How The Pittsburgh Pirates Should Reallocate Their Money


The Pittsburgh Pirates have just $53 million on their books next season, but those figures don’t include arbitration values and large increases players like Gerrit Cole will receive. With the addition of league minimum players, hello Josh Bell, the Pirates will likely be below their 2016 opening day payroll of $99,960,499 according to the IB Times.

Neal Huntington always talks about “payroll flexibility” and “resource allocation.” Once again, after trading left-handed starter Francisco Liriano, those terms were once again used. With Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Drew Hutchison being four fifths of the rotation, odds are they’ll go with Chad Kuhl or Steven Brault while they wait for Nick Kingham to be ready.

Their starting catcher, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, and all three outfielders are set, with Jordy Mercer being arbitration eligible, and the first base job will likely be Josh Bell. The bench of Chris Stewart, John Jaso, Adam Frazier and then two question marks, but bench bats come cheaply. So how does Neal Huntington expect to allocate the resources best? The best plan, may turn out to be creating another dominate bullpen.

Tony Watson will be entering his final season of arbitration, this year he earned $3.45 million. He’s currently 31, and with relievers being so volatile, investing large amounts in relief pitchers it may not be smart to extend him, but he’s one of the best and extending him would be the smart idea. Watson’s 2.07 ERA since the beginning of the 2013 season, that ranks tenth among relievers, and is only 0.02 points worth than Aroldis Chapman. A three-year extension, buying out his last year of arbitration, and signing him until the end of his age 34 season is the best route to go.

Neftali Feliz, who has posted a 3.27 ERA this season, will likely be one of the most sought after free agents among relief pitchers this winter, as the class is not very strong, even with relievers being up and down more than any other position. Last season, Feliz posted a 6.38 ERA, thank you Mr. Ray Searage, so the changing of relievers numbers year-to-year is very relevant to him. However, he was one of the more dominant relievers from 2010 to 2014. A two or three-year extension, extending him until he is either 30 or 31 is another sound idea.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Apr 29, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) delivers against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

Watson and Feliz are the only two relievers that need to be extended for now, as the Pirates can use their others savings towards arbitration eligible players and bench bats. Their bullpen, with these extensions would become one with Watson, Feliz, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Arquimedes Caminero, Antonio Bastardo, and options such as Jared Hughes, AJ Schugel, and potentially a Dovydas Neverauskas. That has the looks of being a dominate bullpen, something Neal Huntington knows how to build.

Felipe Rivero has posted a 3.61 ERA in 99.2 innings in his career, but his 2.93 FIP shows he has been unlucky in his career. He is only 25 years old, and with his fastball averaging 95.91 miles per hour, he should only keep improving, as his arm is live.

Juan Nicasio, who struggled greatly as a starter in Colorado and Pittsburgh, has posted a 2.11 ERA and 2.66 FIP in 21.1 innings since moving to the pen full-time on June 26th. Nicasio has also posted a 32.2 strikeout percentage and 59.6 percent groundball percentage, both numbers unsustainable given his career, but if Searage saw something in his mechanics, the groundball rate may turn out to be something. Nicasio has shown he can pitch out of the pen effectively, in both 2015 and now here in 2016. With him arbitration eligible next year for the final time, the Pirates will be getting back another live arm to mix with Rivero, Feliz, and Watson.

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Arquimedes Caminero is another piece to the bullpen, but he has extremes during the season, but with his arm and ability to strike hitters out, you cannot give up on him. His 3.61 ERA over the last two years is solid for a middle reliever, as Nicasio, Rivero, Feliz, and Watson as the back-end, the Pirates can live with Caminero’s mid three’s ERA.

Old friend Antonio Bastardo has posted a 4.63 ERA this season – 4.74 as a Met – but from 2010 through last season, Bastardo posted a 3.28 ERA. Last season with the Pirates, Bastardo posted a 2.45 ERA in his final 58 games. Once again working with Searage could get the lefty back on track, and he can be a big weapon for the Pirates facing off against players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams in a divisional race. Caminero will be able to be a solid middle relief option, same with Bastardo, and Bastardo will play a key cog in getting left-handed hitters out, as he is the third lefty in the pen.

Related Story: Should The Pirates Extend Neftali Feliz?

By reallocating their money into extensions for Feliz and Watson extensions, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have an increased likely hood of having a dominate bullpen. Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio can form a solid pairing at the backend to go along with the Feliz and Watson pairing.

In fact, the Pittsburgh Pirates can eliminate the closer position, and use their best pitchers in the highest leverage. Caminero and Bastardo form a solid middle relief options, and a solid left-handed reliever who can come in and get left-handed batters out if needed. The last option could come down to Hughes or Schugel, two pitchers who have been able to get out of jams either in their career or this season. Creating a dominate bullpen to pair with a young rotation, is the best route for Huntington to go with, with his flexible payroll.