First Pitch: The Next Steps For Arbitration, Extension Candidates, and New Free Agents

The Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered Chaz Roe and Gaby Sanchez tonight, while tendering every other player, including the 11 players who are eligible for arbitration.

The next step will be an attempt to work out deals with each player, and avoiding arbitration. The next important date will be January 13th, when the players have to officially file for arbitration. On January 16th, the two sides will exchange arbitration figures. Usually, the two sides will meet somewhere in the middle to avoid arbitration, although there are cases where the two sides will go to arbitration, even over small differences.

The arbitration hearings are held from February 1st through the 21st. The two sides can still work out a deal, even right before the hearing. If they can’t work out a deal, the ruling from the arbitration hearing determines the player’s salary.

Extension Candidates

In most cases, the team and player work out one year deals. A few players avoid arbitration with extensions, including deals that just cover future arbitration years, without any free agent years. The Pirates have worked out several types of extensions to avoid arbitration. Just last year they signed Charlie Morton to a three-year extension, buying out his final year of arbitration.

The Pirates don’t have many extension candidates this year. Neil Walker is the most popular player mentioned in terms of an extension, but actually extending him makes no sense for the Pirates right now. They have him under control for two more seasons, and any extension to buy out free agent years won’t get them much of a discount. They’d be better off waiting until he is a free agent, then determining if they still need him. If no replacement candidate has stepped up, they can re-sign him for around the same rate they would pay him now under an extension.

Pedro Alvarez isn’t really an extension candidate after the year he just had, and he’s a Scott Boras client, making it unlikely that he would get extended. Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Jared Hughes are relievers, and it’s unlikely for relievers to get an extension from the Pirates. The exception would be a two-year deal to buy out multiple years of arbitration, like the Pirates did a few years ago with Matt Capps.

Vance Worley and Josh Harrison are both coming off surprising seasons, although it would be a risk to extend either player at this point. Harrison looked like one of the best third basemen in the league, but probably needs one more year of that production before the Pirates could think about an extension. Worley looked like the pre-2013 version that pitched so well in Philadelphia, but the Pirates might not need to extend him, since he could be pushed out of the rotation after the 2015 season, with all of the prospects ready to emerge in the upper levels.

The other arbitration eligible players are guys who play small roles, like Travis Snider and Sean Rodriguez, who will likely get one-year deals. That includes the catching combo of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli.

Interesting Non-Tenders

The non-tender deadline brings a new group of free agent options, although none of them are expected to play big roles. The Pirates aren’t going to find a top of the rotation starter from the recently non-tendered players, although they could find a first base platoon option, a lefty reliever, or a depth option for the rotation.

Kyle Blanks was non-tendered by the Athletics, and seems to be the favorite name among Pirates fans as a replacement for Gaby Sanchez. I like Sanchez better, as Blanks has a career .752 OPS against left-handers. Blanks had a strong season in 2014, although it was an extremely small sample size, with less than 100 plate appearances. The one advantage that Blanks has is the age factor, and the hope that he might live up to his former prospect hype. However, he’s at an age where that seems less likely to happen.

Several injury plagued pitchers were non-tendered today, including Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Alexi Ogando. Medlen and Beachy are both recovering from their second Tommy John surgeries. Ogando was shut down last year with the Rangers due to elbow issues. These aren’t guys who the Pirates should be relying on for the top of the rotation, but they wouldn’t be bad depth options, joining the group that contains Brett Anderson and Brandon Morrow.

The lefty relievers include Michael Kirkman from Texas and Wesley Wright from the Cubs.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Pirates Non-Tender Chaz Roe and Gaby Sanchez; Tender Every Other Eligible Player

  • “Harrison looked like one of the best third basemen in the league, but probably needs one more year of that production before the Pirates could think about an extension.”

    I strongly disagree with this statement. Harrison’s performance did not come out of the blue. His minor league performance:

    http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?player_id=543281#/career/R/hitting/2014/MINORS

    This gives every indication that with regular playing time, Harrison can hit at a major league level. Granted, Harrison may not be the Pirates long term answer at 3B, but he has definitely proved himself worthy of a starting position. The worst thing for the Pirates would be for Harrison to have another monster season and then take the position that Harrison will cost too much to re-sign.

