By Jason Shetler
Here is an early preview of Pirates players who will be arbitration eligible this offseason.
Drew Hutchison: The Pirates acquired Drew Hutchison from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Francisco Liriano deal at this year’s trade deadline. Hutchison pitched in six games with the Pirates and didn’t perform well, posting a 5.56 ERA. Last offseason, he earned $2.2 million as a first year arbitration player with Toronto. Hutchison will be brought back to at least serve as rotation depth.
Gerrit Cole: The 2015 season for Gerrit Cole was one of the best by a Pirates starter in quite awhile, as finished in the Top 5 of the NL Cy Young voting. This year was an injury plagued one for Cole, dealing with a triceps injury, as well as elbow inflammation. In 21 starts, he posted a 3.88 ERA with a better Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.33. It will certainly be interesting what the arbitration figure for Cole is going to be this offseason. Pirates management and Scott Boras have butted heads before, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both sides went to an arbitration hearing in February.
Jared Hughes: The Pirates had a fair share of players this season who underperformed. One of those was Jared Hughes. The 31-year-old sinkerball hurler allowed a decent amount of baserunners with a 1.42 WHIP, while posting a 4.68 FIP and 4.77 xFIP. Hughes will be arbitration eligible for a second time after he made $2.175 million for this season. It’s likely that he’ll be non-tendered.
Jeff Locke: Since being named an All-Star in 2013, Jeff Locke has been a very inconsistent starter, and that trend was the same this year. Locke had an ERA of 5.44 and a 1.53 WHIP in 30 games pitched. His time in the rotation ended in July when he was sent to the bullpen. Locke’s arbitration figure for this season was $3.025 million. The decision to non-tender him this offseason should be a no-brainer.
Jordy Mercer: 2016 marked the third full season of Jordy Mercer being the Pirates everyday shortstop. While he posted just a .701 OPS this year, he continued to do damage against lefty pitching, as he put up an OPS of .829. Mercer’s defense at short was reliable again, committing just nine errors in 146 games. He will enter this offseason as arbitration eligible for a second time after making $2.075 million this year. Next season’s figure for Mercer will still be a bargain for an above average defensive shortstop.
Juan Nicasio: When the Pirates signed Juan Nicasio to a one-year deal last offseason, the initial plan was to have him in the bullpen. After an impressive showing in Spring Training, while pitching multiple innings, he was inserted into the rotation instead. The rotation experiment for Nicasio didn’t go well, posting a 5.07 ERA in 12 starts. Once Nicasio was moved to the bullpen in late June, he performed brilliantly with an ERA of 2.99 along with a 12.1 K/9 in 39 appearances. Although he joined the Pirates as a free agent this year, Nicasio has arbitration eligibility for a final time, and should be brought back for the bullpen in 2017.
Tony Watson: Entering 2016, Tony Watson was one of the best lefty relievers in baseball. This season however was a down year for the 31-year-old southpaw. While he did have a 3.06 ERA, his FIP and xFIP were much higher at 4.37 and 4.20 respectively. Even though 2016 wasn’t a great year for Watson, he didn’t perform completely dreadful, which is why the Pirates will bring him back for next season. The bigger question should be whether he’ll continue to be the closer or have Felipe Rivero assume the duties.
Wade LeBlanc: After spending 2015 pitching in Japan, Wade LeBlanc returned to the States by signing a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason. In late June, he was acquired by the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later or cash. The Pirates were looking to add bullpen arms in September and purchased LeBlanc from the Mariners. In 12 innings of work with the Bucs, he allowed just one earned run. Although LeBlanc pitched very well in a small sample size, the Pirates are likely to non-tender him, since they already Antonio Bastardo and Felipe Rivero in the bullpen for next season.