With a night to cool down and think it over I think I have discovered a way the Pirates might be able to potentially get value out of Martin. Upon the signing I was certain it was going to take an amazing sequence of events for the Pirates to even get anywhere near the value they are paying Martin. That is now the case but I now see a way they can actually get plus value from him. It is a non-traditional idea the Pirates will likely never pursue but it is the only path I see. First in order to even have a chance at breaking even we must assume the following:
– Martin’s drop in average and subsequently OBP over the past two seasons is due largely to luck as evident by his low BABIPs. A return to around his career BABIP of .286 will boost his OBP back up to the .340-.350 area
– Martin’s power will undoubtedly be hurt tremendously in PNC Park but he showed some opposite field ability last season. If that tuns out to be because he has matured as a hitter rather than just the result of pure chance it is possible we will see a fair amount of doubles hit off the Clemente Wall. While this wouldn’t keep his slugging percentage from dropping below .400 it could potentially keep it out of the .330-.340 range it was in before coming to the Yankees. Perhaps something around ,370 is feasible.
– Martin’s supposedly pitch framing skill is more a result of talent rather than catching for the likes of CC Sabathia who due to reputation is more likely to get borderline calls. If this is the case and the Pirates pitchers start receiving a significant amount of borderline calls than that would be a huge boost.
– The Pirates alter their strategy of not holding on runners enough that Martin is at least able to be a deterrent to would be base stealers. He obviously isn’t good at it and maybe not even better than McKenry but if he can get a rate in the mid teens it would be a big plus.
– The Pirates actually give Martin a decent pitching staff to work with. This means tendering Karstens and then using the available resources to go out and acquire another starter so McPherson and Locke are available as depth.
– Martin is able to not only help the young pitchers adjust but is able to help groom Sanchez or Cabrera as his eventual replacement.
– Martin manages to stop the alarming downward trends of year’s past and keeps his walk rate above 10% and his strike out rate below 20%.
– Martin manages to hold father time for two season and catches 100+ games for the Pirates each season.
Any one point of the above is certainly very possible for the next two seasons but to get even fair value the Pirates need essentially all of them. If they want to get above value or even possibly offset not getting some of them there is only one way to do so. Have Martin work hard on his OBP skills and hitting to all fields if those two return he will give the Pirates a much needed boost in the OBP department. However to fully capitalize on that Martin must hit in front of the Pirates run producers so that means batting 2nd in the order or even leading off. With an OBP possibility of .350 the Pirates probably have no better choice to hit leadoff with the exception of Andrew McCutchen.
If Martin can return to his old level of OBP and the Pirates properly use him a top the order it could go a long way to solving the offenses biggest weaknesses of last season which was not enough runners being on base for McCutchen, Jones and Alvarez. A lineup of: Martin, Walker, Cutch, Jones, Alvarez, Marte, Snider, Barmes would probably be laughed at by some but it gives us two good OBP guys atop the order, 3 power bats in the middle, two high potential bats for depth and a defensive specialist hitting 8th. It may be crazy but if the Pirates are truly thinking outside the box like that I might just might be able to get behind this signing. However if they plan a more traditional approach with him in the 6th or 7th hole they are going to need a whole lot of things to break right for them to just break even.
So say it with me Pirates fans: Martin for leadoff!
I’m going to keep this brief. Quite simple its been a long time since I’ve been this angry over a Pirates move. I just see no upside whatsoever in this move. I mean sure maybe Martin comes in a plays decent defense the next two seasons and gives us an OPS in the vicinity of 700. That would be an upgrade over last season and could possibly be worth somewhere near the money the Pirates are giving him. But the point is that is Martin’s likely ceiling with the Pirates over the next two seasons.
Martin has seen his walk rate drop in recent seasons, his strike out rate rise and his batting average fall. His power wasn’t anything too special while with the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010 and only hit a resurgence when he went to the offensive friendly Yankee Stadium. He isn’t going to continue to hit with that kind of power in PNC park. Twenty home runs and a .400 slugging percentage is just simply out of the question. If Martin hits 12 HR and slugs .350 we should consider ourselves lucky. I believe an optimistic projection for Martin next season is a triple slash line of .240/.340/.360 and that is the optimist projection realistically I see it being more like .220/.320/.340.
