Running down the rosters: Pittsburgh Pirates

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While it was a 19th straight sub-.500 season, the Pirates did finish with their best record since 2004 by going 72-90 last year. They’ve since added two starters to an already much-improved pitching staff. As for the offense, well, they’re just going to have to hope that the incumbents get better.

Rotation
A.J. Burnett – R
Jeff Karstens – R
Erik Bedard – L
James McDonald – R
Kevin Correia – R

Bullpen
Joel Hanrahan – R
Evan Meek – R
Jason Grilli – R
Chris Resop – R
Daniel McCutchen – R
Daniel Moskos – L
Chris Leroux – R

Disabled list: Charlie Morton (R)
SP next in line: Brad Lincoln (R), Jo-Jo Reyes (L), Jeff Locke (L)
RP next in line: Juan Cruz (R), Doug Slaten (L), Tony Watson (L), Reyes (L), Ryota Igarashi (R), Tim Wood (R)

I’m far from a big believer in Karstens, but that’s a pretty legitimate rotation, particularly if Morton can return from hip surgery in April and push Correia to the pen. I have Burnett, McDonald and Morton all projected with ERAs in the low-4.00s, and Bedard should be able to beat that for however long that he’s healthy.

The bullpen lacks an obvious setup guy for Hanrahan, but Meek could be the answer if he bounces back from last year’s arm woes. There’s also plenty of depth. Grilli, Resop, Leroux and Watson all had really nice strikeout rates in their time with the Pirates last season.

Lineup
RF Jose Tabata – R
LF Alex Presley – L
CF Andrew McCutchen – R
2B Neil Walker – S
1B Garrett Jones – L
3B Casey McGehee – R
SS Clint Barmes – R
C Rod Barajas – R

Bench
C Michael McKenry – R
1B-OF Nick Evans – R
INF Josh Harrison – R
INF Yamaico Navarro – R
OF Nate McLouth – L

Next in line: C Jose Morales (S), C Tony Sanchez (R), C-1B Jake Fox (R), 1B Matt Hague (R), 1B Jeff Clement (L), 3B Pedro Alvarez (L), SS Chase d’Arnaud (R), INF Jordy Mercer (R), OF Gorkys Hernandez (R), OF Starling Marte (R), OF Brandon Boggs (S)

The plan is still for Alvarez to play third base, with McGehee serving at a backup at both corner infield spots. They need to make Alvarez earn it, though, and I’m far from convinced he will. The former No. 2 overall pick hit .191/.272/.289 in 235 at-bats last season, and it’s not like he makes up for it with his glove.

If Alvarez does solidify his job, then the offense would be pretty much set, with only the two utility infield jobs up for grabs.

It was surprising the Pirates limited their outfield additions to McLouth given the injury histories of Tabata and Presley. Of course, they do have the option of moving Jones back to the outfield and going with McGehee at first base.

The offense hinges on the outfield, not only on the health of Tabata and Presley, but in McCutchen playing like he did in the first half of last season, not in the second half. An Alvarez rebound would surely be nice, too, but it’s hard to imagine him being a difference maker this year.

The defense will be improved, but then, that’s what the Pirates were paying for in bringing in likely offensively sinkholes Barmes and Barajas. The outfield should be great. The infield aside from Barmes will remain a problem regardless of whether Alvarez or McGehee starts at third.

This is a Pirates team that could finally crack .500 if some things break right. 160 innings from Bedard and 420 starts from the three primary outfielders would be a good place to start. There isn’t a whole lot of upside beyond that, but the team should be decent for now and there’s a lot of pitching in the pipeline for 2013-14.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.