The next deadline on the Bucco calendar is fast approaching. By November 30th, the Bucs have to decide which of their arb-eligible players to tender. The list for 2013 consists of eight names: Joel Hanrahan, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Resop and Charlie Morton.
RHP Joel Hanrahan (third year arb): Hanrahan has dodged the trade bullet for two years running now as the Bucs were buyers at the deadline in 2011-12. But this off-season could well be his last in Pittsburgh. The 31 year old has become one of the elite closers in the past two years, collecting 76 saves for a team that's won 151 games over that span; Hanny has saved over half their victories.
That kind of performance comes at a cost, and it's expected that Hanrahan would pull in a salary touching $7M through the arb process, a nice hike over 2012's $4.1M deal. Given that price tag, his performance, the Pirate FO's preference to not allocate much payroll to the pen and the team holes going into 2013, Hanny is the likeliest Bucco to be dangled as trade bait. We haven't heard many rumors yet - the closer market has yet to take off - but we expect that to change when the baseball meetings begin on December 3rd. The Bucs are sure to tender Hanny to maintain team control long enough to move him.
2B Neil Walker (Super 2; first year arb): The Kid, 27, has steadily made himself into one of the NL's better second baseman since being tossed into the fire in 2010, with his fielding getting into the positive range and putting up 3+ WAR the past two seasons. His expected arb value is around $2.5M, and the Bucs will gladly pay that sum.
His storyline will be whether the Pirates and he find common ground on a contract. The Bucs have him under control through 2016, his 30 year old season, and so have no urgency other that price certainty to strike a long-term deal now.
1B/OF Garrett Jones (Super 2; second year arb): Jones gives the Bucs a sorely needed middle-of-the-order presence, but unfortunately the 31 year old is a righty basher but pretty meek against southpaws (career splits: .279/.189). Still, 27 homers is nothing to sneeze at, and his 2013 arb range is $4.25-4.5M, not an unreasonable salary though double his 2012 paycheck of $2.25M.
Even with that power, he's not an everyday player and still has two more years of arb ahead of him as a Super 2 player. They'll sign him this year, but move him before 2014 if they can find someone to play first base in his stead.
RHP James McDonald (first year arb): The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Bucco staff looks to be in line for an arb award in the area of $3M. That's a bargain for the pre-All Star game J-Mic, but an overpay for the guy who took the hill for the last three months. The Bucco rotation needs arms to fill the top three spots, at least for the time being, and McDonald has shown too much upside for the Bucs to give up on him yet, even if he's showing early signs of Ollie Perez-itis.
RHP Jeff Karstens
(third arb year): JK leads off the second half of the list, consisting of the guys the FO may be thinking of non-tendering. In the past two years, his performance has been solid, but he has a history of injuries, working 162-1/3 frames in his breakout 2011 season and just 90-2/3 last year. He also has the biggest spread among possible arb outcomes, with some guesses in the $4M range, others coming in at $5M.
With a staff that's unsettled, logic would dictate that the Pirates keep all hands on deck. But the FO may well be considering putting that $4-5M into a bottom end FA with a history of eating innings rather than investing in a 30 year old who will be a free agent in 2014. Does that translate into another Kevin Correia? Probably, but remember that the $7M KC was paid over two years turned into 54 starts, 325 IP and 24 wins. Over the same span, Karstens made 41 starts, worked 253 innings and won 14 times.
1B Gaby Sanchez (first arb year): The Pirates just traded for Gaby and have no one behind him in the minors. But Ben Nicholson Smith of MLB Trade Rumors thinks he may be considered for a non-tender because his price tag should in the $1.8M range, given his solid performances in 2010-11, and that's high given his 2012 results.
That may be so, but unless they're looking hard at the FA market, which does have some bodies available, we think they sign Sanchez for 2013. After all, they gave Casey McGehee $2,537,500 last year. And it's a tolerable price to allow him to audition for a full season. As we mentioned before, Jones is on a short leash, and Pittsburgh may add first base to the wish list, so they might as well see what they've got.
RHP Chris Resop (second arb year): Resop was plucked off the waiver wire and has given Pittsburgh a couple of decent enough years as a middle man. His question is cost; he's expected to earn $1.25M through arb, and the Pirates usually spent that amount for back-end guys. They have a couple of minor league arms who will pocket minimum wage on the horizon, making Resop somewhat redundant for his 2013 pen role.
Charlie Morton (second arb year): Do the Bucs cut their losses and let Morton walk? After all, he's not due back from surgery until the late summer and there are several farm arms ready to take their turn in Pittsburgh. Our speculation is that they tender him and look for a discount (arb guys can be given a max 20% cut from the prior year, which was $2.445M) or sign him to a contract, and keep him around as an insurance policy; he was intriguing before his wing went bad.
But they have a good argument to let him go, too, so his decision will show just how highly the Bucs consider his upside. If they consider him a back-ender, well, they have enough of those. But if they think he could be a mid-rotation pitcher, he still has some value.
That's this years class. In 2014, the current roster will have a slew of arb eligible players. All the above guys except for Hanrahan and Karstens have another grab at the brass ring, and Pedro Alvarez, Travis Snider, Alex Presley, Mike McKenry, Josh Harrison, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Chris Leroux and Yamiaco Navarro all could join the party with another season in the show.