Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Free Agents With Options to Follow

These players have team and player options before they hit the open market (or return to their team), and are potential free agents the Pirates should follow.
Sep 23, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez (21)
Sep 23, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez (21) / Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports
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Nick Martinez

Another pitcher to watch is Nick Martinez. The Padres signed the right-hander after a stint in Japan to a two-year guaranteed deal but included two years through both a team and player option. Depending on how the Padres and Martinez values himself, this could be an interesting one to watch.

Upon Martinez's return to the US, the Padres slotted him into their rotation. From April through mid-June, Martinez started ten of his 12 appearances, pitching to a respectable 4.03 ERA, 4.77 FIP, and 1.44 WHIP. But his peripherals were poor, as he had a mediocre 21.9% strikeout rate, along with a 10.4% walk rate and 1.49 HR/9. Though Martinez's expected numbers like xFIP (4.27) and SIERA (4.09) said that he was pitching to his ability.

But Martinez was moved to the bullpen and didn't make another start for the rest of the '22 season. To his credit, he pitched better, working to a 2.74 ERA, 3.98 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. Martinez's K% sat at 20.2%, but his walk rate dipped to 7.4%, while his HR/9 also fell to 0.98. His ERA estimations also got slightly better with a 3.98 xFIP and 3.71 SIERA, though they painted a less bullish picture than they did during his starts.

Martinez made starts at a more infrequent pace in 2023. He started the year in the rotation, but after a subpar April, was moved to the pen once again. He was then moved back to the rotation in mid-September, finishing the year with 12 scoreless innings in three starts. Overall on the season, Martinez owned a 3.43 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP in 110.1 innings of work. Martinez's 23% strikeout rate was right around league average, as was his 8.7% walk rate, with his 0.98 HR/9 being the only number among his peripherals that was noticeably above average.

Martinez is a soft contact merchant. His 84.7 MPH exit velocity and 29.9% hard-hit rate were both in the 95th or better percentile among pitchers in 2023. His 7.1% barrel rate was also above average, coming in the 65th percentile. He wasn't nearly as good in 2022 at limiting hard contact but still had a quality 86.5 MPH exit velo (89th percentile) and 37% hard hit rate (59th percentile).

Martinez's option is more complicated than the previous ones mentioned. The Padres have the option to take on a two-year, $32 million deal for Martinez's services. If they decline that, the ball goes to Martinez's side of the court, and they then have the choice to opt into or out of a two-year, $16 million deal.

Depending on how the Padres view Martinez, this could be an interesting situation. If the Padres view Martinez as a starting pitcher, then they'll probably take on the two years at a $16 million AAV. If the Padres decline this option, I don't see Martinez accepting two-years valued at an $8 million AAV contract, as he may look to market himself as a starter. Another thing to consider is that the Padres stated they are looking to cut down their payroll some, and taking on $16 million for a starter may make them lean toward turning his option down.

This is definitely one that Pirates fans need to follow closely. I think Martinez would be an excellent pitcher to pursue, whether he hit the free agent market or through trade. Since his return to baseball in the United States, Martinez has been a very solid pitcher. Even if he's not an ace, he's proven that he can be a solid pitcher when given an opportunity to start.