2014-15 Free Agent Market: Overall Spending Declines, AAV Rises

Last year, I compiled a whole lot of data on free agent spending to assess overall spending trends over the 2007-08 to 2013-14 time period. That post was the culmination of a lot of research, and includes plenty of observations about the broader period in question which I will not repeat here.

At the time, the 2013-14 spending season was not quite wrapped up. It was apparent that it would blow the prior years out of the water in most respects, and indeed that proved to be the case. After performing a complete update, the final tab is a shade over $2.043B in overall outlay.

So, how does the current (2014-15) market stack up? Though we may see a few more MLB deals, it seems a reasonable time to assess. I broke out spending by team yesterday, but that only shows us strategic choices across a single market. Now, we’ll look at the market as a whole against prior years.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the total spend has declined for the first time since the 2009-10 period. But as a glance further down the table reveals, that is almost certainly the result of the number of players available (among other factors) than it is some pull-back in spending.

2014-15 FA spending tableAs the graph shows more visually, overall spending rate increases have continued, while the total outlay this season falls in line with a general upward curve.

2014-15 FA spending graph

Here are the annual increases and decreases; as you can see, last year’s market pushed a ton of total money over the prior season, but AAV actually grew more year-over-year this time around.

2014-15 FA spending annual change

We’ll take a closer look at different classes of players (as I did with regard to the broader time period) in a separate post. But for now, take a look at the overall spending numbers isolated for multi-year contracts only. The total commitment per player and years per player both rose for those free agents who were marketable enough to secure pacts of two or more years in duration.

2014-15 FA spending multiyear table


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Minor Moves: Brandon Snyder

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • Former first-round pick Brandon Snyder has inked a deal with the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, the team announced. The 28-year-old has spent parts of four years in the big leagues, never taking more than 69 plate appearances in a season and compiling a .243/.287/.399 slash over 158 lifetime turns at bat. At Triple-A last year with the Red Sox, Snyder put up a .206/.284/.444 line with eight home runs in 141 plate appearances. He spent most of his professional time at first base, though he also appeared at third base in the big leagues.

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Rangers To Return Edgar Olmos To Mariners

The Rangers are reversing the team’s waiver claim on lefty Edgar Olmos in order to return him to the Mariners, Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest reports on Twitter. Olmos was claimed about ten days ago after Seattle designated him for assignment.

Olmos had been shut down upon reporting to camp with a shoulder impingement. That injury situation would appear to be the basis for Texas’s attempt to use this rare procedural mechanism.

The 24-year-old southpaw came to Seattle via a waiver claim from the Marlins. He has minimal big league experience, but had frequently been rated among the top thirty organizational prospects in Miami and dominated left-handed batters last year in the upper minors. In total, over 77 2/3 frames between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Olmos registered a 4.06 EAR with 7.0 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9.



Joel Hanrahan To Undergo Tommy John Surgery, Released By Tigers

8:01am: Detroit has released Hanrahan, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweets.

7:35am: Tigers reliever Joel Hanrahan will undergo his second Tommy John procedure after failing to progress in his rehab, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). Hanrahan indicated that he is not yet sure whether he will be able to mount another comeback effort.

The 33-year-old originally had his UCL replaced in May of 2013. He signed with Detroit last year in hopes of returning to the bigs, and re-signed with the club on a minor league deal this season to continue his rehab. He has yet to throw a competitive pitch for the organization.

Hanrahan had looked like a nice bounceback option for a team that has struggled to achieve consistent results from its relief corps, but reports yesterday indicated that he was experiencing problems with his elbow again after already taking additional time to deal with a lack of rehab progress. His most recent consultation appears to have set the course.

During his time with the Pirates over the 2009-12 seasons, Hanrahan was good for 229 1/3 innings of 2.59 ERA ball, logging 10.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 229 1/3 innings. That led to a trade to the Red Sox in advance of 2013, Hanrahan’s final season of arbitration eligibility, but things turned south quickly in Boston as poor results were followed in short order by the season-ending surgery.


