The bullpen has been a group this management team has managed to do a pretty fair job of assembling year after year on the cheap. Already gone are Jason Grilli, Hisanori Takahashi, Chad Qualls, Juan Cruz, Daniel McCutchen and Evan Meek, and they're sure to be replaced by guys off the waiver wires and off the discount rack later in the hot stove season, as the Bucs continue to stick to their mantra of value.
Grilli will be the hardest arm to replace; he has swing-and-miss stuff and often faced the heart of the order in set-up situations before Hanny came on to claim the save in the ninth. The righty was a bargain at $1.1M in 2012, compiling a 3-7-3/2.76 slash in his Pittsburgh time with 127 K in 91-1/3 frames.
Building on that success, the 36 year old free agent will look for a multi year package - last season was his first seven figure payday in six full MLB seasons - and his agent says eight teams have shown interest in him, including the Red Sox.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors wrote that "the floor for Grilli is a one-year deal with a base salary in the $3-5MM range. I expect a two-year deal in the $10MM range, (since he won't be) tied to draft pick compensation. He’s pitching at an elite level and that’ll be reflected in his next contract." And that's steep for a team that doesn't like to tie up money in the bullpen.
His back end running mate, Joel Hanrahan, is almost certain to be traded this off-season. He's survived the last two deadlines, when his trade value would have been higher, only because the Pirates were improbably in contention and were buyers. But this is his last year of team control, and his salary in year three of arb is likely to approach the $7M mark.
The Bucs don't like to pay that amount for an entire bullpen, much less one arm. So for both payroll and team-building purposes, Hanny will likely move on and the Pirates should get a MLB player in return, though we're sure their game plan will be to look for someone that offers team control for awhile. He could, alone or maybe packaged, bring a young catcher to Pittsburgh.
The other returning reliever on thin ice is Chris Resop. He's been a fairly dependable middle man since being claimed, but is in arb and will probably earn $1.25M, maybe a smidge more, and the FO may consider that steep for his role.
Returning for sure are Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Chris Leroux. Bryan Morris, Victor Black, Chris Beck and Duke Welker are all in the wings waiting for a shot, too, and maybe Justin Wilson and Hunter Strickland eventually. Morris, 25, is almost certain to make the club this spring; he's out of options and coming off a 2-2-5/2.67 slash at Indy with 79 K in 81 IP. In mystifying limited work during September, he whiffed six in five frames.
He and Black have a shot at becoming back enders, though we expect the Bucs to pull in a vet for the late innings as the off season wears down and the bargains begin to pop up. That's their MO and the time when they've inked pitchers like Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez, Jose Veras and Juan Cruz, all who proved useful to various degrees. We're thinking they may kick the tires of Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Jason Frasor or Matt Lindstrom this off season.
The glaring hole again is the lack of a lefty, but that didn't seem to bother them a whole lot last year, and dependable non-set up southpaws are an expensive lot. But that problem will have to get in line behind finding back-enders, addressed most likely through minor league deals ala Doug Slaten, Justin Thomas, et al.
Whether through waivers or the market, the Bucs will cobble together their usual fire-sale pen, although it will be more challenging this season because of escalating costs and because they have to replace both their closer and set-up man.