The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed left-handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc to a one year, $800,000 deal with an option, according to Jon Heyman. The move avoids arbitration between the two sides on the deadline for non-tender decisions.
wade leblanc agrees to 800K pirates deal. 1 year plus option. 750K in '17, 1.25M in '18, 50K buyout.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 2, 2016
The deal pays him $750,000 in 2017, with a $1.25 M team option in 2018 and a $50,000 buyout. That’s a pretty good deal for LeBlanc, who looked good in a limited time as a reliever at the end of the year. If LeBlanc stays for the duration of his deal, he would be arbitration eligible one more time in 2019.
LeBlanc was acquired by the Pirates in September in a pretty low-key deal with the Mariners. He was converted to a reliever, and put up an 0.75 ERA, a 1.98 FIP, and a 3.65 xFIP in 12 innings. It’s a small sample size, but the results were much better than his numbers as a starter.
After making the switch to the bullpen, LeBlanc mostly relied on a cutter/changeup combo, reducing the usage of his two-seam fastball from 29.7% to 8.1%. He increased the use of his cutter from 16.7% to 33.9%. He always used the changeup a lot, but saw that go to a career-high 36.8%, from 28.4% as a starter (and 25.6% in his career).
The Pirates have plenty of left-handed options in the bullpen. There are probably three ahead of LeBlanc right now, with Tony Watson as the closer, Felipe Rivero as a setup man, and Antonio Bastardo on the roster. Watson could be moved this off-season, which would allow LeBlanc to be the third lefty and a potential long-man.
The contract could also have the Vin Mazzaro effect once the season rolls around. The Pirates signed Mazzaro to an $800,000 deal a few years ago, avoiding arbitration. That amount allowed them to send him to Triple-A on an outright assignment, and call him up when needed. Other MLB teams didn’t claim him, since most are at their budget during the season, and don’t usually take on middle relievers over the league minimum. And Mazzaro wouldn’t decline the assignment to Triple-A and become a free agent, since he’d forfeit his salary.
The same circumstance exists with LeBlanc. This deal essentially buys the Pirates an option year, and adds to their depth. Maybe they don’t go with three lefties at the start of the year, but this makes sure that they’ll have another lefty to choose from throughout the season.