Poll: Wisest $60MM To $70MM Offseason Spend

We just looked at the offseason’s free agent spending by team. One of the more interesting sets of comparisons suggested, I think, involves the middle-class spenders, specifically those in the $60MM to $70MM range. Let’s consider the different strategies employed:

Veteran Bat: The Mariners and Tigers both made four-year investments in older, established bats (Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez, respectively). Otherwise, they basically only added supplemental pieces through free agency, with Seattle adding platoon man Rickie Weeks and Detroit bolstering its pen with Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny.

Veteran Arm: Most of the cash put onto the market by the Dodgers and Twins went into established starters coming off of good seasons but carrying some questions. Los Angeles went with Brandon McCarthy (supplemented by Brett Anderson, Brandy Beachy, and Dustin McGowan), while Minnesota spent big on Ervin Santana in addition to picking up Torii Hunter and Tim Stauffer.

Spread the Love: The Astros and Royals each invested in at least four players, with each club touching the $20MM mark only once apiece (Jed Lowrie and Edinson Volquez, respectively). Each filled needs with veterans (Luke Gregerson/Pat Neshek vs. Alex Rios/Kendrys Morales/Jason Frasor) and took upside risks (Colby Rasmus for Houston and Kris Medlen/Luke Hochevar for K.C.).

Upside Play: For the Diamondbacks, this season’s open market was all about one man: Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas. The rebuilding club jumped on the chance to put all of its free agent spending into a young player who could deliver huge value at the right time — if he can reach his ceiling.

Each of these clubs committed to sums within the same $10MM range. Which allocated its funds most intelligently, given its particular needs?


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AL Notes: Victorino, McBryde, Twins

According to the current pre-season projected standings and playoff probabilities from Fangraphs, the National League may be expected to be rather top-heavy next season. But the American League appears wide open, with nine teams projected to have .500 records but none projected at more than 87 wins. (And that doesn’t include the Royals, Orioles, or White Sox, all of which rate as sub-.500 teams in the eyes of the model.)

Here are some notes from that tightly-bunched side of the game:

  • As today’s spring opener showed, Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino is in store for a busy run as he tries to convince the team — and the team tries to convince others — of his health and productivity, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. Victorino is back to hitting from both sides of the plate and is being presented as the club’s top option in right, but a trade certainly still appears to be a plausible option.
  • The increasing signing of career minor leaguers to major league deals in free agency is an interesting recent trend, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explored last year. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register takes a look at one of this year’s examples, Jeremy McBryde of the Angels“For me, he was one of the most intriguing bullpen guys in the minor leagues,” said GM Jerry Dipoto said. “… All the boxes you’d have for a prospect, he seems to check off those boxes.” As Dipoto further explained, McBryde’s lack of big league service and 40-man time also means that he comes with three option years remaining.
  • Twins GM Terry Ryan says he is receptive to the idea of mentoring Torii Hunter in the ways of the front office, as MLB.com’s Spencer Fordin reports“He’s thought about his career after his playing days, like most players should,” said Ryan. “He’s got a good baseball mind and I’m happy to hear he wants to be a GM. That’s good.”

2014-15 Free Agent Spending By Team

This year’s free agent market is all but over, with only a few players still available who could be candidates for major league deals. Let’s take a look at the overall spending on the year by team to see how it breaks down, using the MLBTR Free Agent Tracker (which I filtered to remove minor league deals, extensions, options, and foreign contracts).

We did the same thing last year, you may recall, and the results are rather different. For one thing, no team came anywhere near the Yankees’ spending (just shy of $500MM). For another, the total spend actually declined by about 13%. As recent historical results show, this year’s overall outlay is still a significant increase over other recent seasons, and differences in the player market may represent the primary explanation. Nevertheless, that fact suggests that further exploration is in order, which I will endeavor to do in the coming weeks.

Without further ado, here are the numbers, in table and chart form:

2014-15 FA spending by team teable

2014-15 FA spending by team graphic

To view the table and graph from the app, use these links.