Maybe Martin can prove me wrong but I just don’t see how he is going to do so. His defensive value is going to be limited by how the Pirates handle their pitching staff and his offensive value is going to be limited by PNC Park. Spending 17 million dollars on Martin is at best a very poor misuse of valuable resources and at worst an albatross of a contract. In my mind this is a sign of desperation by Huntington and if he starts acting out in desperation he is a larger threat to the Pirates than he is an asset. The positive news of this signing is that it was only 2 years so Huntington’s replacement next season will only have to put up with the deal for one season before being able to reallocate the valuable resources elsewhere.
As you can probably tell I am outraged by this move right now but I’m sure some of that can be cooled down tomorrow. The Pirates have some arbitration decisions to make tomorrow and if they tender Karstens I’ll accept this move as a terrible misuse of assets but if they don’t the tone of this blog will likely be changing over the next couple of weeks. It makes no sense to give 17 million dollars to a declining catcher who improves the team at best only minimally and then turn around and refuse to give 4-5 million to a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher. After all these years you would think I’d be numb to all of this but some days like today it just sucks to be a Pirates fan.
P.S. I hope for nothing more than to be proven wrong by Russell Martin. Please revert back to your 2007-2008 form. I’ll have no shame in admitting I’m wrong if you do so but I just don’t see any conceivable way that happens.
Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:
1. Starting Pitcher
5. Corner Outfield
Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.
Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.
Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.
Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.
Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.
Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.
Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.
For those of us not to0 sold on the Pirates catching options for next season here is an early look at the free agent catchers this offseason. I’ve excluded McCann and Ruiz (options that will be picked up) and Napoli (not a full time catcher and very unlikely Pirates acquisition). The players marked with an * have options for next season and thus may not reach the free agent market. Stats are covering the last three seasons: 2010-now(9/2/2012).
Russell Martin: 30.7% CS, 91 wRC+, 6.3 WAR (2678.1 Inn, 1250 PA)
AJ Pierzynski: 23.3% CS, 97 wRC+, 6.0 WAR (2978.1 Inn, 1427 PA)
David Ross: 33.7% CS, 123 wRC+, 4.5 WAR (1015.1 Inn, 463 PA)
Yorvit Torrealba: 31.7% CS, 90 wRC+, 4.2 WAR (2055.2 Inn, 981 PA)
*Chris Iannetta: 27.4% CS, 102 wRC+, 4.2 WAR (1794.1 Inn, 819 PA)
Kelly Shoppach: 31.3% CS, 91 wRC+, 3.2 WAR (1465.1 Inn, 628 PA)
*Miguel Olivo: 33.6% CS, 74 wRC+, 2.8 WAR (2511.1 Inn, 1193 PA)
*Rod Barajas: 16.3% CS, 84 wRC+, 2.1 WAR (2209.1 Inn, 985 PA)
*Jose Molina: 36.0% CS, 84 wRC+, 2.0 WAR (1438.2 Inn, 605 PA)
Humberto Quintero: 30.3% CS, 54 wRC+, 1.6 WAR (1650.2 Inn, 692 PA)
*Chris Snyder: 22.4% CS, 86 wRC+, 1.6 WAR (1625 Inn, 723 PA)
*Henry Blanco: 48.1% CS, 74 wRC+, 1.5 WAR (795.2 Inn, 323 PA)
Ronny Paulino: 26.1% CS, 75 wRC+, 1.3 WAR (1336.2 Inn, 656 PA)
Gerald Laird: 28.3% CS, 68 wRC+, 0.4 WAR (1214 Inn, 555 PA)
Matt Treanor: 26.6% CS, 64 wRC+, 0.4 WAR (1435 Inn, 622 PA)
Brian Schneider: 22.1% CS, 69 wRC+, 0.0 WAR (870.2 Inn, 384 PA)
Wil Nieves: 22.5% CS, 44 wRC+, -0.3 WAR, (669 Inn, 299 PA)