The Pittsburgh Pirates have handed out their fair share of one-year free agent contracts, but which one is the best in their recent history?
Most of the time, one-year deals are of the low-cost/low-risk variety. Obviously, there are exceptions to that. Clayton Kershaw signed a one-year, $17 million deal to return to LA. The Houston Astros agreed to a one-year contract with Justin Verlander (though he does have a $25 million player option for 2023). The Pittsburgh Pirates have handed out plenty of one-year deals to free agents in their franchise history, but what is the best, most recent one-year contract?
Edinson Volquez definitely stands out as a good one-year deal the Pittsburgh Pirates have handed out. The Pirates signed the veteran right-hander to a one-year, $5 million contract for the 2014 campaign. Volquez was coming off a season where he had a 5.71 ERA, 4.24 FIP, and 1.59 WHIP in 2013, but the Pirates took the gamble on Volquez, and it worked out phenomenally.
Volquez pitched a grand total of 192.2 innings, posting a 3.04 ERA, 4.15 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP. He only had a 17.3% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate but allowed just 17 home runs because he was a ground ball machine. Volquez had a 50.4% ground ball rate in 2014.
He was a beast for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second half of the season, having a 2.20 ERA and 3.87 FIP. Volquez got the nod in the do-or-die Wild Card game but was overmatched by the San Francisco Giants, who would go on to win the World Series that year.
One one-year deal that could have a lasting effect is the one they gave to Tyler Anderson last season. Anderson was brought in to be an innings-eater type pitcher, and he did just that. He pitched at least five innings in each of his starts with the Pirates. Although he wasn’t an ace, he had a 4.35 ERA and 4.27 FIP during his tenure in Pittsburgh. Plus, he allowed three or fewer earned runs in all but three of his starts.
The Pittsburgh Pirates then traded Anderson to the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. Anderson brought the Pirates back two prospects; catcher Carter Bins and right-hander Joaquin Tejada.
The Pirates may end up seeing Bins later this year. He’s currently at Triple-A, and although he has struggled, the Pirates are lacking catching depth in the major leagues after Roberto Perez’s injury. On the other hand, Tejada is still a very raw talent at 18-years-old but has a very high ceiling. Baseball America named him as a sleeper prospect to watch, and FanGraphs gives him good remarks.
I’d argue the best and most recent one-year deal, in terms of what the player did during their time in Pittsburgh in that contract, was A.J. Burnett in 2015 (and I’m not just saying that because A.J. is one of my favorite Pirates I’ve ever watched). Burnett returned to Pittsburgh after a rough year with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014. Burnett pitched 164 total innings, posting a 3.18 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP. He only had a 20.5% strikeout rate, which was a decent downturn from his strikeout numbers in years prior, but he only allowed 7% of batters faced to reach via free pass while having a 0.6 HR/9 rate.
Burnett had a higher bWAR and fWAR than Volquez did the year prior, despite pitching nearly 30 fewer innings. Burnett was a massive part of the 2015 Pirates, and although he did have a few bad starts in the second half of the season, the Batman ended his career off on a high note. He made the one and only aAll-Star Game of his career and led the Pirates back to Buctober for the third year in a row.