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Minor Moves: Pedro Beato

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • The Orioles have agreed to a minor league deal with righty Pedro Beato, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com reports (Twitter links). Beato will not receive an invitation to big league camp. The 28-year-old looks to be another depth piece for a Baltimore organization that is fond of drawing from its entire system at the major league level. Originally a first-round pick of the O’s back in 2006, Beato has thrown 93 1/3 MLB innings over four seasons, working to a 4.34 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. He saw only scant MLB action last year wit the Braves, but did throw 48 1/3 Triple-A frames of 4.10 ERA ball.

Twins, Brian Dozier Making Progress On Extension

5:04pm: The Twins are set to meet with Lapa tomorrow, MLB.com’s Rhett Bolinger reports. Nothing is imminent right now, per the report.

7:59am: The Twins and second baseman Brian Dozier are making progress on an extension, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The deal is believed to be close, per Berardino’s source. Dozier, a client of All Bases Covered Sports Management’s Damon Lapa, naturally declined comment on any talks, though he did express a willingness and openness to signing a long-term pact. “I don’t want to be anywhere else,” he told Berardino. “If the opportunity presents itself, then I’m all for it. We’ll see.”

Dozier, 28 in May, has gone from a relatively unheralded prospect to what looks to be a potential long-term answer at second base for the Twins in short order. Over the past two seasons, he’s shown 20-homer, 20-steal capabilities and batted .243/.330/.415 with 41 homers and anywhere from slightly below-average defense to slightly above, depending on your metric of choice. (For what it’s worth, I consider Dozier to be underrated by defensive metrics.) Fangraphs has pegged him at 7.3 wins above replacement over the past two seasons, while Baseball-Reference, which likes his defense more, has him at about nine wins.

In terms of plate discipline, Dozier made a significant step forward in 2014, boosting his walk rate to 12.6 percent and cutting his strikeout rate to 18.2 percent. The uptick in walks bodes well for further positive OBP marks in the future, and if he can work to reduce his pop-ups (15 percent of his fly-balls are of the infield variety), he could harness that keen eye into better batting average marks down the line as well.

Dozier isn’t yet arbitration-eligible, and a look at MLBTR’s Extension Tracker shows a pair of potentially relevant comparables in extension talks; both Jason Kipnis and Matt Carpenter agreed to extensions in the $52MM range over six-year terms last spring when they were in Dozier’s same service class.


NL Notes: Brewers, Mets, Banuelos

Big league spring matchups started today, which means that the sights and sounds of game action are officially back. It also provided a first look at Jung-ho Kang of the Pirates, who showed that his raw power is real in swatting a home run to center field. He still has a ways to go in earning playing time and proving his value, of course, but it was a nice start for the Korean ballplayer. Earlier today, MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth broke down the Bucs’ winter in the first installment of this year’s Offseason in Review series.

  • Though the Brewers are still in the process of finalizing their deal with Francisco Rodriguez, the team found now a good opportunity to outright righty Brooks Hall, as MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports“This was strategically calculated,” explained assistant GM Gord Ash, “because [Hall] has not pitched that much, he’s been injured on and off. We hoped we could sneak him through, and that’s exactly what was able to happen.”
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson indicated to reporters today that trade talks regarding the team’s starting pitching have been very quiet of late, as Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweets. New York has an oft-discussed glut of rotation candidates, but seems content waiting for a good offer to come in or for an internal need to arise before deciding upon a course of action.
  • The Braves seem to be angling towards using recently-acquired youngster Manny Banuelos as a reliever to start the year before shifting him to the rotation, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter links). Whether or not that action comes at Triple-A or with the big league club remains to be seen, but Atlanta is hoping to mix and match his roles in order to build his innings in a manageable way while allowing him to compete all season. Once considered one of the game’s best prospects, Banuelos will look to turn things around in Atlanta, which gave up reliever David Carpenter to acquire him.

NL West Notes: Whiteside, Johnson, Descalso, Guerrero

Catcher Eli Whiteside has opted to accept a coaching job with the Giants rather than taking one of several offers he had to continue playing, MLB.com’s Chris Haft reports. The veteran played in parts of six MLB seasons, including a three-year run in which he was a significant contributor for San Francisco. He will retire after getting one last short run in the bigs last year with the Cubs.

