I ran a piece last year where I looked at players headed into their final year of arbitration, as the Pirates had five guys entering their last year of control. As it turns out, they traded one (Neil Walker), kept and eventually extended two (Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart), kept and eventually traded another (Mark Melancon) and non-tendered one (Pedro Alvarez). I was eventually right with three out of five. I promise to do better this year.
Since the Pirates have only two players heading into their final year of arbitration, I’m going to focus on them but also the other players they control next year, but will have a decision to make with them next offseason. While the Pirates have a number of pending free agents, I’m going to look past them because my analysis is too basic for a TPOP piece. In case you were wondering, sign Ivan Nova with the Francisco Liriano money and let the rest walk.
Final Year of Arbitration
Tony Watson – Keep
In a vacuum, I would trade Tony Watson. The Pirates have done well maximizing the value they receive from their closers. While Watson hasn’t held the role long, he should still be widely viewed as a top set up man at the very least and be able theoretically to net quite the haul. Problem is, the free agent market is loaded with quality bullpen arms and cheap reclamation projects alike. Why trade resources for a guy who will get about 60% of his market rate anyway when you can sign one on the cheap? Unless the Pirates wait the market out, they won’t get what they should for Watson and if they wait the market out, they won’t have anyone to replace him. I’d keep him for now, but if the Pirates don’t trade him in the offseason, they should really consider a similar deal to the one that moved Mark Melancon to the Nationals regardless of whether or not they’re contending, provided relievers are still netting absurd returns.
Juan Nicasio – Keep
The swing man is becoming an increasingly important role in the bullpen and Juan Nicasio has been a solid one. He’ll be due for a raise on the $3M he’s making this season, but he’s been extremely effective out of the bullpen posting a 3.69 ERA/2.51 FIP/2.88 xFIP. The ERA isn’t great, but the xFIP portends better things to come. Nicasio is a dark horse to set up if someone else is traded or falters.
Second Year of Arbitration
Jordy Mercer – Keep
During a normal time in Major League history, Mercer would be considered a middle of the road, solid, but not spectacular type shortstop. He’s a good balance of bat and glove for the position and would have been considered average. It was a ‘have vs have not’ position. Today, he’s well below average for a position that seems to be the strength of a number of teams.
The Pirates should keep Jordy Mercer for a few reasons. First, he’ll still be cheap after making a shade over $2M this past year. Next, just because everyone else has a stud shortstop doesn’t mean the Pirates have an alternative. Kevin Newman looks primed to replace him, but he still needs some time in AAA. While he could be ready next season, he’s not ready now. Finally, Mercer might be more valuable to the Pirates than he is anyone else. Even with two years of control, Mercer is not likely to yield much of a return.
If the Pirates are struggling at the trade deadline next year, Mercer has a greater potential to move as his replacement will have a better chance of stepping into his role and a couple of teams better laid plans for the position could be injured. Even with less control, he could yield more next summer if they moved him then.
Jared Hughes – Trade (or Non-Tender)
Not only does Hughes have two years of control left, he has two years of Super Two arbitration left, making him more costly than he would have been otherwise. I like Hughes and think he’s a useful pitcher. However, with a strong relief pitching market, he’s easily replaceable. Theoretically, the Pirates could bring a couple of guys in on minor league deals to compete for his old job. Brett Cecil jumps out at me.
The Pirates could net a small return for Hughes if traded, but it would be more of a token return. Of course, it would be better than letting him walk for nothing.
Jeff Locke – Trade (Who am I trying to kid, non-tender)
I generally think Locke has been underrated in the his time with the Pirates, but he’s posted an awful season in 2016. His time is nearing an end and if he had any trade value left he would have been traded already. The Pirates will continue to attempt to trade him, but like last season with Pedro Alvarez, teams will prefer to wait out until the Bucs non-tender him and he can be had on a minor league or lower cost deal for nothing.
Final Year of Their Contract
John Jaso – Keep
Last week, Kevin had a look at possible trade destinations for John Jaso with the basis that the Pirates corner situation is too crowded with David Freese coming back. I won’t argue that a trade is off the table, but I would keep him. Usually the choice is a extra corner guy or an extra middle infielder. The Pirates don’t need to choose the latter, because they have a number of players who can play multiple positions. Four — Mercer, Jung Ho Kang, Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier — can play short. Jaso, Frazier and Bell can also play in the outfield, thus negating the need for a true fourth outfielder as well.
At $4M, Jaso is a reasonably priced bench bat. Normally, that isn’t a luxury the Pirates could afford a roster spot on. This time they can and having him available to pinch hit gives Clint Hurdle a good lefty option off the bench.
Antonio Bastardo – Keep
Bastardo and Pennsylvania go together like peanut butter and some state where peanut butter just tastes better. Bastardo is a no-brainer to bring back, due to his pitching’s upswing since his return.
The Elephant in the Room
Andrew McCutchen – Keep
The Pirates have two years of control left on McCutchen’s deal, one guaranteed year and one option year, both valued around $14 million. That’s a lot for the Pirates to pay a player out of pocket and with Cutch’s down year questions about whether or not he’s worth it will abound. I’ve seen a number of outlets suggest trading him now. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea. The Pirates would be selling low on a player who could easily rebound. In reality, the last month seems to be pointing towards at least a partial turn around. A big part of what’s been missing for the Pirates this year is a star performance. McCutchen isn’t the only player capable of providing one for the Bucs. Gerrit Cole, Liriano, Harrison and to a lesser extent, Starling Marte are all capable of giving one and none have. However, he is certainly a guy they could reasonably rely on for one next year. You don’t fit in the conversation for the MVP four years in a row and win one by accident. The Pirates need the Cutch of old back and they can’t replace him with a trade return or the $14 million they’d save on him. The only hope is to keep the real thing.
The Pirates are nearing the end of their first contention window as the second seems to be opening. A number of stalwarts from the first wave have already moved on and a few more along with a couple of add-ons are coming the end of their career in Pittsburgh. I don’t see an extension candidate in this group of remaining players, as the players who will carry over from one window to the next have already been locked up. I also see a group of players who are more useful to the team as players than as trade bait.
2017 is an interesting year as both windows will be ajar and some of the talent that has carried them and will carry them is overlapping. It will make for a year where they could really do some damage, so the status quo with external supplements is likely the best course of action. The core is there. It will need minor tweaking from the outside and better performances from their best players already here. If they don’t get them, the trade deadline could be exciting for all the wrong reasons. As for this offseason, expect to be bored as the Pirate make the smart, simple and correct moves rather than the daring ones.