    How many major league at bats did Marte have before the Pirates locked him up long term – less than 700. How many big league at bats does Harrison have – over a 1000. If the Pirates could get Harrison for 5 years, $40-$45 million that would be a real steal.

  • So why do people want Kyle Blanks when John Mayberry Jr. just got non tendered? A career .857 OPS vs lefties and is coming off .914 vs lefties. Seems like the ideal platoon guy to me

    • I know i didn’t realize Mayberry got nontendered. You’re right. Ideal.

      The market is suddenly filling with platoon righties. Nice news.

      • I thought the point was to IMPROVE on Gaby Sanchez?

        • Gaby should definitely be an option. Just saying that they can shop around a little bit.

          Mayberry would at least give them the luxury of not having to hope for a bounceback.

          But i’m definitely #TeamGaby overall.

          But Gaby and Mayberry are basically the same player.

  • I’d rather sign Mark Reynolds than Blanks… Yes, I’m serious about that.

  • If the Pirates wanted Kyle Blanks, and the A’s were going to non-tender him, would it have not made sense to involve him in the Ike Davis trade? What type of raise was he due in arbitration, a couple hundred thousand?

    • You would think if the Pirates wanted Blanks they would have done it in the Davis deal, which means they probably don’t want him.

    • or maybe the A’s thought Blanks was more valuable than the international pool money they gave up but ended up being wrong.

      Or maybe the Pirates thought this Davis a good way to add to their Intl Pool money.

      Or maybe the Pirates thought Blanks was worth less than what he’d get in arbitration and wanted to wait for him to be a FA.

      Or maybe the Pirates knew the market was about to become a buyers’ market for platoon righty 1bs and they’d be able to cast a wide net.

      They don’t necessarily want blanks, but i’m definitely not convinced that they don’t want him just because they didn’t get him for Davis.

      • Fair enough, I can also think of several other counter-factuals, but it just seems too simple. If the Pirates wanted Blanks, why not make him part of that transaction, surely the smaller half of 1B platoon is worth more than $250,000 in international bounds money.

    • Yes, it would have made complete sense.

  • Kyle Blanks and Wesley Wright are two guys that were non-tendered I’d love to see the Bucs get. They really need another lefty for the pen, and Wright has been pretty solid for awhile now. Blanks would be a good platoon partner for Pedro. Another thing I like about Blanks is that he, unlike Gaby Sanchez, can also play the OF. The fact Gaby had zero position flexibility, minus those like 3 innings in RF vs the Cards last year in that desperation situation, is one of the things I dislike most about him.

    Agree on Walker. Extending him does not make much sense for a lot of reasons. One place I disagree is saying Worley may not be needed in a few years. If he keeps pitching like he did last year, and pre-2013, then odds are he can be a valuable part of this rotation for the foreseeable future. People like to gush over prospects I get that, but not all of them will pan out. There will be busts. Unlike these prospects, Worley has already proven he is a good Major League starter. I’d love to see all the prospects pan out, but fact is they won’t.

  • Scott Kliesen
    December 3, 2014 7:10 am

    Kris Medlin is the interesting name in this bunch. In 2011, he looked like a top of the rotation SP for about 3 months. He clearly would be a risky signing given his medical record, but his ceiling is better than all the other reclamation projects out there.

    I personally favor Liriano and Volquez before Medlin, but I could see how others would want to roll the dice on Medlin if the price is right.

    • Medlen or Beachy would be pretty nice as a secondary or tertiary pitching acquisition.

    • I’d take Medlen over Volquez in a heartbeat.

      • Lee Foo Young
        December 3, 2014 9:06 am

        not me….Medlen may not even make it back.

        • I’d rather have that, than have Volquez.

          • Scott Kliesen
            December 3, 2014 9:13 am

            Pirates wouldn’t have been a playoff team w/out Volquez last season. This Volquez vs Medlen debate will be settled by MLB GM’s. We’ll find out together who gets paid more this off-season.

