Saturday, December 18, 2004

Pirates Must Decide on Seven Players by Monday

Joe Rutter reports.

Here are the seven Pirates who are eligible for arbitration.

Jack Wilson, SS
Craig Wilson, OF/1B/"C"
Kip Wells SP
Josh Fogg SP
Brian Meadows P
Daryle Ward 1B/"OF"
Rob Mackowiak UT

The Pirates have until Monday to reach agreements on contracts with each of these players. For the players that do not sign a contract by Monday, the Pirates will have to decide which to take to arbitration. Although they can still negotiate with the players they choose until arbitration occurs, they must take those players to arbitration if an agreement cannot be reached.

The arbitration process is one area in which I can't criticize the Pirates' front office the way I usually do, or at least I can't until Monday. I am regularly mystified by the salaries players get after going through arbitration. This may be due in part to my limited understanding on the process, although I also suspect that sometimes the arbiters are just as confused as I am.

In any case, by Monday we should have a lot more information available on Dave Littlefield's plans for 2004 and the future.

Keeping the Wilsons and Wells should be a high priority for the Pirates. Jack Wilson could get more in arbitration than he is worth - after the 2003 season, he got $1.8 million in arbitration. That seemed like an insane amount to pay a player who at that point had shown nothing on offense, especially since most defensive metrics suggested that his defense was worth less than met the eye. In 2004, however, he earned his money by improving his defense and having a solid offensive season. Not all those gains are likely to stick in 2005, especially since his plate discipline remains ghastly, but he should continue to be one of the Pirates' few genuinely good players.

Craig Wilson and Kip Wells should also be worth two or three million dollars each in 2005. In 2004, Wilson was the generic but effective slugger everyone thought but the Pirates always thought he would be; health permitting, he’ll hit at least 25 homers again in 2005.

If Wells is healthy, he should bounce back a bit from his 4.55 ERA in 2004. Batters hit .321 on balls in play against Wells in 2004, which is very high, even given the Pirates' bad defense. Pitchers have very little control over what happens to balls once they’re put in play. His batting average on balls in play should be lower in 2005, and so should his ERA.

The cases of Fogg, Meadows, Ward and Mackowiak are less clear. Fogg is a nice guy to have around, but he’s mediocre, and the Pirates recently acquired his mirror image in lefty Mark Redman. As I've pointed out recently, Fogg’s strikeout rates are dropping, which doesn’t bode well for his future. Given that the Pirates already have a number of capable young starters who are ready for the big leagues or close to it, now would be a good time to use the two or three million dollars Fogg is likely to get on someone else. That’s probably not what the Pirates will do, however.

Meadows was downright excellent for Nashville in 2003 and very good for the Pirates in 2004. He should be a fine reliever again in 2005. He’s started for the Pirates before, but he’s been terrible after throwing 45 pitches in a day, so it might not be a good idea to count on him to do that again. If he can't start, he's fungible. Rutter says the Pirates will probably non-tender Meadows if they can’t reach a favorable deal by Monday; that’s what I would do, too, although I’d like to have him back.

Daryle Ward was a pleasant surprise in 2004, although that doesn’t mean he was actually any good – he hit 15 homers in 293 at bats (Rutter’s article incorrectly claims that he had 25), but he also posted a .305 OBP, which is dreadful for a first baseman. His defense also leaves a lot to be desired. Given that his 2004 performance was on the upper end of what we might have expected for him, he isn’t the sort of player the Pirates should be paying much or counting on. The Pirates did neither in 2004, and they shouldn’t in 2005. I’m all for keeping Ward if Jason Bay can really play center field – Craig Wilson can be moved to right field, Matt Lawton can be moved to left field and Tike Redman can be moved as far from the field as possible. But even in that case, the Pirates are likely to get better production from J.R. House or Brad Eldred if he’s ready, or even a cheap stopgap like Brad Fullmer. (Fullmer is coming off an injury but could nonetheless provide a lot of offense for a small price. He's also left-handed.) Ward isn’t worth taking to arbitration.

Rob Mackowiak came out of the gate strong last season, then didn’t hit much after May, but he wound up with an OPS similar to his career total. His value to the Pirates now is, or at least should be, connected closely to his hitting ability – he’s played a zillion positions during his career, but he doesn’t play any of them all that well, and the Pirates limited him to corner duty and centerfield last year. He didn’t play second base at all. He’d likely be better as a starting third baseman than Ty Wigginton next year, but the Pirates are unlikely to bench Wigginton only months after acquiring him in the Kris Benson trade. Another problem for Mackowiak is that the Pirates have a ton of young infielders; neither Bobby Hill nor Freddy Sanchez will have starting positions going into spring training, but both will be cheap, and Sanchez is also likely to be better than Mackowiak. Mackowiak may provide insurance in center field next year for the Pirates, however, and he has showed some plate discipline and power in each of the last three years. The Pirates will probably keep him, and I think that’s what I would do as long as he’s not too expensive.


Blogger Wilbur Miller said...

Fogg is interesting, because a lot of fans, and probably the Pirates, too, figure the Fogg who posted a 3.29 ERA the last 3 months was the "real Josh Fogg." His schizophrenic season really had more to do with him facing mostly good-hitting teams in the 1st half and bad ones in the 2nd half. Fogg tends to pitch far worse than most pitchers against good-hitting teams and far better against bad ones. That may explain why his W/L records have been so much better than his ERAs--he generally beats below-avg. teams and gets pummeled by above-avg. ones.

I think Mackowiak and Ward are going to collapse this year. I'd non-tender both and continue to look for one or two real hitters. They were both terrible most of the time this year. Mackowiak serves no purpose with Hill and Sanchez available because he doesn't hit well enough to be mainly a backup corner OF, and both Redman and Bay can play CF. It shouldn't be that hard to find a superior alternative to Ward, especially if the Bucs were willing to spend just a little money. Eric Munson would be an improvement.

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