With the 2015 season coming to an abrupt end for the Pittsburgh Pirates, they have plenty of time to evaluate their crop of impending free agents before they are set to hit the market.
None of them are players they would have to break the bank to keep, though there are a few that the club will likely let find a new team for 2016.
Also keep in mind that this list does not include pitcher A.J. Burnett or third baseman Aramis Ramirez, since both said they plan to retire at the end of the season.
J.A. Happ – Happ should be the most interesting case to watch over the next couple of months. After struggling his last few seasons while bouncing around the Majors, the soon-to-be 33-year-old pitcher put up ace-caliber numbers with the Pirates under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage. In 11 starts since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners, Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA, 2.19 FIP and averaged around six strikeouts per one walk.
A new deal for Happ would make sense for both the Pirates and Happ. With Burnett retiring, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke struggling at the end of the season and a crop of young pitchers in Triple-A Indianapolis unlikely to start the year in Pittsburgh, the Pirates need pitching depth. They could go for another reclamation project, but it would make sense to still keep Happ even if they sign another pitcher to bolster their depth. From Happ’s standpoint, he put up career numbers with Searage and may not want to risk that success carrying over to another team.
The big question is how much the Pirates will be willing to pay Happ considering his age and limited body of work with them. The two-year, $20 million deal the Chicago Cubs gave 33-year-old Jason Hammel last year could be a good barometer for what Happ could get, and would be a good deal for both ends.
Joakim Soria – Acquired at the trade deadline for Double-A shortstop JaCoby Jones from the Detroit Tigers, Soria pitched as the seventh inning setup man for the Pirates. He put up a 2.03 ERA in 29 games for the Pirates, and helped give the Pirates one of the best bullpens in baseball. Soria is a case of a player that is likely to sign somewhere else.
The Pirates have shown they are hesitant to give big money to relief pitchers, and it is likely Soria will want to close again. With closer Mark Melancon projected to receive a $10 million-tender, Soria is as good as gone unless they choose to trade Melancon.
Joe Blanton – The midnight deal to acquire Blanton from the Kansas City Royals before the trade deadline ended up being a sneaky-good deal for general manager Neal Huntington. Blanton was acquired for cash, and ended up being the ideal long-reliever for the Pirates. The 34-year-old pitcher was 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 21 games with the Pirates. He did not give up a run in any of his four appearances out of the bullpen when he pitched for three innings, and did not give up a run in extra innings. It is hard to project what kind of contract Blanton will command due to his age, role on the team and brief stint of success. The Pirates might be able to get Blanton for another year at around $3 million, but likely will not pay more than that.
Antonio Bastardo – The left-handed relief specialist had a rough start to his Pirate career after being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies for Joely Rodriguez last winter, but showed improvement down the stretch of the season and ended up being another reliable bullpen option. He had a 2.32 post-All-Star Break ERA over 31 innings, and on the year had a 0.48 ERA and .138 batting average against when facing left-handed hitters.
Teams are always looking for quality left-handed relievers, and with Tony Watson being the only other left-handed pitcher in the bullpen and Bobby LaFromboise the only depth option, the Pirates may look to bring Bastardo back. Bastardo figures to get a raise above the $3.1 million contract he had in 2015.
Sean Rodriguez – The utility man now internet-famous for beating up a Gatorade jug in the dugout during the Pirates 4-0 Wild Card game loss has an up-in-the-air future with the Pirates. The 30-year-old gave the team great versatility across the diamond, appearing at seven different positions and was a regular late-game defensive substitute for Pedro Alvarez at first base. He committed only two errors all season – one in the Wild Card game, which he because of his defensive prowess – but had a marginal season at the plate.
His .246 average, 17 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs is not bad for a bench player, but could still be improved. The one-year, $2 million deal the Pirates gave Clint Barmes after the 2013 season could be the ballpark for what Rodriguez may command, and with Jung Ho Kang likely to miss the first couple months of the 2016 it would make sense to have Rodriguez back as a depth option to serve as a stopgap until infield prospects Alen Hanson, Max Moroff and Adam Frazier are Major League-ready.
Corey Hart – He is still on the team?
Next up will be a look at their arbitration-eligible players.
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