- Gerrit Cole and the Pirates have settled at $3.75MM, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. After a disappointing 2016 season, the 26-year-old will make nearly $500K less than his $4.2MM projection. He’s under team control through 2019.
- Juan Nicasio and the Pirates have settled at $3.65MM, according to Matt Gajtka of DKPittsburghSports.com. That is nearly $1MM less than his $4.6MM projection after posting a 4.50 ERA with a career-high 10.5 K/9 in 118 innings. He can become a free agent next offseason.
- Jordy Mercer and the Pirates agreed to a one-year, $4.325MM deal, reports Matt Gajtka of DKPittsburghSports.com. He comes in $325K north of his $4MM projection on the heels of a season in which he batted .256/.328/.374 with 11 homers. Mercer has one more winter of arbitration eligibility and will be a free agent after the 2018 season.
MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker is the place to go to see the arbitration contracts agreed upon thus far, as well as the figures exchanged between teams and players that were not able to reach agreement before today’s deadline to swap salary positions. Matt Swartz’s arbitration projections are available here.
After a busy day of dealmaking, 152 players (at last check) have reached agreement on arbitration salaries for the coming season. But 36 other tendered players have yet to reach reported agreements with their clubs. Of course, those players can still settle before their hearings (which will take place in early to mid-February). If the case goes to a hearing, the arbitrator must choose one side’s figures, rather than settling on a midpoint.
We’ve gathered the highest-stakes arbitration situations remaining — those where the player files for at least $4.5MM — in this post, but you can find them all in the tracker. We’ll update this list as the figures are reported:
- Danny Duffy, Royals: $8MM versus $7.25MM (Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, via Twitter)
- Tony Watson, Pirates: $6MM versus $5.6MM (Jon Heyman of Fan Rag, via Twitter)
- Pedro Strop, Cubs: $6MM versus $4.6MM (Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, via Twitter)
- Drew Pomeranz, Red Sox: $5.7MM versus $3.6MM (Heyman, via Twitter)
- Kelvin Herrera, Royals: $5.6MM versus $5.05MM (Heyman, via Twitter)
- Shelby Miller, Diamondbacks: $5.1MM versus $4.7MM (Heyman, via Twitter)
- Khris Davis, Athletics: $5MM versus $4.65MM (Heyman, via Twitter)
- Dellin Betances, Yankees: $5MM versus $3MM (Heyman, via Twitter)
9:04pm: The Bucs have also knocked out their case with fellow righty Jared Hughes, Heyman adds on Twitter. He secures a $2.825MM deal that lands over his $2.5MM projection. The 31-year-old, eligible for the second time, didn’t quite maintain his output from his prior two seasons but ended the 2016 season with a strong 3.03 ERA over 59 1/3 innings with 5.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 to go with a 57.9% groundball rate.
That figure comes in just over the $2.2MM salary that MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz projected Hutchison to take down in his second season of arbitration eligibility. Though Hutchison went through the process last year with the Blue Jays, earning $2.2MM, he did not accrue enough service time to pass four total years of MLB service, so he’ll earn only a nominal raise and remain controllable through 2019.
Pittsburgh acquired Hutchison last summer in the trade-deadline deal that sent Francisco Liriano and prospects to Toronto. Hutchison ended up throwing just 24 major league frames in 2016, working to a 5.25 ERA. Though he posted a 22:7 K/BB ratio, he was also tagged for six home runs. Hutchison spent much of the year at the Triple-A level, where he recorded a 3.59 ERA across 138 innings with 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
Some minor moves from around baseball to kick off the week…
- KBO’s Lotte Giants have re-signed left-hander Brooks Raley and signed second baseman/third baseman Andy Burns out of the Blue Jays organization, per Jee-ho Yoo of Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Raley will receive $850K to return for his third season, while Burns will be venturing overseas for the first time in his career. Raley, 28, pitched 38 1/3 innings with the Cubs from 2012-13 and spent time in the Twins and Angels organizations after being claimed off waivers following that stint. Raley has turned in a 4.06 ERA while averaging 175 innings, 7.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in the past two seasons with Lotte. As for Burns, the 26-year-old made his MLB debut last season but tallied just seven plate appearances in Toronto. He’s a career .263/.320/.363 hitter in 237 contests at the Triple-A level.
- The Pirates announced a list of non-roster invites this morning, which includes former Rockies catcher Jackson Williams. The 30-year-old saw brief action with the Rox from 2014-15 (30 plate appearances) and has batted .232/.303/.356 in just over 1200 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s halted 36 percent of stolen base attempts against him in his minor league career and draws average to slightly below-average marks in terms of pitch framing, per Baseball Prospectus.
- Former Cardinals/White Sox right-hander Maikel Cleto has signed a minors pact with the Cubs, as his representatives at Jackson Management Group noted, on Twitter. The hard-throwing 27-year-old’s last MLB work came with the ChiSox in 2014 and resulted in a 4.60 ERA with 9.8 K/9 against an unsightly 7.1 BB/9. Cleto averaged 97.1 mph on his fastball that year and doesn’t have difficulty missing bats (10.1 K/9 in his Triple-A career), but walks have been a persistent issue for him in the Majors and in the minors. He split the 2016 season between the Mexican League and the Braves organization. In 21 innings with Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate, he posted a 2.14 ERA with 31 strikeouts against 13 walks.
