Monday, December 5, 2011

Pirates Shop for New Ace

I talked about the Pittsburgh Pirates options for first base on Friday and concluded they should spend anywhere from $8.5 to $12 million for either Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, or Michael Cuddyer. What is left for a new starting pitcher?

In the best case scenario with a $50 million payroll, the Pirates would have at least $4.5 million to use towards a starting pitcher, which may be enough for a decent option considering Chris Capuano just signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers today for two years at $5 million per season. He was my first choice, but I also had Erik Bedard on my wishlist. Battling Bucs and McEffect are in agreeance with me.

I know I did not go into great detail when I last looked at the starting pitcher market, so let's check out who is still available. Here are all their options (viable or not) sorted by SIERA from last season as well as over the past three seasons. I prefer SIERA to FIP because it weighs strikeouts more heavily, which is something I wish the Pirates organization would desire more from their starting pitchers. This allows the pitchers I want them to acquire to shine much brighter because I want there to be no confusion: I don't want Paul Maholm back in Pittsburgh.
Starting Pitcher Targets over One Season
In addition to those mentioned, the Pirates also seem to be interested in Nippon Professional Baseball league pitchers Wei-Ying Chen (age 26) and Tsuyoshi Wada (30). Their advanced statistics are generally unavailable, but Bradley Woodrum on FanGraphs did crunch the numbers to produce their FIP. Wada received a FIP of 2.64 while Chen scored a 3.33. If these values are accurate to MLB standards, then it would rank them among the top 25 starters in 2011 who qualified. Who knows how they will actually perform in America, but the possibility of an elite pitcher for only $5 million per year is exciting.
Starting Pitcher Targets over Three Seasons
Using a filter of simply anyone better than Maholm, I found the 13 best free agent pitchers still available. Eight were superior to him on both lists, two posted marginal numbers than him last season, and three were slightly better over the past three seasons:

Both ListsLast Season OnlyBoth Seasons
Erik BedardKevin MillwoodJoe Pineiro
Rich HardenJason MarquisAaron Harang
Bartolo ColonJeff Francis
Javier Vazquez*
Hiroki Kuroda*
Roy Oswalt*
C.J. Wilson*
Edwin Jackson** Too Expensive

I do not expect them to be players for Vazquez, Kuroda, Oswalt, Wilson, or Jackson as their asking prices will certainly be much higher than their budget. That leaves eight pitchers I would be happy to see in black and gold next season. Bedard, Harden, Colon, Millwood, Marquis, Pineiro, Harang, and Francis should cost anywhere from $1 to $6 million per season with a contract length of one or two years. These are feasible choices considering comparable pitchers have already signed contracts this offseason for $3 to $6 million. The pitchers from the Japanese market could request $5 million per season. If the Pirates' payroll is set even higher than $50 million, then it may even be possible to sign two pitchers instead of just the one.

This is ideal as they are affordable short-term investments and should pave the way for their prospects developing in the farm system, but what happens if their payroll becomes less than optimistic? Perhaps they overpay a first baseman, which is not unrealistic as players do not flock to Pittsburgh by choice, and they decide not to expand their payroll much beyond their initially proposed $50 million limit. It could effectively reduce their budget for a starting pitcher to zero. If this occurs, they will have two avenues: stick with their unaltered righty-heavy rotation or get creative. Time for a bake sale.

The Buccos would have plenty of depth at first as well as the outfield, so they may be able to release or trade Garrett Jones to save approximately $2.4 million (arbitration estimate). The other financial aid could come from a trade involving Joel Hanrahan. Closers are in high demand and reaching surprisingly high values. It would be crazy to not at least test the waters, especially as it could remove $4 million (arbitration estimate) from their current payroll and provide new prospects via a trade. Making these moves would have the potential to create $6.4 million that could be used toward a new starting pitcher.
Current/Projected 25-man Rosters. New acquisitions in yellow, positional/role changes in grey.
Optimal Outcome - $56MM
Lee accepts his arbitration offer at the value of $8.5 million and the two most exciting lefties are added to the starting rotation (Bedard and Chen) for $5.25 million each. The moves would shift Jones to the bench, while Correia would assume a role in the bullpen. This would raise their 2012 payroll to approximately $56 million, which is still true to their initial statement of "over $50 million."

Inferior Outcome - $47MM
Lee declines arbitration, which provides them a sandwich draft pick between the first and second rounds. They would divert their attention to another first baseman and eventually offer Pena $12 million. Overpaying him triggers a liquidation process, which ships out Jones and Hanrahan. This creates extra finances to sign an extra starting pitcher, but fans are disappointed it is a righty beyond their prime: Millwood. Evan Meek was the second choice for the closer role last season and would likely become the new closer if Hanrahan left. Fans become upset when their payroll fails to meet the promised estimate at the cost of two fan favorites.

Worst Outcome - $43M
Lee declines arbitration and receive their sandwich pick, but none of the other free agent first basemen acknowledge the Pirates' offers. They are forced to use a platoon consisting of Jones, Matt Hague, and Nick Evans. A below average starting pitcher is overpaid who does not utilize strikeouts and fails to provide the needed diversity in a right-handed heavy rotation. Promises of reformation, change, and increasing payroll are ignored by management, which causes outrage.

Can the Pirates find an average or better starting pitcher? Certainly, although I hope they do not succumb to dumpster diving for Aaron Cook.

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