Over the weekend, Jeff Sullivan wrote about the perfect off-season the Pittsburgh Pirates had, noting that a lot of their budget-minded moves have paid off in a big way. He noted that A.J. Burnett, Francisco Cervelli, and Jung-ho Kang are working out well in big roles, while smaller additions like Arquimedes Caminero and Rob Scahill have also provided good value.
Burnett currently ranks 22nd among 111 qualified starters in xFIP. Cervelli ranks 6th in WAR out of 22 catchers with 130+ plate appearances. That’s even more impressive when you consider that he ranks as the best pitch framer, adding more value. Russell Martin is a full win better than him so far, but also costs about $15.5 M more than Cervelli on average. Kang has pretty much won the shortstop job from Jordy Mercer, and has a 1.3 WAR. At $6 M per win, he’s almost half a win away from justifying his entire four-year, $11 M contract.
The Pirates paid about $20.5 M for those three players, and they are currently getting a combined 4.1 WAR (granted, Burnett came at a special discount for them). That doesn’t count Cervelli’s framing value, and it doesn’t count Kang’s next three years under contract. Through two months, they’ve already received the value of what they spent for those players.
Granted, the Pirates haven’t been exactly perfect. They missed on Radhames Liz, and Corey Hart hasn’t been hitting in a small sample, outside of his other small sample as a pinch hitter. But the majority of their moves have worked out, and this isn’t a new trend. They’ve found budget additions the last few years, whether it was through free agency, or in the trade market at the deadline.
In free agency, they have landed a lot of low-cost reclamation pitchers who have gone on to put up some impressive numbers. Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, and Edinson Volquez are just a few from the starting side. And before they had to find a way to replace Russell Martin on a budget, there was the fact that Russell Martin was one of their budget signings in the past, providing value well beyond his two-year, $17.5 M deal.
They’ve gotten value at the deadline without giving up much of significance over the long-term. Last year they didn’t make any deadline moves, which was criticized. However, they filled their biggest need in the bullpen with the mid-season signing of John Holdzkom, and saw their patience rewarded with some of their struggling players who stepped up down the stretch. The year before they made a big splash by landing Marlon Byrd. They dealt away Dilson Herrera, but saved their best prospects.
Every year there are complaints that the Pirates don’t spend enough. Their payroll has gone up over the last few years, and I don’t expect that to stop. But they are never going to be a team that sees a massive spike in payroll, nor are they going to be a team constantly dealing away top prospects for short-term help. And based on the results, that might not be a bad thing. They continue to find value, and they remain competitive, despite the “tight-budget” and “prospect-hoarding” approaches. And it’s that ability to continue finding value that will keep them competitive for the long run, rather than falling into the downward trend that the Reds and Brewers are currently in.
**Prospect Watch: Sever and Brewer Combine For 18 Strikeouts. Big night for the West Virginia pitchers. Also, two live reports, including my recap of Luis Heredia.
**The Draft Picks Associated With the Pirates Most Often. Only one week to go until the draft.
**Yeudy Garcia is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month for May. You’re going to want to remember this name.
**Alen Hanson is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month For May. He doesn’t really have a path to the majors this year, unless the Pirates see a few injuries.
**Jaff Decker Quit Trying to Hit For Power, and the Results Have Been Great. Ryan Palencer reports on the off-season change for Decker that led to his strong start this year.
**Morning Report: In the Minors, No One Gets On Base More Often Than the Pirates. Good information from John Dreker about a trend that exists throughout the system.