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Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: the qualifying opportunity

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SOUTH HILLS – You might notice a common characteristic among the big-ticket remaining free agents: nearly all of them have been tagged with the qualifying offer, the dreaded Scarlet Q.

As you probably know as a reader of this e-space, a club signing a player who has been tendered a qualifying offer – an amount equal to average salary of the top 100 contracts in the game ($14.1 million this offseason) – loses its first-round choice, unless it is among the worst teams in the game.

 

Teams have been increasingly reluctant to part with draft choices for free agents. And, really, that shouldn’t be surprising when players like Michael Wacha are the compensation for players like Albert Pujols.  (The Yankees apparently missed the memo having singed three players – Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, who require draft pick compensation along with substantial dollars).

 

Stephen Drew, Ubaldo Jiminez and Kendrys Morales are the three remaining unsigned free agents who were tendered the qualifying offer.

 

I don’t think the qualifying offer is going to exist much longer in its current form. The players and agents likely oppose it as it depresses their market, and thereby their value, in prime earning years. In the next CBA talks it’s going to be a subject of discussion, I would think. It’s perhaps factor in explaining why players’ share of revenue has dipped below 50-50.

 

But while the qualifying offer exists it represents an opportunity: it suppresses prices in some cases. While it does not affect the pricing of the game’s top free agents (See: Cano, Robinson) it does have an impact on Grade B free agents applied with the tag. And of the the remaining three free agents who have been given a QO, one remains a potential opportunity for the Pirates.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

 

9. No, it’s not Morales.

 

Though ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote last week that that Moarles made “theoretical sense” for the Pirates, Morales’ lack of defensive prowess in addition to the partial redundancy that would exist if paired with Gaby Sanchez makes him a very iffy fit and that’s before factoring in the dollars or the loss of a first-round pick. The price would have to be bargain basement for the Pirates to get involved, I would guess.

 

8. No, it’s not Ubaldo.

 

Jiminez had an excellent second half in 2013 after several years of declining performance. Given the scarcity of  quality starting pitching, Jiminez is still likely secure a significant contract but his moving-parts delivery and declining velocity should give every team – particularly small-market clubs – pause.

 

7.  My pick …

 

stephen-drew-1-ap

 

… is Drew. And yes, I realize this probably isn’t going to happen and that the market for Drew appears to be limited to the Mets and Red Sox but stay with me for a moment.

 

6. Start with the glove. Drew is an above-average defender. He ranked 14th in defensive runs saved last year. He’s a defensive upgrade over Jorder Mercer, who is tabbed for the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop in 2014.

 

5. The lion’s share of at bats come against right-handed pitch, of course, and Drew kills right-handed pitching. Drew’s triple-slash line against right-handed pitching last year:

 

.284/.377/.498

 

And before you attribute that to Fenway, consider his career triple-slash like against RHP is very solid and includes some injury-plagued seasons:

 

.275/.343/.451

 

4. Platoon Drew with Clint Barmes at shortstop, and the Pirates would have a player similar to and perhaps superior to what the Cardinals added in Jhonny Peralta for 4y/$53 million this offseason — and for fewer years and dollars thanks to the QO.

 

3.   I like Mercer.  There is a role for him on the Pirates going forward. If he locks down the SS position that’s great but ideally I think he fits best as a super-sub type who can play multiple infield positions and make an impact against left-handed pitching. Drew is also an impact platoon player. If the Pirates signed Drew, moving Mercer to be a 2b/3b platoon player and  bench bat would improve the Pirates at two positions and improve depth. Moreover, let’s not forget that Mercer lacks a major league track record and produced this line over six minor league seasons: .268/.326/.404. He’s not a sure bet to even sustain his 2013 performance.

 

2. Look I realize Scott Boras is the agent representing Drew. I know that Neal Huntington indicated at winter meetings that it’s extremely unlikely the Pirates target any of the remaining QO free agents.  Still, a year ago, another Boras client, Michael Bourn , saw his market depress due to a QO and he signed with small-market club after his market dried up and he ran out of time. Bourn signed for 4y/$48m , which was less than half of his initial asking price. At this point, I wonder if Drew will end up settling for two-year deal, $20 millionish deal. The Pirates have some money set aside for AJ Burnett. So assuming Burnett is out of play (who knows) – there is cash in reserve this offseason. And beyond 1B, creating infield platoons is the one area where the Pirates can really improve.

 

1. Moreover the Pirates’ have short – t0 mid-term concerns at shortstop. Mercer is still unproven. Barmes is on a one-year deal and propect Alen Hanson is not a lock to stay at shortstop. Locking in a proven shortstop to a multi-year makes sense in the short- to mid-term even after the Barmes signing. At this point in the offseason it’s about finding value and opportunity and Drew might represent both for the right club.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK 

 

 

So, again, the Pirates’ TV deal is really in the top half of baseball? Asking for a friend

 

LEFT-HANDED CORNER PICK-UP OF THE WEEK:

 

Chris Dickerson has agreed to minor-league deal with the Pirates and is participating in the team’s mini-camp. Career slash-line: .262/.338/.406

 

(I still think Lance Berkman is worth a one-year, little-risk, little-dollar deal)

 

HE SAID IT 

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak commenting on his team’s offseason to MLB.com :

 

When you look back sort of at our end-of-the-year meeting when we were first sitting down, obviously we made it pretty clear that we felt we needed to improve at short, try to get an upgrade in center from a defensive standpoint, and also, if we could, add depth to that bench that could have a practical use. We were able to do that. As we look back over the last six weeks, we feel like we were able to improve this club. A lot of times that’s not easy to do when you’ve had the type of year that we’ve had. But we feel pretty good about moving forward.

 

HALL OF FAME VOTING THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

 

I haven’t offered many thoughts on the Hall of Fame debates because A) I don’t vote and B) There’s enough noise already.

 

But one pitcher who beyond Greg Maddux who should be a lock, imo, and who seems to lack support is Curt Schilling. Here’s what I wrote for Fangraphs back in Sept.

 

I love efficient pitchers — who doesn’t? — and Schilling is one of the most efficient pitchers in baseball history. His career 4.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks second all-time and ahead of Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera. He had an elite peak: three runner-up Cy Young finishes in a five-year period. His best seven seasons, per WAR (48.9), are the best of any eligible player not named Bonds or Clemens, who has appeared on a ballot and remains eligible. He was excellent on the game’s postseason stage, playing a key role in delivering three World Series titles over a six-year period. He didn’t reach some significant milestones like 300 wins, but that Hall of Fame litmus test should be revisited as few pitchers going forward will rarely reach that threshold. And, hey, 80.7 career WAR is pretty legit.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

I’m late to the party but I just finished up season one of Homeland. If you haven’t already, check it out.

– TS

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