few articles ago that there was a 50/50 chance Karstens wouldn’t be tendered and you are suggesting that no other front office might thought similarly? Cmon man. Good GMs have a sense of what is likely to happen and act on it (in this case by not offering much apparently for Karstens b/c they figured he’d be available).

Here are some facts:
1. Karstens is going to walk.
2. The Pirates will get nothing in return for him.
3. All that is left of the Nady/Marte trade is the hope that Jose Tabata can put his career back on track.


i’ve been thinking about this, and do think that Karstens should have been kept.

But i’m not sure if it matters if the pirates are “consistent” in this situation.

To be consistent, they would have either had to tender both morton and karstens, or let both of them go.

They must’ve just decided that having both players on the roster was too big of a risk, and went with the cheaper option who has the extra year of control.


Their thinking was probably not Karstens vs. Morton but Karstens vs. McPherson, Locke, Wilson, Mazzarro, Stewart and a pitcher TBD for the back of the rotation in 2013 and then Morton as an option should they lose Burnett and/or Rodriguez for 2014.

La Pirate

I thought Grilli last year and I would welcome Capuano/Grilli combo over Karstens/Hanrahan. Karstens was not particularly effective when he came back from injury and I think the front office evaluated the risk/reward and decided to move on. Can’t fault that. Lets see how it all plays out.

Richard Ya'Zhynka

I would much rather have Capuano and Grilli than Karstens and Hanrahan.

If Grilli signs for $4 million, as Tim Williams projects/speculates, Capuano and Grilli will make a combined $10 million in 2012.

Arbitration estimates put Karstens at $3.8 million and Hanrahan at $7 million, a combined $10.8 million.

Capuano and Grilli, according to, had a combined WAR of 2.6 (1.3, 1.3) in 2012. Karstens and Hanrahan had a combined WAR of 1.4 (0.8, 0.6) in 2012.

Given the above numbers, Capuano/Grilli would give the Pirates 1 WAR per $3.85 million. Karstens/Hanrahan would give the Pirates 1 WAR per $7.7 million.

Fred Langford

Problem is Hanrahan had a 1.5 WAR in 2011 and has the ability to repeat that or come very close. …and we are talking 1.5 WAR in 68 ip…What does that mean to a team in a pennant race?

Scott Stauffer

I don’t get any of it really. I agree with Tim that the play was to tender Karstens not Morton. Karstens has value – just not when every team expects him to be a FA. And, he is a rotation option when the season starts; not three months after like Morton. Isn’t Cole supposed to be ready then anyway.

The Hanrahan/ Capuano thing makes it worse. We could have held Karstens and used Hanrahan to fill another hole.

I hope there is a larger plan in the works and it plays out this offseason. Right now, it’s more of the same from this GM and FO. Whatever it is, it better work because time is running out for these guys. tick. tock.

IC Bob

Morton should have been a minor league contract. Even if the Pirates didn’t believe in Karstens, short of a season ending injury, they could have easily traded him mid season or earlier for some potential. This is just a stupid move by a stupid management team. I supported these guys for the last three years but from this point forward they have to prove it to me.


I thought Karstens was worth $4M or so but the fact that they didn’t trade him, even for a C level prospect, tells me no one else in the league thinks he’s worth that. Now we will ultimately find out what other teams think but at the moment the Pirates don’t appear to be the only ones that think his number was too high. Maybe we all overvalued him a bit.

It will also make a lot more sense if they traded for or signed someone like Capuano. Fact is the WAR argument makes sense in a vacuum but I think Karstens is much easier to replace than Martin.

Fred Langford

I dont necessarily get this reasoning because Karstens has outperformed Morton. So more easily replacing someone who has played better and isn’t on the IR?

Lee Young

Roadboy….I assume you mean Morton?

Seriously, I think they had to choose between Jeff and Cholly and chose Morton.





They obviously feel Jeff can be replaced. Jeff was a nice pitcher, he knew how to pitch. Obviously though he doesn’t have the stuff. And that’s what you can see what Neal Huntington goes for Big, Hard throwing pitchers. Zach Stewart and Vin Mazzaro both have probably better stuff then Jeff and so does Morton, Locke and especially Wilson and McPherson. All options are unproven commodities except for maybe Morton, but its obvious NH and company just simply didn’t like Karstens as a Starting pitcher and feel he could be easily replaced and not worth the price. They will probably bring in a SP here soon via Trade or Free Agency who they feel would be an upgrade over Karstens and worth what they feel a 4 Mil + pitcher would be worth.

Fred Langford

I hope the Capuano thing is just getting The Hammer’s name out there early so other teams can jump in and maybe do a little bidding on him. We can do better than Capuano for him. At least get a younger guy we can control a few years who doesnt have the injury history. I wouldnt mind getting Lannan or Pelfrey. I feel like Karstens will sign for mid-2s somewhere. He’s a california kid and I see him fitting with Oakland and San Diego. I think 5th starter is ideal for him because you can rest him. If he pitches 150 innings the Pirates fo will look bad.

Fred Langford

…and the “I wish we had a 1000 of Karstens” comment by NH…lip service…obviously you dont or you would get more guys like this instead of trying to fix big hard throwers. I dont care…just be consistent with what you are saying…typical management (In any company)


So far the sum of these off season moves have done nothing to make me think that NH is a good gm for the Pirates or that Coon dog is a good president.

having a self-imposed payroll limit of 65 million is hurting the team especially after attendance increases the past 2 years and projections it will go up in 2013 (Coondog – season ticket sales are increasing). I look at the Bucs front office as gang that couldn’t shoot straight. After this many years there are not many toes left in front office. This off season should have been NH’s last chance to show he is a good gm for team and so far he is failing.

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