            • And there’s no reason to expect Volquez to repeat that season. His peripherals were worse than they were in 2013. He was good for the Pirates, not cut ties before that ticking time bomb goes off.

              • A guy with a broken arm vs a guy with a low 3 era, electric stuff, never gets injured and a pitching coach that loves him, who do I want? Sounds like the ticking bomb might be the guy with the broken arm.
                I never evaluate players by whether I personally like them or not, I see the stuff Volquez has and I see people that know how to get that stuff to work and I see a reasonable price tag, I’ll take that any day in this modern world of baseball over someone that can’t stay on the grass. Medlen would be the perfect pitcher for the Yankees to gamble on since most years 3/4 of their team is in the tub instead of the grass.

                • Volquez had a career low strike out rate in 2014, his walk rate spiked in the second half, his BABIP was a way unsustainably low .263, his xFIP was worse than 2013, his FIP was slightly better than 2013 but still wasn’t good, his strand rate was unsustainbly high. Basically, Volquez was not a better pitcher in 2014 than he was in 2013 he just had a whole lot of luck and benefited from his defense. I want no part of the 4.30+ ERA pitcher he’ll be in 2015.

                  • The stats you use are prediction stats not reality, xFIP is a stat that I would use if a guy had a 10.0 ERA and and xFIP of 4.0, but not a stat I would use when an ERA is close to an xFIP. Benefiting from good defense is something that all pitchers have to get, as Searage quoted when they got Volquez, “I wish we would have gotten this kid in 2011”. His stuff is real, his ERA is real.

                    • His ERA was not close to his xFIP though. His ERA was 3.04, and xFIP was 4.20. His ERA was not real last year. You can’t have a .263 BABIP, 4.20 xFIP, and 4.13 FIP and expect to maintain an ERA of 3.04. It just won’t happen, you will regress. Just ask 2013 first half Jeff Locke.

                    • Locke is a bad comparison, Locke does not have anywhere near the stuff Volquez has and again, xFIP is a prediction not a fact, his 3.04 ERA is a fact and was real, not a prediction. IMO, he should do the same or better than 3.04 next year because of the coaching, his stuff and the defense he has behind him. Unless he loses velocity and no one can predict that.

                    • If you honestly think Edinson Volquez will have an ERA of 3.04 or lower in 2015, you’re nuts.

    • Sounds like Liriano every few years. It’s funny how much a hot streak before free agency pumps up the fans, like they can tell what a “#1” pitcher looks like. Take away the injury in 14 and Medlin’s a better bet than Liriano by far, but that’s a big if. Come to think of it though, the Pirates took a doctors advice when they finalized the Liriano deal two years ago and that worked out well. Certainly worth looking at.

      • Except Liriano was coming off non-throwing arm injury and Medlen is recovering from 2nd TJ surgery. Not many, if any, success stories of SP’s returning to form after 2nd TJ surgery.

  • Kirkman is somewhat interesting for those who thought acquiring Zach Duke was a good idea. His issue was always command. SSS in 2014 as he was a Sept callup, but only walked one of 22 batters faced (although he hit two), so maybe command has come around? No velocity, mostly sliders and offspeed. No HRs last year, mostly grounders. No options left. Rangers were surprised he cleared waivers last year. Not sure what to think of the guy… but could be a lefty Luke Gregerson type.

  • Huntington always talks of mutual risk with a contract. That is why a Walker extension now makes sense.

    Walker was a 4 WAR player in ’14 with a .272 BABIP. It wouldn’t surprise me if he amassed 20 WAR in the next 5 years.

    It’s funny that I’ve seen plenty of Pirates fans mention signing the 36 year old Adam LaRoche but signing Walker through his 34 or 35 year old season scared them.

    • Of course, we could also be seeing Walker’s peak right now, and among his back issues, the age curve and a likely move to a corner IF spot with a negative positional adjustment, he could also amass <10 WAR over the next 5 years.

      • Right. Walker will make north of $10 mill in 2016 and appears to be on the decline defensively. Extend him to what?