The Pirates and shortstop Jordy Mercer have discussed a contract extension, though an agreement isn’t imminent, as Rum Bunter first reported and Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review confirmed. The two sides have had “a little, but not a lot of talk,” a source told Biertempfel.
Mercer, a client of the Legacy Agency, is coming off a season in which he tied a career high in games played (149) and logged a personal-best 584 plate appearances. The 30-year-old wasn’t particularly effective, though, having hit a modest .256/.328/.374 (closely in line with his .257/.313/.377 lifetime mark) with 11 home runs and one stolen base. Mercer also didn’t rate well in the field, which was abnormal relative to the previous two years, as he finished toward the bottom of the majors at his position in Defensive Runs Saved (minus-9) and Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-8.4).
Mercer, who’s under control through the 2018 campaign, is scheduled to make his second trip through arbitration later this winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a $4MM arbitration award for Mercer, but it might not come to that. Pittsburgh doled out three extensions to regulars last year and could hand Mercer what should be an inexpensive deal early in 2017.
The Pirates are reportedly unlikely to trade center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whom they heavily shopped at last month’s Winter Meetings, but teams are still trying to acquire him, a major league source told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Toronto is the latest reported team to show interest in McCutchen, whom the Bucs are only willing to deal if they receive major league-ready talent in return. The 30-year-old is coming off the worst season of his career, having gone backward at the plate, in the field and on the base paths, but he still carries a resoundingly successful track record and an affordable contract (two years, $28.5MM, including a $14.5MM club option for 2018). Considering those factors, it’s not surprising that teams continue to pursue the longtime face of the Pittsburgh franchise.
- Fastball velocity has increased throughout the game in the past several seasons, but it’s increased even faster within the Pirates organization during that time, Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs writes. The Bucs finished first in fastball velocity in 2015 (94.0 MPH) and second in 2016 (93.4 MPH). A key trait of many of the reclamation pitchers the Pirates have used in recent years — from starters like A.J. Burnett, Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano to relievers like Arquimedes Caminero, Neftali Feliz and John Holdzkom — is that they possess above-average velocity, as Sawchik points out. Bucs GM Neal Huntington notes that velocity gives pitchers more cushion for their mistakes, in that a poorly located pitch thrown in the mid-90s is less likely to yield poor results than a poorly located pitched thrown at a more modest radar reading. Now that other teams are also valuing velocity among free-agent pitchers, the Pirates are looking to develop hard-throwing pitchers of their own, like Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl.
Over the next few days, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.
As I discussed in my write-up on Jacob deGrom and Carlos Martinez, it has been difficult for starting pitchers to top Dontrelle Willis’ arbitration salary of $4.35MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility back in 2006. Dallas Keuchel finally broke that record last year, but otherwise many pitchers have fallen short. In many cases, pitchers have gotten close only to sign multi-year deals to remove themselves from the list of comparables, and other times they have settled for numbers at or just short of Willis’ old record.
My model has trouble with these symbolic barriers, and I have written many articles about why pitchers projected to earn slightly more than $4.35MM would earn slightly less. Mathematical modeling is a science, but it does not pick up on the psychological nuances of a precedent being broken. It remains to be seen whether Keuchel’s new record makes it easier for pitchers to out-earn Willis—and Carlos Martinez this year could be a great case. However, despite Gerrit Cole of the Pirates, Jake Odorizzi of the Rays, and Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers of the Astros all projecting near the $4.35 mark—Odorizzi and McHugh are projected slightly above it—I suspect all four will earn slightly less than their projections because of this barrier.
All four of Cole, Odorizzi, McHugh, and Fiers have at least 30 career wins, 500 career innings, 400 career strikeouts, and 100 platform year innings. All of them also have relatively average ERAs in the 3’s or 4’s. None won the Cy Young Award last year. There are only four such pitchers who met these criteria to receive one-year arbitration deals as first-year starting pitchers in the last three years, and all four earned in a tight range of $3.63MM to $4.35MM. These include Shelby Miller, Chris Tillman, Mike Minor, and Jake Arrieta. It is difficult to see any of these four pitchers falling out of that range.
Gerrit Cole is projected to earn $4.2MM, but his case is somewhat unique in that he had a relatively weak platform year despite a strong career. He went 7-10 last year, but his 47-30 in his career. His 3.88 last year is worse than his 3.23 career mark. He only threw 116 innings with 98 strikeouts last year, but he has thrown 579.1 innings with 538 strikeouts in his career. Good comparables will include players with high career wins but low platform year wins. Ivan Nova is a reasonable comparable, although he earned just $3.3MM three years ago. He had a 9-6 record with a 3.10 ERA in 139.1 innings, but was 38-20 in his career with 4.04 ERA in 517 innings. Cole’s career numbers are definitely much better than Nova’s, but Nova makes sense as a floor. I suspect Cole will get a raise over Nova’s salary plus some extra money for inflation and will end up in the $3.5MM to $4MM range, probably right in the middle—well short of his arbitration projection of $4.2MM.