More from the NL West:

  • Padres righty Josh Johnson has progressed to the point that he’ll throw to a catcher on flat ground, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. With his training program currently on track, Johnson is scheduled to throw a pen session for the first time by mid-March with a target of game action by June, if all goes according to plan. Johnson’s deal with San Diego promises him only $1MM but can increase all the way to $7.25MM if he maxes out his incentives.
  • Fellow two-time TJ patient Cory Luebke is also hoping to return strong for the Padres, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. The story details some of the ups and downs that Luebke has had in dealing with his two procedures. As with Johnson, 2015 is something of a make-good season for the lefty: his early-career extension is up after the season, when San Diego will have to decide whether to exercise a $7.5MM option or pay a $1.75MM buyout.
  • The Rockies pursued utilityman Daniel Descalso not only because he would offer a versatile bench option, but because of his big-game experience, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. Skipper Walt Weiss explained that the former Cardinals infielder brought an underappreciated element to the squad. “All of that factored in quite a bit,” said Weiss. “I think we sometimes underestimate the value of that — guys that have played in big games, pennant races, and have won a World Series. Those types of players are valuable, and that’s a big reason why we brought Danny in here.”
  • Alex Guerrero‘s contract and the Dodgers roster situation makes for quite a puzzle, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes. On the one hand, Guerrero can refuse an optional assignment and has said he will do just that. On the other, if he is traded he will earn the right to opt out of his deal after the season. Cameron posits that the club could send Guerrero out in exchange for some savings on his 2015 tab, agreeing to remain responsible for post-2015 responsibilities while hoping he will opt out. The Angels, Blue Jays, Rockies, and Rangers all look like reasonable landing spots, in Cameron’s estimation.

Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates spent much of the winter trying to insulate themselves against the potential departures of players who had been keys to their successful 2013 and 2014 seasons. In the end, they spent surprisingly heavily, given their usual thriftiness, signing two familiar starting pitchers and adding a high-profile but largely untested Korean infielder.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Pirates lost catcher Russell Martin, a key to their franchise-changing 2013 and 2014 campaigns and a bargain to the franchise when he signed following the 2012 season for two years and $17MM. Martin headed to Toronto at a dramatic markup, with the Pirates receiving only a draft pick in return. In Martin’s place, the Bucs acquired former Yankees backstop Francisco Cervelli, who has struggled to stay healthy and isn’t likely to hit nearly as well as Martin did, since Cervelli’s strong offensive performance in a small sample last year was largely BABIP-fueled. Via StatCorner, however, Cervelli and backup Chris Stewart have both ranked as above-average pitch framers in each of the last four seasons, potentially giving the Pirates an edge that won’t be reflected in their catchers’ offensive numbers. Cervelli and Stewart aren’t likely to replace Martin’s .290/.402/.430 2014 season at the plate, but they could approximate Martin’s value behind it at a fraction of the cost.

The Bucs also faced uncertainties in their rotation, given that Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez were eligible for free agency. The Bucs re-signed Liriano for $39MM, more than doubling Martin’s record for the organization’s largest ever free agent contract. To some extent, the Pirates paid heavily for their own handiwork, as their combination of framing, defensive shifts and strong coaching had helped Liriano rebuild his value after he posted consecutive seasons with five-plus ERAs in 2011 and 2012. But the Bucs needed pitching, and there were few better bets on the market, with Brandon McCarthy the only pitcher in the Pirates’ presumed price range who might have been as good a fit for their ground-ball-heavy approach. Liriano’s price was reasonable, too, given that McCarthy and Ervin Santana, pitchers in a similar tier, each got four years and more money (although it should be noted that McCarthy, unlike Liriano and Santana, did not require the loss of a draft pick).

The Pirates’ replacement for Volquez (another pitcher whose value skyrocketed thanks in part to the Bucs’ planning and coaching) fell into their laps in November, when A.J. Burnett told his agent he was only interested in playing in Pittsburgh. Burnett had rejected a $12.75MM player option to remain in Philadelphia, and he took a significant discount to return to the Pirates. Burnett’s peripherals declined with the Phillies, and at 38, he’ll be hard-pressed to repeat his excellent performances with Pittsburgh 2012 and 2013. Like Liriano and Volquez, though, he’s a good fit for the Pirates given his ground ball tendencies and the Bucs’ defense and ballpark, so some rebound from his disappointing, hernia-plagued 2014 season is likely.