        An extension at this point would involve a raise, probably to 3/$40. When he hits FA after 2016, Walker seems to me like a candidate to get a QO and not find a taker, resulting in him coming down, perhaps to $10 mill AAV.

        I agree with Tim on this one. No urgency.

      • SB: Walker was a 3.7 WAR player in 2014; Adam LaRoche was nowhere near that neighborhood. Prior to 2014, Walker was 2.4, 2.6, 2.6, and then the 3.7. His HR’s have increased to where he can be a solid #4 hitter. Check LaRoche’s record and tell me he was worth 2 years at $25 mil at any time in his career. I like this comparison because 1B is where we need to move Neil Walker in 2015 if Pedro does not cut it, or 2016 if Pedro does well. If Pedro goes out and regains his market value in 2015, he is going to be traded at that higher point rather than wait for the other shoe to drop after 2016 when he will surely go to Free Agency. ‘Cutch and Neil Walker puts butts in the seats, and they are the leaders of the team. Cannot overlook fan popularity in a period of growth leading up to a new TV Contract.

        • This is what I was going to reply but you did it for me. The other points I was going to make is first we will have a lot of money to spend with not a lot of people to spend it on here soon.

          Secondly would people really rather spend 12 million a season on Francisco Liriano then spending it on Walker?

        • Wabbit_Season
          December 3, 2014 8:49 am

          emj –

          I like your post right up to the last sentence. “Cannot overlook fan popularity in a period of growth leading up to a new TV Contract.”

          Sure you can. I don’t think the front office ever even thinks of fan popularity. That substrate of emotion colors your vision on the team and what is good for it.

          People are going to see the Pirates and tuning in on teevee because they are winning. It isn’t because of Cutch or anyone else per se. (You can certainly say Cutch’s performance is key to them winning, sure.) But you could deal Cutch and if the team went on winning, the park would still be full. Okay, trading Cutch would be a little like trading Willie Stargell, true, but… the point, I think, stands.

          In my opinion, fan popularity is not the thing. Production that we can afford is the thing. And if a player we can afford produces, fan popularity is a by-product of it.

          Success = Popularity.

          And while popularity is related to success, you don’t hire a player because of popularity. You hire a player because you’re sure he will be successful.

          Thus, any player – given the right circumstance – is replaceable.
          —————————————
          “Don’t look so perplexed! Why must you be vexed? Can’t you see you’re next?!! Yes! You’re next! You’re so next!”
          -Wabbit

          • IMO, Your right, they could trade Cutch and if they keep winning the park would still be full, but “Trading Cutch would be like trading Willie Stargell”! Cutch/Stargell not in the same world fan popularity wise, Stargell right up their with Clemente. Kiner got traded and he was actually a draw, when he came out of the game everyone left. Cutch is not a draw, when they were not winning nobody came to see the Pirates and Cutch was here. The Pirates don’t have one player that is a draw, Cole and Martin were close, but that was about it.
            I believe that the one player draw is pretty much gone unless it is an individual game with a Kershaw pitching against a Bumgarden. That is why Stanton robbing the bank made no sense, he is not a draw.
            Also, I agree the Pirates could care less about the fan popularity of a player and I might add the media fallout from moving a Cutch type player.

            • leadoff –
              Yeah, you got me. The Stargell comparison… Just a tad bit premature on that one, right?

              I was trying to place such a trade in a larger context. I remember how much people went berzerk when we traded away Nate McLouth, for chrissakes. And Jason Bay. And was imagining the shouting over a Cutch deal.

              But you’re right on that one. Only way Cutch gets into that rarefied air is with a world series ring (or two). THEN I think he could be reasonably in the discussion with our Pirate greats. Does that put him in Statue Territory? Not sure. That’s a lifetime commitment thing there.

