The Pirates have won their arbitration hearing against left-hander Tony Watson, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (via Twitter). As can be seen in MLBTR’s 2017 Arbitration Tracker, Watson had filed for a $6MM salary, while the Pirates filed at $5.6MM. He’ll receive the lesser of those two sums, which comes in about $300K shy of the projection from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Even with the loss, Watson still receives a healthy raise from last year’s $3.45MM salary.
The 31-year-old Watson stepped into the closer’s gig in Pittsburgh following the trade of Mark Melancon last summer and is the early favorite to reprise that role in 2017. He’s coming off a season in which he saved 15 games and logged a 3.06 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 in 67 2/3 innings out of manager Clint Hurdle’s bullpen.
Watson didn’t debut in the Majors until his age-26 season, but he quickly established himself as a quality bullpen arm. Since that time, he’s somewhat quietly emerged as one of the more successful setup men in the National League, pitching to an outstanding 2.22 ERA over the life of 292 innings in the past four seasons. Since the 2013 season, no reliever in Major League Baseball has thrown more regular-season innings than Watson’s 292, and no one has topped his 120 holds, either.
One more strong showing for Watson this coming season would be of particular importance for the southpaw, as he’s slated to hit free agency next winter. A strong performance could also make Watson a midseason trade candidate whether the Pirates contend or not, as was the case with Melancon a year ago. Pittsburgh assuredly won’t make a qualifying offer to Watson following the 2017 campaign, so moving him prior to this summer’s non-waiver trade deadline would be their only means of receiving some form of compensation for Watson’s potential departure.
The left-hander was reportedly available this offseason and had his name surface in trade rumors at times. A move this close to the season seems decidedly unlikely, though the Bucs reportedly aren’t completely closed off to the notion of moving veterans this spring.