Today marks one of the busiest day’s in the baseball calendar. The 1pm EST deadline for teams and arbitration eligible players to exchange figures. Entering today, the Pittsburgh Pirates had 12 arbitration eligible players and all 12 players filed for arbitration prior to the Tuesday deadline. Typically, when both player and team is close on their figures, they will try to come to an agreement. There has been a flurry of activity today with announcements being made of deals to avoid the dreadful salary arbitration hearings that result in teams pointing out every flaw of their respective players to a neutral arbitrator who will make the ruling on their salary for the following season.
Some teams, the Pirates among them, employ a “file and trial” system in which if they are unable to come to terms before the deadline to exchange numbers, an arbitration hearing is very likely to occur. Those hearings will be held from February 1 through February 21st.
What we know so far is that the Pirates have come to terms with half of their 12 players. Listed next to each players name will be their 2014 salary followed by MLB Trade Rumors projected 2015 salary.
Josh Harrison 3B- 2014: $513k Projected: $2.2m
Per CBS Sports Jon Heyman, Harrison will receive $2.8m in 2015. In his first year of arbitration eligibility, Harrison received a hefty raise from making just above the league minimum in 2014 to 2.8m this season. The raise was to be expected after Harrison busted out for an All-Star season and took over the starting third base job. If Harrison can duplicate last season’s production, he may be a candidate to receive an extension before next season.
Mark Melancon Closer- 2014: $2.59m Projected: $7.6m
Per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Pirates and Melancon agreed to a much lower than projected $5.4m for the 2015 season. Melancon’s salary more than doubled from last year, but that was to be expected after he took over the closer job for a struggling Jason Grilli and being the model of consistency. Melancon has pitched in 72 games and 71 innings in each of the last two seasons and has posted a combined WAR of 2.4 over that time while saving 33 games this past season. If this figure is correct, Melancon would enter this season as the highest paid closer in Pirates history.
Jared Hughes RP- 2014: $504k Projected: $1.1m
MLBTR projection seemed to be right on point here as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet has reported a deal was reached for Hughes to receive $1.075m this season. Hughes is one of two Pirates who are Super-Two eligible and will receive an additional year of salary arbitration with Vance Worley being the other. In Hughes’ case, it is not likely to impact his salary much as, despite strong career numbers, Hughes has struggled with inconsistency at times and unless he can take a step forward, he is more suited to being a career middle reliever.
Antonio Bastardo RP- 2014: $2m Projected: $2.8m
Bastardo, a proven left handed reliever acquired from the Phillies in December, is receiving a bump to $3.1m this season in his third year of arbitration eligibility, per Jon Heyman. Bastardo should be well worth the money as a durable and at times dominating set-up reliever. The organizations long-term plans for him are not clear and Bastardo will be a free-agent at the end of this season, but if he can continue to provide quality innings, he may draw interest to an extension.
Chris Stewart C- 2014: $1m Projected: $1.3m
Stewart, who served as Russell Martin‘s back-up this season, quietly put up a quality season with a WAR of 0.6 and a OBP of .362. Despite this, he is still expected to serve as a back-up and he will do so at a rate of $1.225m per Jon Heyman. Although Stewart is in just his second year of arbitration, it is possible he will give way to prospect Elias Diaz by next season as the organization turns to a younger and cheaper option as bot Stewart’s age and salary increase.
Francisco Cervelli C- 2014: $700k Projected: $1.1m
Cervelli, acquired this off-season in exchange for Justin Wilson, is set to receive the bulk of the playing time of the departed Russell Martin. Injuries and back-up duties to star catchers including Martin and Brian McCann have no doubt kept Cervelli’s cost down. In his second year of arbitration, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has reported Cervelli will receive a salary of $987,500 for 2015 and just a fraction of the salary Martin will be receiving this season from Toronto. Cervelli has shown an ability to hit in the past and his defensive metrics are highly underrated, although in relatively small sample sizes. If he can stay healthy, he could put together a very good season which will lead to an inflated salary for 2016. At just 28, Cervelli could open the door to contract negotiations to bridge the gap until Diaz or highly touted prospect Reese McGuire is ready to take over the job.
