Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: when above average is great, Tulo in StL?, and Turner Field obsolete?


LEBO – The GM meetings begin today in Orlando and while there’s typically few deals executed there it can be a time where seeds are planted for transactions that come to fruition later in the offseason.


The Pirates aren’t in a rush to jump into free agency, particularly since they have yet to learn whether AJ Burnett will be part of their 2014 plans.


What we have learned this offseason is the Pirates probably aren’t willing to spend $14.1 million on any one player in 2014.  While Burnett’s one-year market value is north of $14 million, teams are hesitant to commit 15-20 percent of their payroll on a single asset. And if the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll grows from $66 million in 2013 to, say, $80 million in 2014, $14.1 million would be 17.5 percent of payroll.


The concept of refusing to pay X percentage of payroll to one player is worth debating. But there is convincing evidence from last season that teams should avoid allocating financial resources to just few stars, at least free agent ones, and rather spread resources out to above-average players.


Last week on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential — an excellent offseason show — host Brian Kenny presented interesting evidence that showed most of the teams in the playoffs, including the Red Sox, didn’t have the highest number of star-level performers in their lineup rather they had the most above-average performances according to OPS+ across the board. The Red Sox wore out teams with a deep and balanced lineup, but outside of David Ortiz, there wasn’t a star-level performer in the postseason.


This approach of targeting above average but not elite performance is particularly important in this era of free agency.


Rather, that sign 30-something stars to lucrative, long-term deals  (players likely to regress in their 30s like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) the Red Sox, a major market, targeted above average players like Mike Napoli and Koji to shorter-term deals that tied up fewer resources. Sure, you want to develop star players but you want those to be homegrown, when they are often cheaper and in their 20s. In the free agent market even a major-market club demonstrated the preferable route to take is not targeting high-end stars


The Pirates don’t have any other option but to focus on finding value in free agency but as the Red Sox demonstrated, in the modern era you don’t need to target elite performers in free agency and perhaps it’s better not to (See: Los Angeles Angels). Perhaps the path to greatness is becoming above average across the board.




9. Speaking of Burnett, an interesting hybird solution to Burnett’s dilemma was presented by a MLB blogger Tom Singer.


No one has yet discussed this openly, but this is where Huntington could get creative: Burnett is torn between his real family and the Pirates family? Neither professional pride — nor, for that matter, the union — would let him take a pay slash? Burnett could satisfy both of those conditions by making a midseason return, a la Roger Clemens a few years back. That would allow Burnett family time, and for the Bucs to shoehorn the prorated portion of an eight-figure salary into their budget. And, just in case a jolt is needed both in the clubhouse and at the gate, imagine the impact of a mid-June Burnett landing.


It’s an interesting idea and it might actually keep Burnett fresher late in the season. But if the Pirates are spending $7-8 million on a starter pitcher I’d suspect they want a guy who gives them the possibility of throwing 200 innings.  Still, Burnett did lead the NL in strikeout rate and groundball rate so no reason to not explore every possibility.


8. The Cardinals are interesting in plugging their most glaring hole – shortstop – with one of the game’s best players, Troy Tulowitzki, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.


The Cardinals have the prospects to get it done without giving up Oscar Taveras or Michael Wacha – both are likely untouchable – which is scary in the short-term in the NL Central.


Tulowitzki is 29. He has an injury history and he’s owed over $130 million. And he would likely cost the Cards at least two attractive pieces like Shelby Miller and Matt Adams . Long term, it’s not a great deal but in the short-term it could be a difference-making acquisition.


The Cardinals are also interested in the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. 



7. The Pirates also have a void at shortstop though if they’re not willing to pay Burnett the qualifying mark I doubt their willing to guarantee one player $130 million. But the Cards interest in filling their shortstop position with impact talent shows that the Pirates likely need to be aggressive this offseason to not cede ground in the NL Central.


6. With a relatively weak free agency class the trade market could heat up this winter. Interesting names that might be available on the trade market: Pablo SandovalDavid Price, Max Scherzer, Brandon Phillips, Matt Kemp and Mark Trumbo. Trumbo might be the most realistic fit for the Pirates.


5. If the Pirates do something big this offseason it will likely come via trade and not free agency.  The Pirates have the organization depth to make such a deal.


Said Huntington in Sept. : “We are going to have to make some good small, medium and maybe large trades. As much as we’d like to fill every hole from within the reality is we are going to have to stay with our model: a core that needs to be Pirates but we going to have to make some good free agent signings and some good trades moving forward.”


4. MLB needs to connect with a younger audience so why not put Ortiz and Andrew McCutchen on MTV2


3.  The Braves announced today that they will begin play in a new $672 million stadium ($400 million from taxpayers) in Cobb County off the outerbelt in suburban Atlanta (a traffic nightmare).


While Turner Field wasn’t one of the best retro-era parks, there was nothing wrong with the 16-year-old facility and it’s absurd the city will spend $1.8 billion on new football and baseball facilities that are a combined 37 years old.


2. I’m not sure if Neal Huntington can beat out Ben Cherington today for MLB exec of the year but both had tremendous seasons and offseasons. I will say 94-wins and ending a 20-year losing streak in a small market seems more impressive to me on paper. Hard to paint large-market Boston as a rags-to-riches story. The core there was still really strong after a down 2012.


1.  Lastly, but most important, let’s all take some time to remember and thank the veterans we know today. Both my grandfathers, an uncle, and my father-in-law served in the military. Everyone who has served has made incredible sacrifices and we should remember and honor that more than just one day a year.



Neal Huntington to our own Karen Price:

“If (Bob Nutting) made a different decision a year ago, I would have walked out the door believing this organization was much better off than when we walked in the door, and believing that they were a few good decisions away from being a playoff-caliber team. (I’m) very grateful, very thankful, that we had the opportunity to see the 2013 season to its fruition. My hope is that all it has done is reinforce that commitment and that bond, because we’ve got a lot of talented people doing a lot of good things.”





The wife and I toured the Falling Water home by Frank Lloyd Wright. Amazing place. Worth the short drive from Pittsburgh if you haven’t been.


– TS