Monday, December 22, 2008

Bucs Build Around The Edges...

The Pirates announced a bevy of signings today (so much for Christmas killing the news cycle, hehe). The key deal is the lock-down of C Ryan Doumit through his arbitration years with a club option for 2012-13.

Doumit came to camp last year penciled in as Ronny Paulino's caddy, but soon overtook him to claim the top spot. The second round draft pick of 1999 figured it out in his fourth season, hitting .318 with 15 HR, 69 RBI and a .501 slugging percentage in 116 games.

The switch-hitter's split against RHP/LHP was pretty solid, going .314 vs. righties and .330 vs. lefties, and batting off the charts with runners in scoring position, with a .407 average, third best in MLB.

His ball receiving mechanics improved as the season wore on, and his game management should improve too, as Joe Kerrigan plans to call many of the pitches from the pine to pick up the pace of his, and the staff's, learning curve.

The 27-year old inked a contract that guarantees him $11.5M over his three arb years, with a $300K bonus and salaries of $2.05M in 2009, $3.55M in 2010, and $5.1M in 2011, with a $500K buy-out if the Pirates don't exercise his future option, according to figures provided by Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

The optional years are 2012-13, and the team has a one-shot trigger for the option after the 2011 season. He'll earn $7.25 in 2012 and $8.25 in 2013, with bonuses that could add another $1M per year to those seasons depending on All-Star and Silver Slugger appearances. So that's $26.5M over the life of the contract, with a top value of $27.5M if the stars align.

GW likes the deal's structure. Doumit started 103 games behind the plate last year, losing chunks of time to a couple of injuries. Both Doumit and the Pirates have affordable cost certainy over the arb years, and if Doumit proves durable, they have their man locked up for his first two free agency seasons. If he can't stay out of the tub, the Bucs have an escape hatch via the buy-out option.

A catcher with a stick isn't an everyday commodity in MLB. If Doumit stays consistent with his bat, and there's no reason to believe he won't, and can catch 125-140 games a year, which is a bit more problematic, the Pirates have a nice deal, and Doumit has a fat carrot to chase, the $15.5M payday for the final two years.

The length of the deal is also interesting to us. As GW opined in the last post, the Pirate plan should begin to bear fruit in 2011-12. And now the suits have Snell and Doumit both tied into that time frame. There's no mistaking the reasoning behind those two deals - Snell is the most talented, if enigmatic, arm on the staff, and Doumit is a clubhouse leader who's about to become the face of the Pirates.

Neal Huntington signed another half-dozen guys to minor league contracts today, and they'll all be invited to camp. They are RHPs Chris Bootcheck, Juan Mateo, and Denny Bautista, along with utility guy Andy Phillips, OF Luis Salazar, and 1B Garrett Jones.

The dope on them, thanks mainly to the Pirate release, is:

Chris Bootcheck (RHP) - The 30-year old spent the 2008 season with the Angels organization. He began the year on the DL before making 10 relief appearances for the Angels. Bootcheck posted a 2.86 ERA in 19 relief appearances with AAA Salt Lake. He was originally picked by Anaheim in the first round of the 2000 Draft (20th pick overall).

Juan Mateo (RHP) - The 26-year old went 8-1 with five saves and a 3.66 ERA in 38 games between the Cub's AAA Iowa and AA Tennessee, and the Buc's AA Altoona in 2008. He was 7-1 with 5 saves, a 2.12 ERA, and .99 WHIP for the Curve.

Denny Bautista (RHP) - The 26-year old posted a 4-4 record with 44 strikeouts, 42 walks, and a 5.22 ERA in 51 combined games between Detroit and Pittsburgh in 2008. The wild child had a great start to the season and then faded badly. The question is whether he was overused or just not that good.

Andy Phillips (INF) - The 31-year old RH hit a combined .231 with 18 doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI in 56 games between the Reds and the Mets in 2008. Phillips was originally selected by the Yankees in the seventh round of the 1999 Draft. He has a career average of .250 with 25 doubles, 14 home runs and 70 RBI in 259 games and five seasons. Phillips has played 1B, 2B, and 3B.

Jeff Salazar (OF) -- The 28-year old hit .211 with five doubles, three triples, two home runs and 12 RBI in 90 games last year with Arizona. The LH was tied for 13th among NL players with 10 pinch hits in 2008, and has a career average of .291 as a pinch hitter. He hasn't made an error in his 147 MLB games.

Garrett Jones (INF) -- The 6-4, 245 pound LH spent 2008 with AAA Rochester (Twins), where he hit .279 with 33 doubles, 23 home runs and 92 RBI in 138 games. He led the International League in games and total bases (255), and was tied for third in doubles and second in extra base hits (59). Jones plays both first and some OF.

None of these guys are world-beaters, but they all help fill a void in Pittsburgh's upper level organization. Phillips has the best chance to stick as a RH utilityman off the bench and back-up to Adam LaRoche. He also provides some balance to Ramon Vazquez's LH bat.

Salazar has an opportunity to make the roster as an extra outfielder if the Bucs opt to send Steve Pearce back to Indy, although the Pirates are already overloaded with LH outfielders.

The rest look like AAA fodder, where Jones will add some sorely missing pop to the system and the pitchers provide some power arms for the Indy bullpen.

Some observations - Phillips and recent signee Vazquez seem to have taken Dirt Dog Mientkiewicz's bench roles, so the odds of his return just took a big hit.

Another is that with Phillips, Jones and Pearce all being capable first-base types (although Phillips, a good glove man, can move around the infield), the Bucs have a short-term safety net if they uncover a taker for Adam LaRoche.

We should find out the Pirate take on LaRoche soon enough. At 28-years old, he's still young enough to fit into the Pirate plans, but he may have priced himself out of the organization. If Pittsburgh signs him to a multi-year deal, which is unlikely, he'll be the first baseman of the future. If not, we expect him to be trade deadline bait in 2009.

The same scenario could be in play for Freddy Sanchez, too, as Vazquez and Phillips have both logged a lot of innings at second and Shelby Ford seemingly a season or two away from a shot at the bigs.

Vazquez and Phillips can also platoon at third if young Mr. LaRoche continues to have his problems at the hot corner and plate. The Pirates are slowly building options for the club.

Now to see whassup with Paul Maholm and Nate McLouth...

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