              I am interested to see if Cutch gets into “Legacy” territory one day. Is he going to be the kind of player who becomes identified with the city? What does it take for the Pirates to veer from “the plan” and do what is right by a player on the grand scale? I think the Bucs’ plan has gotten us so far but we’re in a place now where we’re setting the table for greatness, but have not yet had the meal. I want to see what that path holds.
              ——————————————–
              “And so, having disposed of the monster, exit our hero, through the front door, stage right!”
              -Wabbit

              • Cutch does not have the charisma of a Stargell and he is not the two way player that Clemente was, he will leave for the money something that Clemente and Stargell never got the chance to do and that will probably take care of the statue, however, Cutch is black and they love to put black statues at PNC park, most I never heard of. Not to take away from the fact that Cutch is a very good player and one of the best the Pirates have had in many years and is probably as good or better than most of statues at PNC. How Meadows does coming up through the minors might also have something to do with how the Pirates are received when they part with Cutch, if the fans are clamoring for him, Cutch leaving will be easier to accept.
                I do not like over 100mil dollar contracts to any player, so if the Pirates go into the rarefied air of 150-200mil for Cutch I will be very unhappy, remember many times these types of deals for low revenue teams mean the rest of the team might be minor leaguers in a lot of positions, something we do not have now.

                • leadoff –

                  Not sure I get your statues reference there but I think that could be construed as offensive, so I’ll leave that one alone.

                  But I will agree with your “over $100 million dollar contracts” statement. I have seen the Pirates hamstrung by heavy contracts in the past and have even seen large market teams hampered (to a lesser extent) the same way.

                  Still, I think Cutch is the kind of athlete who could reach the pantheon if things went right and… frankly… I think we all hope they do.
                  —————————————
                  “So now you know how a one-eyed jack (rabbit) can beat a king!”
                  -Wabbit

                  • I agree, I hope he does reach the pantheon, he is a quality person and a terrific player and if by some form of luck they could keep him, it would be great for the Pirates and the city.

            • I dunno leadoff. A LOT of people like Cutch, in fact he won an online poll to be the face of MLB 14.

              LOts of kids, even my daughter, who doesn’t know baseball, know who he is. I think you grossly underestimate his popularity

              • You could be right, I don’t mean to diminish Cutch’s popularity, I am more referring to the aftermath when he leaves, something I don’t want but I think is inevitable.
                There are always going to be people that go berserk when a deal for a popular player is moved or leaves, but the Steelers lose hall of fame players to other teams and nobody gets excited, why, because they know the Steelers will reload, same with teams like Boston and NY. When the Pirates win for a while and show that they can and will reload, players leaving will be easier to accept, that is why I mentioned Meadows, hopefully he is a hot prospect about the same time as Cutch leaves.

          • Wabbit, you seem to be forgetting the impact of merchandising on the franchises bottom line. There is more to revenues than ticket sales and tv share.

        • I’m not part of the LaRoche wing, and I have no desire to get caught up in that part of the discussion. What I’m saying is, be careful not to just pencil Walker in for 3.5 – 4 WAR seasons for the next 5 years because, actuarially, the last two seasons should be his peak. Some players maintain that peak longer than others, but in the pre- and post-PED era, there is a clear pattern that on average, position players lose about 1/2 WAR every season after age 27-28. Walker’s back issues make him a candidate to miss more time as he ages, which will cut into his playing time. And if his back and defensive woes eventually force him to 1B, the positional adjustment alone takes 1.5 WAR away. And to give you a sense of where that might put him, his 114 lifetime OPS+ at 1B is a dead ringer for….Adam LaRoche.

          Walker will still be worth his salary in 2015, barring injury, and very likely in 2016, barring injury. To buy out 2017 and beyond, you would need to a) feel confident that Walker is one of the outliers who remains just as productive (and injury-fee) in his early 30’s as he did in his late 20’s, and b) get Walker to agree to a discount from what you could get by taking him year to year over the next 2 years.

          By far the safer route is to wait it out. If he manages to stay healthy AND productive, he’ll be worth a QO and you can take it from there. If not, you’ll be glad you didn’t commit $40M dollars 3 years ago, praying you can some value out of him.

          And if you think for a second that Neil Walker has any influence over attendance or the TV contract, you’re nuts. If the Pirates trade or lose Walker to free agency and bring in a Japanese import who gives them the same 4 WAR and they continue to make the playoffs, it will have zero impact. As long as the Pirates are winning and PNC is small, people will come to the games, no matter who’s playing for them.

