By Jason Shetler
As we approach the end of the 2014 regular season, here is an early preview of arbitration eligible players the Pirates will have for the upcoming offseason.
Brent Morel – The Pirates claimed Morel off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays a week before Spring Training. The once highly touted prospect of the Chicago White Sox several years ago has really struggled during his time with the Pirates this year, posting a .421 OPS. Morel will be first time arbitration eligible, and will be non-tendered. He’ll most likely elect to become a free agent before that point.
Chris Stewart – After serving as Russell Martin’s backup catcher in 2012 with the New York Yankees, Stewart reunited with Martin this season. The veteran reserve backstop has done surprisingly well at the plate, hitting .289. Behind the plate, he’s thrown out just 19% of basestealers, which is 8% below league average. He has a 0.7 WAR, indicating that he’s a more viable backup this year than what Tony Sanchez would have been. Stewart earned $1 million last offseason, so expect to see a slight raise in salary. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Pirates bring him back next season as the backup to see if he can bounce back defensively.
Gaby Sanchez – For the second year in a row, Sanchez has occupied first base for the Pirates as a right-handed platoon man. The 31-year-old hasn’t been as productive this year against left-handed pitching as last season, but he does have a respectable .778 OPS against them. Sanchez will be arbitration eligible for a third time, and will probably be brought back for one more season before he hits free agency. The question is who will he platoon with in 2015?
Ike Davis – The Pirates 2014 Opening Day first baseman was Travis Ishikawa. The Ishikawa experiment was very short-lived, as the Pirates went out and acquired Ike Davis from the New York Mets in mid-April. The Pirates this season have done a terrific job getting on base as a team, and Davis has played a big part in that with a .344 on base and a 15% walk rate. However, Davis has been disappointing in the power department, as his slugging percentage is just at .365. He’s been a below average defender at first base this season with a -1.4 dWAR. Davis could earn around $4 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility after making $3.5 million for this season. It would be a bargain, if he were to start showing more consistent power like he did with the Mets in 2012.
Jared Hughes – After pitching well out of the Pirates bullpen in 2012, Hughes had some injury troubles and inconsistency in 2013. He’s bounced back this year with a 2.10 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and inducing groundballs at a 64% clip. The man known by Pirates announcer Greg Brown as “Mr. Fix-It”, for his ability to strand inherited runners, has been quietly one of the better middle relievers in the National League this season. Hughes will be first time arbitration eligible, and is likely to earn just under a million for next year.
Jeanmar Gomez – Gomez was a pleasant surprise pitching out of the Bucs bullpen last year. This season, he hasn’t be nearly as effective. While his ERA isn’t bad at 3.28, Gomez has allowed plenty of runners to reach base with a 1.51 WHIP. His K/9 is low at 5.4 while his BB/9 is up from 2013 at 3.3. Gomez is going to be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason. Because the Pirates have more quality depth in their bullpen moving forward, I would expect Gomez to be given a non-tender.
John Axford – Axford began 2014 as the Cleveland Indians closer. Struggling to throw strikes, he was removed from the role in May. Looking to improve their bullpen for the pennant race, the Pirates went out and claimed Axford off waivers from the Indians in August, and will just have to pay him $1.1 million of the $4.5 million he’s making this year. Since joining the Pirates pen, Axford is posting a 2.20 ERA along with a 1.27 WHIP. The Pirates most likely though will have to non-tender Axford since his salary arbitration would be a little too hefty to take on.
Josh Harrison – After coming off a couple of subpar stints as a utility man off the Pirates bench, Josh Harrison has been arguably the biggest breakout player in 2014. Harrison currently is batting .317, which leads the National League, and has an OPS of .859. He’s been playing near an MVP level with a 4.7 WAR. Harrison enters the offseason first time arbitration eligible. You certainly can’t rule out the possibility of extension talks.
Mark Melancon – 2013 was an outstanding year for Mark Melancon, and this year has been more of the same. He became the Pirates closer in June after Jason Grilli really scuffled the first two months of the season. Melancon has put up a 1.94 ERA, an 0.86 WHIP and has converted 29 saves in 33 chances. Last offseason, he avoided arbitration by signing for $2.6 million for this year. Melancon is likely to earn a significant salary boost this offseason. The Pirates could put him on the trade block for an overwhelming offer, and insert Tony Watson as the closer for next season.
Neil Walker – Last offseason, Neil Walker appeared to be in line for an extension based on his 2013 performance, but the Pirates chose to offer him $5.75 million for this season instead. Walker is having a career year in 2014, as he’s posting an .819 OPS, and is the first Pirates second baseman to hit 20 home runs in a season. Walker is due to make some big money in his second year of arbitration eligibility. The Pirates #1 priority this offseason will be to re-sign Russell Martin. If they’re unable to do so, expect them to possibly extend Walker.
Vance Worley – Edinson Volquez wasn’t the only reclamation project the Pirates took on this season, as they acquired Vance Worley from the Minnesota Twins during Spring Training. After an abysmal 2013 campaign, Worley has given the Pirates rotation a shot in the arm with a 3.18 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. His control numbers have been really good with a 2.1 BB/9. My guess is that Worley will be offered between $1.5 to $2 million to avoid arbitration, which would be quite a bargain for someone who profiles has an above average mid-rotation starter.
Vin Mazzaro – After being a vital part of the Pirates bullpen success in 2013, Mazzaro for whatever reason fell out of favor this season. The Pirates designated him for assignment not once but twice, and he surprisingly cleared waivers both times. The fact that Mazzaro wasn’t even a September call up is a clear indication that the Pirates will non-tender him in the offseason.
Pedro Alvarez – The most interesting arbitration eligible player for the Pirates this offseason will be without question Pedro Alvarez. Coming off a season in which he tied for the National League lead in home runs with 36, Alvarez really underperformed in this year, hitting just 18 home runs and posting a .717 OPS. Defensively, he committed a league high 25 errors and underwent serious throwing issues, which caused the Pirates to move him to first base. Alvarez earned $4 million last offseason and it’ll be interesting to see how his salary figure will project this offseason. If the Pirates decide not to bring Alvarez back next year, I would rather see them trade him for something in return, instead of just giving him a non-tender and getting nothing for him.