Jake Odorizzi went 10-6 last season with a 3.69 ERA in 187.2 innings along with 166 strikeouts. He only has 30 career wins, fewer than the other three guys on this list, but he does have 562 career innings and a 3.75 career ERA, along with 516 strikeouts. His best comparable is probably Doug Fister four years ago, who also won ten games and had a similar ERA at 3.45. Fister also had 30 career wins and a 3.48 ERA in 610 career innings. Fister struck out over a hundred fewer batters in his career at the time he earned $4MM exactly, so adding in some salary inflation should be Odorizzi comfortably in the low 4’s. However, it is hard to find a reason why Odorizzi would top Matt Harvey, David Price, Shelby Miller, or Chris Tillman, all of whom earned between $4.32 and $4.35MM. My model projects Odorizzi at $4.6MM but my gut says $4.2MM.
Collin McHugh had a 4.34 ERA last year and has a 4.13 career ERA, so his run prevention resume is unimpressive compared to the other pitchers in this group and many other potential comparables. However, McHugh won 13 games last year and has won 43 in his career, which is a rare feat. There are only two pitchers in the last six years who have won at least 12 games in their platform years and 40 in their careers while having ERAs above 4.00. These include Ian Kennedy, who earned $4.26MM in 2013, and Tommy Hanson, who earned $3.72MM in the same year. Kennedy’s numbers are largely similar to McHugh’s, but slightly better in many aspects. Hanson was slightly behind McHugh in most categories. Given how stale these comps are, I think McHugh should pass the midpoint of around $4MM, but I also see him struggling to make a case for besting $4.35MM. I think something like $4.1MM or $4.2MM is likely, which is also below his $4.6MM projection.
Michael Fiers 4.48 platform year ERA will definitely dent his case, although his 3.87 career ERA is more impressive. He also has 11 platform year wins and 34 career wins, along with a platform year of 168.2 innings with 134 strikeouts. Jeremy Hellickson’s 2014 case is a great match. He had only one fewer loss, although Hellickson’s 5.17 ERA is definitely much worse than Fiers’ 4.48. His 39 career wins to that point best Fiers, but his 409 career strikeouts fall far below Fiers’ 542. Hellickson earned $3.63MM back in 2014, so with a more impressive platform year ERA plus three years of salary inflation, we would expect Fiers to easily top Hellickson’s salary. It is difficult to find much evidence that Fiers will hit his $4.3MM projection, though, since many of the pitchers in that range have much better cases than he does. I suspect he may be able to get close to $4MM, but probably not top it.
All four of these pitchers are likely to earn a few hundred thousand dollars less than they are projected to earn. My arbitration model tends to miss these sorts of subtleties, and a longstanding symbolic barrier at $4.35MM definitely has skewed salaries in this range down a few hundred thousand dollars. Keuchel’s new record is much higher than Willis’ old record, but several other pitchers will probably need to top $4.35MM before the model results are smooth enough that we can stop shaving money off these projections.
- Also outrighted, per the MLB.com transactions page, was Pirates first baseman/third baseman Jason Rogers. He, too, was designated to clear roster space for a new addition — in his case, righty Nefi Ogando. The bulky 28-year-old has seen scattered time in the majors over the last three years, and hit well in 2015 for the Brewers, but didn’t enjoy a productive season in his first go-round in the Pirates organization. Pittsburgh acquired Rogers in a deal that sent Trey Supak and Keon Broxton to the Brewers last offseason. But he ended up seeing just 33 MLB plate appearances and struggled to a .263/.338/.371 slash with four home runs in his 420 trips to the plate at the highest level of the minors.
The White Sox announced on Friday that they’ve claimed outfielder Willy Garcia off waivers from the Pirates and designated fellow outfielder Jason Coats for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Garcia was designated for assignment by the Pirates last weekend to open space for Ivan Nova on Pittsburgh’s roster.
The 24-year-old Garcia posted solid numbers throughout his minor league tenure until reaching the Triple-A level, where he’s struggled to a .245/.290/.388 batting line in 790 plate appearances across the past two seasons. However, Garcia delivered strong production at the Double-A level in parts of two seasons, hitting .285/.324/.467 with 23 homers and 11 steals in 698 trips to the plate. Baseball America rated him 12th among Pirates prospects just last offseason, praising his “incredible” arm and above-average speed. While Garcia’s plate discipline is a major concern, per BA (and he indeed at a near-27 percent clip last year), their post-2015 scouting report noted that improvement in that regard could lead to an everyday corner outfielder.
Coats, meanwhile, will turn 27 next month. The former 29th-round pick made his big league debut in 2016, tallying 58 plate appearances and batting .200/.298/.340 in that brief cup of coffee. Coats did post a huge season with Triple-A Charlotte last season, slashing .330/.394/.519, and he’s delivered reasonably productive results throughout his minor league career. A right-handed hitter, Coats is primarily limited to the outfield corners.