It's natural for the fans to daydream of free agent hauls and team-altering trades during the offseason, but the Bucco suits have a little more housework to take care of - getting their arbitration eligible players under contract.
They met their first deadline on November 20th, when they set the 40-man roster and protected their minor league assets as they saw fit. Now the next deadline is fast approaching. They have to offer arbitration to the eligible free players by December 1st, but since none are ranked ("A" or "B" free agents), they'll let them go and try to resign them as free agents.
This year, they have ten guys up for service-time arbitration: Denny Bautista (Super-Two, based on service time), Raul Chavez, Jason Davis, Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche, Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth, and Tyler Yates. (Bautista didn't get his designation because of performance, as you may have guessed. He became a "Super Two" by being in the top 17% of players ranked by service time with between 2-3 years in the bigs.)
Adam LaRoche is in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, and avoided it the last two years by inking one-year deals (he got $5M in 2008). Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, and Nate McLouth are all in their first year of the process.
The word after the season was that the Pirates wanted to wrap up deals with these four guys before arbitration. If they're trying, there's been a blackout surrounding the negotiations. They tried to tie up LaRoche last year, without success. The other three should all get very nice bumps in pay - none made over $425K in 2008 - and Pittsburgh will try to get them under contract, perhaps along the lines of Ian Snell, before the hearings.
John Grabow is a case unto himself. He's in his last year of arbitration, and made $1.135M last year. The hot stove consensus is the Pirates will try to move him, because if they don't sign the 30-year old to a contract, 2010 will be his walk season. And we haven't heard any rumblings that he's on their short list to ink a deal.
The remaining five are all pieces of the Pirate puzzle that they will probably tender. Yates, Davis, and Chavez are in their second season of arbitration, while the Zachster and Bautista are in their first year. Duke made $400K and Bautista $395K in 2008. Yates made $800K last year, and the Bucs may look at working out a two-year deal to cover his arb years.
We understand that there may be some internal debate about bringing back Davis, but at $650K last year, he provided a professional insurance policy for a young staff. Chavez may have to avoid arbitration and sign on the dotted line to remain a Pirate; he could possibly price himself out of the Bucs market, though he made a reasonable, by MLB standards, $550K in 2008.
And if you're wondering, Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and Ronny Paulino should be arbitration eligible in 2010, depending upon the level they play at next season. There are a couple of other pups, notably Brandon Moss, that could conceivably became Super Twos.
Huntington had five players eligible for arbitration last year, and signed them all before it came to a hearing. We expect he'll try to do the same this year, just for the sake of contract certainy. Otherwise, he risks taking a couple of big hits at the arbitration hearings. The Bucs still have a couple of weeks to work out their game plan; the service arb deadline is December 12th.
Surprisingly, Pittsburgh only has four players under contract for 2009 - Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Matt Capps, and Ian Snell.
Jack Splat's deal is guaranteed for next season, with a club option for 2010. He'll make $7.25M in 2009, and $8.4M if the option is taken for 2010. Otherwise, he gets a $600K buy-out. But it doesn't look like Pittsburgh will be carrying his contract much longer.
Freddy Sanchez is also inked for 2009, with a $6.1M price tag. He has a club option for 2010, too, and the option is automatically triggered if Sanchez gets 630 plate appearances or 600 PA's with an All-Star pick. He'll earn $8M in 2010, with a $600K buy-out if the Pirates don't pick up his option year.
Matt Capps has a simple deal. He's signed through next year, for $2.3M. The Mad Capper will have two years of arbitration eligibilty remaining when the contract runs out.
The Bucs really locked Ian Snell down. He's signed until 2010, with two team options afterwards that if exercised will carry him through arbitration and his first year of free agency. He'll haul in $3M in 2009, $4.25M in 2010, and if his options are picked up, $6.75M in 2011 and $9.25M in 2012. A great deal if the old Snell returns, and a bearable one otherwise, with its escape hatch.
Oh, and the Pirates owe Matt Morris $1M, too, for his 2009 buy-out. The ghost of Dave Littlefield still haunts the dugout.
All the other guys are under Pirate control, most for at least four years or better.
So we'll see how the Pirates deal with arbitration. Once they have that settled, their housekeeping is done, and they can start wheeling and dealing their little hearts out in Vegas, the part of the off season that everyone loves.