The Pirates also allowed Clint Barmes, a light-hitting shortstop whose good glove was often a crucial part of the Bucs’ swarming infield defense, to leave for the Padres via free agency. With Jordy Mercer remaining as the Pirates’ starter, the Bucs first aimed to replace Barmes’ glove by collecting low-cost infielders, including Sean Rodriguez, Justin Sellers, Pedro Florimon and Jake Elmore (who is already out of the organization). Rodriguez, who can also play the outfield, still looks like a fit for the Pirates’ bench, but the Bucs’ plans for the others likely changed in December, when they unexpectedly won the bidding for Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang. The Bucs then signed Kang to a four-year deal with an option for 2019.

It’s hard to tell what to expect of Kang, the first position player from the KBO to arrive in US baseball via the posting system. The 27-year-old posted a ridiculous .356/.459/.739 line with Nexen in 2014, although the KBO is an extremely hitter-friendly league with a competition level significantly lower than that of the Majors, and there are questions about Kang’s ability to handle shortstop in the big leagues. He’ll likely start the season as a bench option for the Pirates. If he proves he can handle big-league pitching, however, he might not stay there. Mercer has never been a star, first baseman Pedro Alvarez is strikeout-prone and erratic, second baseman Neil Walker has struggled to stay healthy, and third baseman Josh Harrison is versatile and can be moved back into his previous super-utility role, so there could be opportunities for Kang to start at some point in the future.

Kang wasn’t the only player from the KBO the Pirates added, also signing Dominican pitcher Radhames Liz, who pitched for the LG Twins from 2011-2013, to a cheap one-year deal. Liz started in Korea, but the Pirates have already suggested they’re likely to use him in relief — not a surprise, given the 31-year-old’s live arm and history of control issues.

To make up for the departure of lefty Justin Wilson in the Cervelli deal, the Bucs traded lefty prospect Joely Rodriguez to the Phillies for Antonio Bastardo, who they’d also reportedly pursued at the 2014 trade deadline. As a fly ball pitcher, Bastardo doesn’t match the Pirates’ usual pitcher type, but he whiffed 11.4 batters per nine innings last season and should give the Bucs an effective second lefty to pair with Tony Watson.

Finally, the Pirates signed Corey Hart to a cheap deal to provide a right-handed bat at first base and in the outfield. Hart effectively replaces Gaby Sanchez, who struggled while serving as the right-handed side of an underwhelming platoon with Ike Davis in 2014. Hart himself missed the entire 2013 season due to injury and had a terrible 2014 in Seattle, but he was well above average in three straight seasons before that, so he might have some upside that Sanchez doesn’t. At $2.5MM (plus some incentives for plate appearance thresholds he isn’t likely to reach), Hart poses little risk.

Questions Remaining

The Bucs have few obvious holes, but it’s unclear whether they have the talent necessary to topple the Cardinals and hold off the Cubs in the NL Central. (And while the Brewers and Reds aren’t as likely to contend, they won’t be complete pushovers either.) With the departure of Travis Snider in a deal with the Orioles, the Bucs will lean heavily on Gregory Polanco in right field. Polanco, who has stratospheric upside, should certainly start, but he struggled in his rookie season in 2014. He has more than enough talent to make the necessary adjustments, but if he doesn’t, the Pirates’ outfield picture could get interesting, particularly if Kang proves he’s good enough to start somewhere in the infield — in that case, Kang could take over at third with Harrison moving to right.

The Pirates’ new first base platoon of Alvarez and Hart might or might not pan out. Alvarez, who had to be moved off third after a series of throwing misadventures last season, has barely played his new position. And then there’s his offense — he’s only two years removed from a 36-homer 2013 campaign, but he has strikeout issues that dramatically limit his ability to hit for average. He improved his plate discipline in 2014, but his new approach perhaps cost him power, as he went from one home run every 17 plate appearances to one every 25. He’s set to make $5.75MM in his penultimate season before free agency eligibility, and this year could be his last in a Pirates uniform, since the arbitration process threatens to pay him more than he’s worth.

