The Pittsburgh Pirates could benefit from teams wanting to keep their payroll as low as possible after massive revenue losses in the 2020 regular season.
Just like everything else in 2020, MLB’s 2020-2021 offseason will not be a normal one. Winter Meetings are going to be virtual, and free agency is going to be unlike anything we have ever seen before. This is something that could benefit the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Throughout all off 2020’s regular season no fans were allowed in stadiums. Without sales and income that come through tickets, concessions, in stadium gift shops and restaurants, free agency is going to be very different. With so little revenue coming in, teams were losing money throughout the entire season.
With this in mind, most teams are going to be fairly inactive in free agency. Teams like the Marlins, Brewers, Nationals, and Mets who are either leaving a rebuilding phase or could go for competing might put off going big in free agents this year. Rebuilding teams like our Pittsburgh Pirates, Tigers, Royals, Red Sox, Orioles and Mariners have no real incentive to spend outside of a few minor league deals.
Their goals for 2021 are to get high draft picks. Though we will see bigger budget teams be in rumors surrounding free agents like Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and D.J. LeMahieu, don’t be surprised if they get lower than expected contracts as teams are still doing so more reluctantly than ever. Plus, 2021-2022’s free agent class is much deeper than this year’s class, which is another incentive for teams to save their money right now rather than spend.
Right now, there’s a lot of reluctance to spend among teams. In just the last few days, we’ve seen teams turn down options on players that probably would be picked up under normal circumstances.
Veteran relief pitcher Sergio Romo had a solid season with the Minnesota Twins, but they decided to buy out his 2021 option instead of going with his $5 million option. The St. Louis Cardinals declined Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million option, favoring his $1 million buyout. The Nationals turned down the option for Adam Eaton, a player who had previously put up very consistently good numbers for years, and surrendered a large package of prospects to acquire back in the 2016-2017 off season.
The Diamondbacks even turned down a $3.5 million option on Junior Guerra, who despite the ERA estimators, had a 3.04 ERA, 50.8% groundball rate and in the top 95th percentile of hard hit rate. In a shocking move, the Cleveland Indians put all-star lefty closer Brad Hand on outright waivers. He has a $10 million option for 2021 and a $1 million buyout
But this reluctance to spend could be in the favor of the Pittsburgh Pirates, especially for their pitchers. Right now, the Pirates have a handful of low cost players. Many of which fall under $5 million.
One player that would definitely get a lot of attention in the current climate of baseball is Joe Musgrove. Musgrove is coming off a strong season where he had a 3.86 ERA, 3.42 FIP and 1.24 WHIP, albiet in 39.2 innings. While it is a fairly small amount of innings pitched, Musgrove was very solid in both 2018 and 2019, and saw his hard hit rates and exit velocity take major steps forward in 2020.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Musgrove to make anywhere between $3 million and $4.5 million in arbitration. He’ll probably make something closer to $3-$4 million, but the fact that a #3 level starter who is showing signs of improvement is making less than $5 million would get many teams calling in a normal off season and potentially much more now in an off season where some teams might still be wanting to improve without adding much to the payroll.
One player I could see getting a decent amount of interest is Richard Rodriguez. Like Musgrove, Rich Rod is coming off a very strong season. He had a 2.70 ERA, 2.85 FIP and 0.86 WHIP in 23.1 innings. His strikeout to walk rate was an outstanding 6.8 mark. Many of the relief pitchers on the free agent market are likely going to be very pricey.
Liam Hendriks and Kirby Yates are going to be demanding a lot. Even arms like Alex Colome, Tyler Clippard, Keone Kela, Shane Greene, and Joakim Soria are going to cost a few million. On the other hand, MLB Trade Rumors projects Rodriguez to make somewhere in the range of $1-$1.5 million. If you can get a relief pitcher who can put up numbers that look remotely like what Rodriguez put up in 2020 for less than $3 million, teams are going to be interested.
Pitching recently has been an expensive commodity. Last off season, Madison Bumgarner got $85 million even though he hasn’t put up ace level numbers since 2016. Even mid-to-low tier rotation options like Kyle Gibson, Cole Hamels, Jordan Lyles and Tanner Roark received contracts all over $15 million.