Wrapping up winter meetings: a tale of two pitchers and Barmes returns


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After a quiet start to the winter meetings, the Pirates doled out the largest contract of the meetings – the three-year, $21 million deal with an option to Charlie Morton – and added another arm in Edinson Volquez.

Judging from my Tweeter feed, Volquez was a controversial add by the Pirates.


Volquez has an electric arm and a fall-of-the-table changeup. But it’s kind to say that he’s erratic. He’s a riddle, wrapped in an enigma related to Steve Sax.  Volquez had a great year in 2008. He hasn’t been much since. Even Bud Black couldn’t fix him.



The Pirates leave the winter meetings with Volquez but without a first baseman and likely without AJ Burnett 


But the Pirates believe they can fix anybody. They prize velocity, swing-and-miss pitches and groundball ability and Volquez possesses those traits. What he doesn’t have is fastball command. The Pirates’ confidence in fixing arms has been bolstered in back-to-back years by rebuilding the value of pitchers like AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli.


This was Ray Searage talking on MLB Network Radio earlier this offseason:


“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but as an organization we believe that we can fix anybody and a delivery because we have a lot of talented people all up and down the chain […] When (Liriano) came over and what we saw and what we got we go ‘Hey, we can do this, this is fixable, we can fix this.’”


Perhaps the Pirates are about to fall victim to player-reclamation hubris. Or perhaps Searage and the Pirates’ defensive plan can fix anyone. If it can, there should be a statues of Searage and Dan Fox erected off Federal St.


In a vacuum, I don’t have a huge problem with Volquez at $5 million. Have you seen the cost of pitching?


But of course this game is not played in a vacuum. And perhaps it’s fair to wonder if the Pirates allocated too much of their relatively paltry free agent resources on Volquez, who was released by the Padres pitching at Petco park last season. A pitching environment doesn’t get anymore favorable — though the Pirates want to challenge that notion.


I typically value quality over quantity and you wonder if the Pirates would have been better just giving Burnett market value – or an above-average player  like him – and calling it a day in free agency.



Burnett was at the winter meetings in spirit only


I’m not saying Volquez can’t be a bounce-back guy. But to believe he’s going to be Francisco Liriano 2.0 is a lazy comp.  For starters, Liriarno has two plus off-speed pitches. Volquez has one. Moreover, Liriano had had a great season as recently as 2010 when he was signed and he quietly had an intriguing second half in 2012 when he struck out 10.5 per nine. Also, Liriano is left-handed, which is an ideal fit at PNC Park and in the NL Central. So Volquez can bounce-back. It’s within the realm of possibility. But don’t expect Liriano 2.0.


At the end of the day, at the end of the meetings, you can question Huntington’s allocation of resources if you want but if you’re frustrated by the Pirates’ lack of spending that starts above the GM’s office.




While the Volquez deal can be questioned, the Morton deal is potentially a great value for the club. And, for me, was the bigger story of Wednesday.


Yes, Morton has an injury history so gaining $21 million guaranteed makes sense for him. But the Pirates locked in some cost certainty with its starting rotation and this deal could represent tremendous value. And remember after the 2014 season, only Gerrit Cole was under club control from the Pirates’ rotation that ended the 2013 season.


Morton is another Searage success story.


Had he qualified with enough innings, Morton would have led baseball with a Brandon Webb-like 62.9 groundball rate last season. His sinker developed into a true weapon in 2013 and was aided by his Roy Halladay-inspired delivery change. The two delivers are almost identical.


Moreover, there’s upside here as Morton began to experiment with a split-change to neutralize left-handed hitters. It had its moments. If he can become more consistent with the pitch Morton becomes a really interesting guy in 2014. He was 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA in his first year coming of Tommy John surgery last season.


Huntington believes sinkerballers age well and the Pirates will likely now control Morton’s best years.


It was a deal that made sense for both sides but it’s a deal that could provide the Pirates with tremendous surplus value.




Clint Barmes reached a one-year, $2 million agreement with the Pirates on Thursday, a source confirmed the Tribune-Review. After starting last season at shortstop, Barmes will return as utility infielder, primarily to back up No. 1 shortstop Jordy Mercer.


While Barmes struggled offensively in 2013, he graded out as an above-average defender which is important for a pitching staff that led major leagues in groundball rate. The Pirates added another pitcher with an above-average groundball rate in Edinson Volquez on Wednesday at the winter meetings.


The Pirates committed $11 million to their 2014 payroll over the final two days of the winter meetings with contracts given to pitchers Morton and Volquez, and Thursday’s deal with Barmes. Still, the Pirates could have enough financial flexibility to pursue a free agent option at their most glaring remaining need: first base. The Pirates have been connected to free agent first baseman James Loney.


After the Barmes signing, the Pirates’ 25-man payroll projection is $73 million.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Wednesday said the club was still open to resigning Barmes.


“We want to bring in a guy to catch the ball,” Hurdle said. “We want to get a guy that can catch the ball and put putouts away for the days that Jordy’s not at shortstop.”


Should he elect to return, Hurdle said Barmes’ role made clear after the season.


“We had a conversation out the door in our exit interviews about the role we could envision he could play for us this year. We spelled it out directly to him,” Hurdle said. “I do believe this is always a challenging time for a player of Clint’s (ability) he wanted to see if there was a job to be available to play a large volume of games to be a starting shortstop. … I think it’s a place he knows us. We know him. He’s a very good defender. He’s an impact defender. He’s very good with our younger players. He’s very good in the clubhouse. So there is a lot of tangible and intangible aspects of him we like.”



The Rule V Draft took place this morning – the nerdiest event in baseball – before everyone began scrambling for the airport.


The Pirates had a full 40-man roster and did not participate in the draft. They did lose left-handed pitcher Wei-Chung Wang to the Brewers.


But this is the difference between the two systems: Wang wasn’t a top 20 prospect for the Pirates he might be a top 10 guy for the Brewers.



It’s important to know you’re own talent but the Pirates simply have run out of roster spots and will have to clear another spot for Volquez once he passes his physical.


– TS