The Pirates will also have to determine who belongs in their rotation. Liriano, Burnett and Gerrit Cole are easy choices, along with Charlie Morton, as long as Morton remains on track after having hip surgery late last season. After that, there’s Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, both of whom are out of options. Worley was the better of the two last season, posting a 2.85 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, so he could take over the fifth spot. Locke is too valuable to designate for assignment and probably isn’t ideally suited to relief work, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Pirates trade him near the end of Spring Training if all their big-league starters are healthy. If they did, it would make sense to get a starting pitcher who has options. The Bucs’ rotation depth took a hit in early March when it was revealed that Brandon Cumpton, a starter on the 40-man roster who figured to begin the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, needed to visit Dr. James Andrews.

The Pirates’ biggest problem, though, is that they’ll have to make up for some individual performances they probably won’t get again. Cervelli is capable, but he’s not Martin. Harrison produced an out-of-nowhere 4.9-WAR season that he’s unlikely to repeat, given his previous performance record, although his breakout was fueled in part by an increase in his line-drive rate that’s probably sustainable to some degree. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Neil Walker had terrific seasons as well. Breakouts from Polanco or Cole would help offset likely declines at other positions. If flame-throwing rookie reliever John Holdzkom can pitch as well over a full season as he did for the Pirates in September, that would help, too.

Deal of Note

USATSI_7997081_154513410_lowresThe Pirates spent most of the offseason accumulating veteran talent where they could, but they went in the opposite direction when they traded Travis Snider to the Orioles for pitching prospects Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault. They had traded two young pitching prospects, Joely Rodriguez and Buddy Borden, in previous offseason deals, so their return in the Snider deal allowed them to replenish their farm system. But it still seemed like an odd trade — even with the left-handed Polanco projected to take over for the Snider in right field, Snider had a clear role on the team as the Bucs’ only projected lefty bench option. Snider hit a solid .268/.338/.438 and produced 1.7 fWAR in just 359 plate appearances last season, so his loss is a significant one, at least on the surface.

Many projection systems think Snider and minor-leaguer Andrew Lambo will produce at about the same rate next year, though, and Snider had never previously had a big-league season like the one he had in 2014. So perhaps the Pirates thought they sold high on Snider while clearing a space for Lambo, who clobbered Triple-A pitching for the second consecutive season last year. And while trading Snider for prospects seems like the behavior of a rebuilding team, not a contending one, GMs increasingly seem to be pursuing multiple goals at once — not just trying to win now or just trying to win later, but trying to do both at the same time.

Overview

Pirates GM Neal Huntington, his front office, and the Bucs’ coaching staff have now produced two straight teams that were better than they appeared to be on paper. The Pirates target pitchers who induce buckets of ground balls, then get the most out of what seem to be average infield defenses with expert positioning. Add in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and the NL’s lack of the DH, and many Pirates pitchers during the last two years — Burnett, Liriano, Volquez, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes — were probably as likely to succeed with the Pirates as with any other team in baseball. The way the Bucs help pitchers, chronicled in detail in Travis Sawchik’s forthcoming book Big Data Baseball, is specific and sophisticated enough that certain types of pitchers — ground-ballers who can pitch into the Bucs’ shifts — give the Pirates a significant edge on their competition. The number of pitchers it even makes sense for them to pursue in any given offseason is thus fairly small.

Because of their pitcher support system, the Pirates have a good chance at continued success in the future despite payrolls that most of their fans still find frustratingly low. They have a collection of relatively cheap pitching that they are ideally suited to nurture. They have a franchise player, Andrew McCutchen, who’s under control for four more years thanks to one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game, and an emerging star in Starling Marte who’s signed to a team-friendly deal of his own. The Bucs also have one of baseball’s better farm systems, with Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon set to join their rotation by 2016 and Josh Bell perhaps set to take over for Alvarez and Hart at first base around then. By 2018, after which McCutchen is eligible to depart via free agency, maybe those players will be part of a Pirates core headed by Marte, Polanco and Cole.

