We’re going to start to delve into the potential construction of the 2016 Pirates, even though the actual offseason doesn’t start until a few days after the World Series ends. In order to figure out how much the Pirates can spend, it’s a good idea to first see what their potential salary outlays will be. The Pirates have $50.6M of committed salary to seven players (McCutchen, Liriano, Harrison, Marte, Kang, Morse, Morton) plus a very large arbitration-eligible class of twelve players.
Not all twelve players will be tendered contracts, of course, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to estimate the total potential salary for the arbitration class and the salary figure for the nine players that could realistically get contracts. Think of the figures as a “worst case” and “more realistic worst case” in terms of salary allocation.
Travis Ishikawa — 3rd year of arbitration ($1.1M in 2015)
This one is pretty easy. Ishikawa filled in for a couple of weeks during a roster crunch, but is thoroughly expendable. He’s in line to get a nominal raise to $1.2M.
Travis Snider — 3rd year of arbitration ($2.1M in 2015)
Snider was traded prior to the 2015 season because the Pirates wanted to re-allocate his $2.1M elsewhere, plus they wanted to ensure that Polanco knew he was the starter. Snider came back from the Orioles after having a rough season with the O’s. He is what he is and that’s definitely not worth $2.3M to the Pirates in 2016.
Vance Worley — 2nd year of arbitration (Super 2 player, $2.6M in 2015)
The Pirates tendered Worley a contract this past offseason, but the magic pixie dust from 2014 had worn off. He was displaced as a starter in mid-May, hung around for a little bit as a long man, then exiled to AAA until a September callup. For the $3.8M he may command through arbitration off of that $2.6M platform, the Pirates can find better uses of their money.
CONTRACTS TO BE TENDERED
Neil Walker — 4th year of arbitration (Super 2 player, $8M in 2015)
I’m a Walker supporter. I like his steady presence and the professional hitting that he brings to the team. He’s the glue that holds the infield and the team together. After watching the emergence of Jung-ho Kang this season, though, it slowly dawned on me that Walker was being made expendable. With Kang, Mercer, and Harrison under contract, plus prospect Alen Hanson’s presence at AAA, all signs pointed to 2015 being Walker’s final year before he would be traded.
And then Kang got his knee shredded and tibia fractured on a take-out slide by the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan in early September. Not only was Kang’s 2015 season over, but the recovery time from his injuries of 6-9 months could take him into June 2016. Add in some probable tune-up time in the minors and you’re looking at July 2016, potentially, for Kang’s return. All of a sudden, not only is Neil Walker back in the Pirates’ plans, but I would hazard to say that they may be more seriously considering a small 3 year extension for him.
For now, I’m projecting Walker at $10.3M for 2016 and that he will remain a Pirate.
Mark Melancon — 3rd year of arbitration ($5.4M in 2015)
I’m looking at a potential figure of $8.8M for Melancon in 2016, because arbitration is a counting stat-based process and his 51 saves sure are shiny. I’m a firm believer that the Pirates shouldn’t be paying big money to relievers, who are inherently fungible in nature. Additionally, Melancon’s stats have been trending downward the last three years:
Melancon is going to have appeal to some team out there looking for a closer this offseason or a team looking to build a Royals-esque deep bullpen and use him as a setup guy. Not only could Melancon bring back some salary re-allocation ability, but he could also yield a player ready to step in to the mix in 2016.
Pedro Alvarez — 3rd year of arbitration ($5.75M in 2015)
Prolific power. Atrocious defense. Not mentally strong. Unfulfilled potential.
That’s the Cliffs Notes version of Alvarez’s tenure with the Pirates. I’ve made clear both preseason and last month that I felt 2015 was Alvarez’s last season with the team. He’s a DH-in-waiting that I feel some AL team will bite on for the relatively cheap source of home run power at $7.5M estimated.
Francisco Cervelli — 3rd year of arbitration ($987,500 in 2015)
If Cervelli can ever stay healthy, he’ll have a great career. That was the prevailing wisdom on him when he was traded here last offseason by the Yankees for LHP Justin Wilson. Aside from a propensity to stopping balls in the dirt with his balls close to the dirt, Cervelli has been both healthy and a revelation in 2015. His caught-stealing percentage and 7 homers won’t make everyone completely forget Russell Martin’s 2014 season, but you’ve heard nary a complaint about the Pirates not matching the Blue Jays exorbitant free agent contract to him.
