SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – I’ve begun working on our 2014 season preview material and as part of that information-gathering process I spoke to a former baseball executive last week. He loves the Pirates system, their depth of pitching and positional prospects, and their young major league core pieces. But he did point out one area of concern (beyond market size/spending) going forward.
And that is a lack of quality left-handed pitching.
The Pirates’ system is loaded with young arms – Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and Luis Heredia. You know the names. And you probably also know they all share a common characteristic: they’re right handed.
Remember, not only do clubs want righty-lefty balance in their rotations but there are also a lot of impact left-handed bats in the NL Central in the present (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams) and near future (Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong). Moreover, PNC Park sets up excellently for left-handed pitchers … neutralizing the Clemente porch and right-handed hitters’ power with a spacious left field.
After the 2014 season, the Pirates’ two left-handed starters - Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez - will both be free agents. Who knows if Rodriguez will be healthy. If he is he could be priced out of the Pirates’ plans, same goes for Liriano. It might make some sense to approach Liriano with a Scott Kazmir-like deal: a 2y/$22 million extension. After all, Liriano is probably wondering if he can put together back-to-back quality seasons. He never has. Perhaps the Pirates could turn that doubt into an opportunity. Unlikely given the market price for pitching but worth a phone call. Also, investigating whether Justin Wilson can start might make a lot of sense in 2015.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. In the short term, the Pirates should have solid righty-lefty balance if, IF, Rodriguez is healthy. The early reports have been encouraging but the Pirates are going to have to see him throw from the mound this spring to gain more confidence. I thought investing the dollars set aside for AJ Burnett in Kazmir would have made sense earlier this offseason. Chris Capuano and Johan Santana are two lefties who remain unsigned who are perhaps worth taking a look at.
8. I don’t think there were too many surprises in the Pirates’ deals to avoid arbitration on Friday. I was a little surprised Neil Walker’s deal beat projections by nearly one million dollars, and I was a little surprised Pedro Alvarez/Scott Boras agreed upon $4 million after Alvarez tied for the NL lead in home runs. One thing that I wonder about is how do arbitrators evaluate performance? Are they using traditional counting numbers? Or are they also factoring in new-age metrics?
In case you missed it, the following chart contains the one-year deals to avoid arbitration and the projected 2014 costs before the agreements, which were produced by the fine folks at MLB Trade Rumors:
Player / Arbitration year / 2014 projection/ 2014 salary/ Difference
Neil Walker 2nd of 4 $4.8 million $5.75 million +$850,000
Gaby Sanchez 2nd of 3 $2.3 million $2.3 million +$0
Pedro Alvarez 1st of 3 $4 million $4.25 million +$250,000
Mark Melancon 1st of 3 $3 million $2.595 million -$405,000
Travis Snider 1st of 3 $1.4 million $1.2 million -$200,000
Vin Mazzaro 1st of 3 $800,000 $950,000 +$150,000
TOTAL $16.3 million $17.05 million +$705,000
7. When teams and agents exchange arbitration figures, it is a time when they often toss around the idea of contract extensions. It doesn’t seem like there were any serious talks with Alvarez or Walker.
6. The Pirates’ arbitration-eligible players are about to become very expensive. Even after a down season, Padres third baseman Chase Headley made $10.25 million entering his final year of arbitration. David Price avoided arbitration with a $14 million deal in his second year of arbitration. Perhaps the biggest reason the Pirates have been so conservative in free agency this offseason is because of their soon to be escalating costs of arbitration-eligible players. If you’re a Pirates fan you have to be concerned that the Pirates might find themselves in a Tampa Bay situation with Gerrit Cole in a few years. Tampa was considering trading Price – with two years of control remaining – because of arbitration costs. Cole is one of the few young arms, because of his stuff and size, that I would be comfortable signing to a long-term deal.
5. The Mets expect to have Ike Davis in camp in spring training … unless someone ups their offer. From ESPNNewYork:
“Mets insiders now expect Ike Davis will be in spring training with the team in Port St. Lucie, Fla. — while cautioning they are willing to reengage the Pittsburgh Pirates or Milwaukee Brewers or any other club in search of a first baseman in trade talks in the six weeks before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 15.”
4. We’ve discussed infield platoons and possible fits here often this winter and there’s one interesting trade target that hasn’t received much attention: Seattle Mariners 2B/SS Nick Franklin.
The Mariners have a log-jam of middle infielders after signing Robinson Cano. Franklin is perhaps a better fit at second base but he came up as a shortstop and is a switch-hitter with batspeed, athleticism, and a solid approach. He could spell Clint Barmes against right-handed pitching and Walker against left-handed pitching. Again, just a name that might make some sense. I’ve liked Franklin sine he was an amateur prospect. He’s a baseball rat with some tools and a plan.
3. Here are the 2014 ZiPS projections for the Pirates. Not a ton of surprises but notes of interest: ZiPS likes Liriano to repeat with a quality season. ZiPS thinks Jordy Mercer can be a two-win everyday shortstop…ZiPS sees Charlie Morton as nearly replacement level (I’m not buying that) and thinks Gregory Polanco is ready to be a league-average player in 2014. I am buying that.
2. Talking to the same baseball exec over the weekend, Austin Meadows is his steal of the draft.
1. Cubs are in on Tanaka, per reports. That can’t be a comfortable reality for the Pirates’ front office. The Cubs are loaded with impact bats at the minor league level and if they can cultivate and/or buy some impact arms, look out. The Cubs have also held back their considerable spending power to date — but they will eventually spend and are rumored to be willing to go to $25 million per on the Japanese star.
STAT OF THE WEEK: $969,696
Dollars Clayton Kershaw will earn per start beginning in 2015. Nice work if you can find it.
HE SAID IT: Neal Huntington on if the dollars spent Friday affect the club’s ability to retain Burnett should he ever make a decision:
“They’re pretty much independent entities. One really doesn’t impact the other. It shouldn’t impact our ability to do what we need to do elsewhere.”
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: Go see Lone Survivor. Outstanding. Griping, moving and it exceeded my expectations. Best war film since Saving Private Ryan, imo.