2014-2015 was about as flashy as Pirates offseasons get, and yet, by the standards of most other teams, they did very little. In fact, with Martin gone, they probably even downgraded. But the Pirates’ plans don’t center on flashy offseason moves. Or, as Huntington puts it, “We’ll never win the offseason.” They probably won’t head into any season in the near future as a favorite to win the World Series, or perhaps even as a runaway favorite to win their division. But they do look like they could continue to contend for the next several seasons, 2015 included.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Chris Young Reviewing Offers, Nearing Decision

Free agent starter Chris Young is reviewing offers and preparing to make a decision on where to sign by the end of the week, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports on Twitter. Young, the reigning AL Comeback Player of the Year, is entering his age-35 season.

Young had not made more than twenty starts in a season since way back in 2007 before toeing the rubber thirty times (29 starts) last year for the Mariners. Over 165 frames, he compiled a 3.65 ERA with 5.9 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9.

Advanced metrics were less sanguine on Young’s performance, though he has traditionally outperformed ERA estimators. Young benefitted from a .238 BABIP against, although unusually low marks are no surprise given his extreme flyball tendencies.

Interest has seemed to lag for Young in spite of his solid run-prevention tallies last year. At the very least, his market remains quiet. MLBTR’s Steve Adams and Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan have each taken a look at landing spots that might make sense, but there have been virtually no public reports tying Young specifically to any clubs.


Check Out ProFootballRumors.com

The NFL’s franchise tag deadline has passed, and while stars like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Justin Houston received tags from their respective teams, a number of standout players are poised to hit the open market a week from today. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Devin McCourty, and wideouts Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb are among the players who will be free to negotiate with other teams as of Saturday and to sign with new clubs next Tuesday. To prepare for the free agent madness, be sure to check out our breakdown of the market by position, and keep an eye on ProFootballRumors.com for all the latest updates.


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Trade Notes: Red Sox, Hamels, Gee, Mets, Pirates

Joel Sherman of the New York Post runs down a list of the teams with obvious trade candidates this spring and notes that executives to whom he spoke most often mentioned the Red Sox as a team to watch. Sherman examines speculative landing spots for Allen Craig, Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley. He feels that a healthy Victorino would be an idea fit in Seattle in front of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano (though I don’t imagine Seattle having interest given their platoon acquisition of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano). For Craig, he theorizes that the Angels make some sense, should Josh Hamilton face a lengthy suspension. And the Braves have long fancied Bradley, even before Melvin Upton went down with a foot injury, Sherman adds. Sherman also runs down situations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia.

A bit more from his piece and a few other trade-related notes from around the league…

  • As Sherman notes, many out-of-options players will become trade candidates at the end of Spring Training, and he feels that some such candidates could be outfielder David Lough, infielder Eduardo Nunez, lefties Felix Doubront and Brad Hand, and right-handers Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Stolmy Pimentel and Jesse Chavez. I’d be a bit surprised to see Chavez moved coming off such a strong season, though it’s certainly possible. Lough, in particular, strikes me as someone who could interest clubs, given his elite defense and his strong numbers against right-handed pitching.
  • While each side will privately acknowledge that they’ve been in contact with the other, talks between the Red Sox and Phillies regarding Cole Hamels have been dormant for weeks, writes Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Nightengale spoke to Boston GM Ben Cherington and Red Sox pitchers Rick Porcello and Wade Miley about the confidence each has in their current staff.
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson tells MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo that it’s “fair to say” there’s been little to no recent trade talk regarding right-hander Dillon Gee and any of the Mets’ other starting pitching options (Twitter link). Gee seems destined to open the season in the bullpen, barring an injury or a spring injury to a rotation member.
  • Travis Sawchick of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review takes a look at the spring battle between Vance Worley and Jeff Locke for the Pirates‘ fifth spot in the rotation, noting that neither is a candidate for a bullpen spot, so the loser of the battle could ultimately end up as a trade candidate. Sawchik notes that it’s possible that both could end up breaking camp with the team, should Charlie Morton open the season on the DL (or should the Bucs incur another spring injury), but he predicts that Worley will win the rotation spot if everyone else is healthy.