It’s tough to find a comparable player to gauge against Cervelli’s career, since he’s missed lots of time over the years. However, John Jaso is an interesting enough example to use as potential framework. Going into his arb-3 year of 2015, Jaso had about 480 games and 1600 at-bats of roughly .260 AVG/.355 OBP/.390 SLG under his belt, along with 32 home runs and some games at C/1B/DH. Cervelli will go into his arb-3 year with 380 games and 1300 at-bats of .285 AVG/.360 OBP/.390 SLG with 16 HR’s and a much more robust defensive reputation at catcher.
Using Jaso’s $3.1M in 2015 as a template, I’m projecting Cervelli for $3.6M. Note that Steve’s “Keep, Trade, Extend” article from last month pegged Cervelli at $4M (along with $1M signing bonus), as part of a 3 year/$27M extension that I would love to see the Pirates work out.
Chris Stewart — 3rd year of arbitration ($1.225M in 2015)
Stewart is a backup catcher that is good defensively, hits for singles with no power, and will be age-34 in 2016. I project him to get $1.5M in 2016. If the Pirates believe in Elias Diaz and are comfortable with him catching 40-50 games next year, Stewart may get non-tendered.
Tony Watson — 2nd year of arbitration ($1.75M in 2015)
For Tony Watson’s comparable, I honed in on Jordan Walden with the Cardinals. In 2014, while with the Braves, Walden pitched 50 innings with an 11.16 K/9 and 4.86 BB/9 rate. When he was traded to the Cards, they signed him to a 2 year/$6.6M deal to buy out his last two arb years. In 2015 (his 2nd year of arb) he made $2.6M off of an arb-1 rate of $1.5M. Tony Watson’s numbers this year don’t include as gaudy of a K rate (7.49), but he has a much better BB rate of 2.09 in 70 innings. As a result, I’m bumping Watson up to the $3.2M range after his $1.75M year this year.
Jared Hughes — 2nd year of arbitration (Super 2 player, $1.075M in 2015)
Middle relievers are always the trickiest for me to project salary because they don’t have the typical counting stats, other than innings pitched, as other pitchers do. It’s even trickier when the middle reliever in question is a Super 2 player. After looking for some comparables, I found Al Alburqueque of the Detroit Tigers, who is also a Super 2 middle reliever. After 2014, Alburqueque received $1.7M from the Tigers on the heels of 57 innings with 9.89 K/9 and 3.30 BB/9 with a 2.51 ERA after he made $837,000. In comparison, Hughes is coming off a 2015 season with 65 innings of 4.66 K/9, 2.47 BB/9, and 2.33 ERA after making $1.075, so I’m bumping him up to $1.9M.
Jeff Locke — 1st year of arbitration ($531,000 in 2015)
In August, I wrote an article about why the Pirates should retain Locke’s services for 2016 and in it I projected him to make $2.8M. I’m going to take that down a touch to $2.7M for my final answer.
Jordy Mercer — 1st year of arbitration ($538,000 in 2015)
Mercer’s profile of pretty good glove, so-so bat has a much wider range of potentials than you would think. For his projection, I looked at Alexi Amarista of the Padres ($1.1M as part of a 2 year deal that bought his first two years of arbitration) and Zack Cozart of the Reds ($2.4M in 2015 in his first year of arbitration). Cozart is a superior defender, perhaps the 2nd best behind Andrelton Simmons of the Braves, but prior to this year had a weak bat. Mercer’s bat in 2015 was better than Cozart’s batting profile after 2014 when he was awarded his $2.4M, mostly for his defensive prowess. I’m going to scale Mercer back to $1.9M.
If you add up ALL the players, you get a total of $48.7M. That’s a huge number for an arbitration class. Taking out the $7.3M to the three projected non-tenders (Worley, Snider, Ishikawa), the Pirates are left with $41.4M of potential arbitration salaries.
My follow-up post on Thursday will try to piece together the 2016 Pirate roster and see who’s in, who’s out, who’s traded.