SOUTH HILLS – Let me begin with a qualifying statement: I fully expect Jameson Taillon to begin the season in Triple-A. Delaying the start of top prospect’s service-time clock makes an awful lot of sense for clubs. After all, Gerrit Cole was one of the Pirates’ best five starters last spring and he waited in Indianapolis until the middle of June to make his major league debut. We all suspect that is the same plan with Taillon.
But there are exceptions to every rule.
The Pirates are no longer a team in a development. They are a team that is expected to be competitive. And while possessing the game’s No. 1 farm system, according to Baseball America, and having a strong young core suggests the Pirates should have a strong base through the remainder of the decade, I think you can also look at 2014 and wonder if it represents something of a window. Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli and Wandy Rodriguez will all be free agents after the 2014 season. They accounted for 9.9 Wins Above Replacement in 2013. That group includes an elite defensive catcher, a pitcher with front-of-the-rotation upside that was reached in 2013, an elite reliever (if healthy) and a mid-rotation starter (if healthy).That’s significant production to replace 2015.
So that leads me to this question: while the Pirates haven’t been willing to go all in financially in 2014, should they go all in with their internal options? Should they begin the season with Taillon in the rotation if he is one of the team’s best five starters this spring? Is he the best bet to replace Burnett’s quality innings?
(Programming note: Rob Biertempfel’s video series with Taillon was unveiled today on the Trib’s Pirates page)
“He’s got the stuff to pitch in the big leagues right now,” general manager Neal Huntington told the Trib “But there are still lessons the game teaches. He went through some of them last year at Triple-A. It will be good to see him again in major league spring training and give him the ball a little bit more. We’ve still got some work to do to refine and put him in a position to come up.”
It doesn’t sound like he’s a candidate for the Opening Day rotation. But consider the the 2001 Cleveland Indians. In the 1990s, the Indians were the first team to try to buy out young players’ arbitration years and some free agency through club-friendly deals under friend of the program John Hart. There were very conscious of service time….more conscious than perhaps any other club. But instead of delaying top prospect’s C.C. Sabathia‘s service time until June in 2001, manager Charlie Manuel pushed for Sabathia to break camp with the club in 2001. The Indians were contenders. They had a window of opportunity. Sabathia went 17-5 for the Indians in 2001. He was managed carefully, throwing just 180 innings, but he made 33 starts. The Indians finished 92-70 and won the AL Central.
Look, with the Pirates expected to suffer some regression, with teams like the Nationals, Giants, Padres and Brewers in store for better seasons, every win could count in a hunt for a wild card spot. So if Taillon is clearly one of the best five options come late March, if Edinson Volquez cannot harness his plus stuff, if Jeff Locke appears more like his second-half self than his first, is two-and-a-half months early in 2014 worth a year of service time that would come in 2020? Is it worth to borrow from the future to put the best 25 on the roster in April?
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’s weighted PECOTA projection only forecasts Taillon to pitch 34 innings in 2014, which I think is low regardless of when he is called up. But the three comps are interesting and encouraging: Patrick Corbin, Jarrod Parker and Brandon Mauer.
*Parker was 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA as a rookie for the A’s.
*Corbin emerged as a star in his second year in 2013, but his K rate, BB rates and GB rate were also quality in his rookie year.
*Mauer posted a 6.30 ERA as a rookie last season.
8. What we do know about Taillon is he probably could use a little more polish and ideally you don’t rush anyone to the show, but what we saw at the WBC last spring was stuff that only Cole and Liriano can rival on the staff.
7. OK, I lied. A little more on AJ Burnett since he spoke to reporters on Sunday.
Athletes typically never say it’s about the money, or it’s about ego or pride, and Burnett didn’t say that was his motivation Sunday: “I’ll put it very simple. This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn’t about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I’m at home, and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me to make them happy.”
I don’t doubt Burnett wanted to be close to his family. I doubt he’ll be commuting from Monkton to Philadelphia. The difference between Philly and Pittsburgh, geographically, is four hours vs. two hours in the car. It matters to a degree … but the bigger difference is the Pirates offered a one-year, $12 million deal. The Phillies offered a deal worth up to $33 million over two years.
7. Another interesting quote: “I’m a team guy. Nobody wants to have the ball taken from them. But that had no influence (on signing with the Phillies). I would’ve liked to have known ahead of time (that Cole would start), as opposed to what happened. But if it put our team in a better spot, I’m all for it. I was ready to go (in that game), if needed.”
Burnett didn’t take the news of not starting Game 5 well.While he helped young pitchers on the staff, he also showed up a teammate (Clint Barmes) and his manager last season on the field.
6. Now with that press conference behind us, I think we’re all ready to turn the page and focus on who is playing for the Pirates in 2014…. until the Pirates and Phillies meet, of course.
5. The Pirates benefited from one of the most cost-effective bullpens in 2013, Rob Biertempfel reported on Sunday: “Fourteen pitchers made at least one relief appearance. But for the seven mainstays who composed the bullpen in the playoffs, the total cost was $5.56 million.” The bullpen will still be relatively inexpensive in 2014 – less than the cost of one Craig Kimbrel – but bullpen performance has a high degree of variance from year to year. This is concern that hasn’t received much attention.
4. Should there be more concerns about Grilli this spring? He wasn’t 100 percent when he came back from injury last season. He’s 37 and he’s easing himself into spring throwing.
3. I had an agent tell me the chance of the 25th overall pick developing into an All-Star is 2 percent, according to his study. Are the Pirates being too protective with this pick when looking at some of the remaining free agents?
2. Kendrys Morales’ top three PECOTA comps: Glenn Davis. Orlando Cepeda. Rafael Palmeiro Not bad company. Assuming the price is coming down, I’d be warming to the idea if I worked on Federal St.
1. Wanna see something frightening? Francisco Liriano‘s top three PECOTA comps: Jonathan Sanchez, Erik Bedard, John Lackey. Buzzkill.
HE SAID IT
“Payroll does not equal playoff,” Huntington to MLB.com.
STAT OF THE WEEK: $222.7 million
Dollars the Braves committed over the last two weeks to Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward despite one of the worst local TV deals in the sport. Ken Rosenthal reported the new stadium deal allows for such contracts.
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK Started catching up on True Detective via HBOGo. Now it’s for mature audiences, of course, but wow. Matthew McConaughey deserves an Emmy. Amazing performance through five episodes.