Remaining on the docket and likely going before the arbitrator are as follows.
Vance Worley SP-2014: $527k Projected: $2.9m
Worley would be difficult to come to terms on. As a first-year arbitration, Super-Two player, Worley would already be in for a significant raise above the little over league minimum paid to him last season. Even more so, Worley came in and pitched 110 innings and produced a 1.6 WAR during a season that lead to several rotation openings due to ineffectiveness and injuries. What is unclear is how Worley projects for this season. Early on, Worley may compete for a 4th or 5th spot in the rotation, but when Charlie Morton is healthy enough to return from hip surgery and top prospects such as Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon begin to push for playing time, Worley could quickly find himself as the odd man out. Worley could be a candidate to be traded after the season begins, if not sooner, to a team desperate for rotation help.
Sean Rodriguez INF- 2014: $1.475m Projected: $2m
Rodriguez will no doubt go before the arbitrator with the argument that his new team does not know him and that he is capable of being a starter. How well that argument will bode for him is not known. Rodriguez has been a career utility player, albeit a good one. Acquired this off-season from the Tampa Bay Rays, Rodriguez is looking to take over the utility role that Harrison once served. However, with Jung-Ho Kang now signed, Rodriguez roster spot may be in jeopardy. It is clear the Pirates would rather gamble with the arbitrator than give in to Rodriguez who may be on another roster by opening day.
Travis Snider OF- 2014: $1.2M Projected: $2m
It is no surprise to me that the Pirates and Snider failed reach common terms. I have long been a fan of Snider and believe his is capable of being a regular player. He showed that for much of last season after Gregory Polanco suffered some lows after making his much anticipated debut. Although Snider may very well be capable of being a starter, the Pirates will try to pay him the salary of a fourth outfielder as they expect Polanco to be ready to take over the right field job full-time. Snider could be an excellent bench player, or he could end up as trade-bait, particular if the Pirates end up not being comfortable with his 2015 salary.
Pedro Alvarez 3B/1B- 2014: $4.25m Projected $5.5m
Again, no surprise here. With super agent Scott Boras representing Alvarez, I would expect Alvarez to over-value himself. There isn’t much of a precedence set for second-year arbitration players who don’t have a set position. Alvarez’s well documented throwing errors in 2014 have lead to a switch to first base, but it is not yet known how well Alvarez will take to the transition. And after a monstrous 2013 season at the plate, Alvarez carried his glove to the plate with him in much of 2014. The Pirates will no doubt try to keep his salary in check and point out his glaring issues. Regardless, the price they pay will be too much, but there really is no other options at this point.
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Neil Walker 2B- 2014: $5.75m Projected: $8.4m
I can’t help, but to feel the marriage between the Pirates and the hometown kid is going to end badly. There has already been speculation that the Pirates are reluctant to offer Walker a contract extension and Walker enters his second year of eligibility looking for a hefty increase. Walker put up arguably the best year of his career last season and if not for lingering injuries, he might have ended up being among the best second basemen in baseball. The Pirates will use his chronic injuries to their advantage in trying to keep the cost of Walker down. With Kang now signed, they may also begin to view Walker as expendable. This has disaster written all over it.
Tony Watson RP- 2014: $518k Projected: $2m
Of the players who the Pirates did not reach an agreement with today, this one surprises me the most. Watson has established himself as one of the more dominating left-handed relievers in baseball the last two seasons. The combination of him and Bastardo, should be one of the best left-handed bullpen pairings in baseball. Watson is in just his first year of arbitration eligibility, so it might just be that the Pirates want to try to keep his salary from inflating too soon. What Watson does on the field might just ruin those plans. Watson features closer pedigree and could open the door for a long-term extension with another solid season.