    • there is a big difference in predicting what a 29 year old 2b with a bad back and rapidly declining range at his position will be like in 5 years and in predicting what a 36 year old 1b who is still productive will be like at age 37.

      • Yet Walkers offensive numbers get better despite his injury. Yes, a back can be a lingering issue but take if from someone with 4 fused discs in his neck, not all back issues are the same. A doc should, by now, be able to tell NH with relative certainty a 5 year progression. If that report comes back good, I would definitely try to lock him up for the next four years.I’m sure his back has him cautious too so he would be well served to lock in some big money. as for his defense , if his back pain is managed his range issues will be lessened. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see him staying at 2B for the next few years.

        • I guess i just don’t even see a good 2b even when he is healthy.

          I’m in no way worried about Neil Walker the Hitter aging pretty well.

          I’m worried about Neil Walker the 2b aging well. He already has absolutely no range.

          Perhaps Neil Walker the 31-34 year old 3b could be a good compromise.

          • I think Walker the 1B is the real story. His hitting keeps getting better and in two years if he shifts to 1B he could bulk up a little bit. He’s tall and could easily put on 10-15 pounds if his range became less of a worry. I love that he’s hitting LHPs better too. I honestly think he could hit 30 HRs.

            He hit very well in 2014 when offense was way down league wide.

            • I guess it depends on if they’d have to pay him like a 1b or a 2b.

              I just can’t imagine them paying him like an above-average-hitting 2b (12-15 mil?) to be an average-hitting 1b (worth 8-10 mil?). I think they’d rather just pay an average-hitting 1b to be the 1b for average-hitting 1b prices.

              • If he is losing his platoon split and can play everyday that’s worth a lot too. He didn’t slug much against LHPs last year but his OBP was up over .350 against them. I think he could really allow for a transition at 2nd and eventually 1B and provide some depth over the next 4 years or so.

                Plus we’ll get a discount. Plus the cost of not having to find someone comparable.

                Hanson wasn’t even ranked a top 20 prospect in the Eastern League, he’s far from a sure thing.

    • TheSharkTankisNasty
      December 3, 2014 5:13 pm

      Walker will be 31 years old when he’s a free agent after the 2016 season. Walker is in his prime now. There’s little point to extending a guy and buying years when he’s in decline (especially after all the back problems he’s had). We’ve signed Marte and Cutch to long term deals because it buys them out of arbitration and their first few free agent years. The difference is that both of those guys were younger than Walker when they signed the deals.

      A guy with back problems who will be on the decline, playing at a position that is pretty easy to fill, is not a good extension candidate.

  • Darn it, the numbers are horrible…but I like Smoak.

  • FROM –> MLBTradeRumors.com: The Padres have non-tendered shortstop Everth Cabrera, the team announced. Cabrera was projected by MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz to earn $2.9MM through arbitration. The 28-year-old took home $2.45MM last year.

    This would be an interesting piece to add to the bench for an affordable amount. Experienced MLB level middle infielder with plus speed and has proven he can hit enough at this level. Between him and S-Rod it would provide good experience behind both injury plagued Neil Walker and still relevantly unproven Jordy Mercer. A change of scenery could potentially help his off the field issues

  • FROM –> MLBTradeRumors.com: The Padres have non-tendered shortstop Everth Cabrera, the team announced. Cabrera was projected by MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz to earn $2.9MM through arbitration. The 28-year-old took home $2.45MM last year.

    This would be an interesting piece to add to the bench for an affordable amount. Experienced MLB level middle infielder with plus speed and has proven he can hit enough at this level. Between him and S-Rod it would provide good experience behind both injury plagued Neil Walker and still relevantly unproven Jordy Mercer. A change of scenery could potentially help his off the field issues

    • Because the Pirates need yet another Middle infield back-up on the 40!

      • Last time I checked the 40 man roster was not a stone with names chiseled on it… it’s a fluid document that can be adjusted at anytime. Seriously though I see your point but this option should be explored. 10-15 other major league teams will look at him.. Pirates should at least entertain the thought.

    • Cabrera has PED, DUI, and domestic violence on his resume. No thanks.

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