Jeff Francis signed a minor league deal with the Reds last night. I have more to say about this, but I'm really, really busy right now. I'll post more this evening.
Prince Fielder is out of the NL Central on a ridiculous nine-year deal, which leaves precious few high-level free agents on the market. Two of them -- Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson -- are pitchers that certain bloggers wearing a Penguins shirt while sitting in a lab in North Carolina would like to see the Pirates show some interest in. Unfortunately, I don't see any way that the Bucs get Roy Oswalt on a semi-cheap one-year deal because it looks like Oswalt is mainly interested in pitching for a contender in 2012. And since the Pirates haven't expressed any interest at all in Jackson, I doubt anything will happen there.
Meanwhile, Neal Huntington keeps saying that he's not trying to trade Andrew McCutchen and people keep reading that as "Neal Huntington might trade Andrew McCutchen (via MLBTR).
Mike Fast, who's been doing absolutely cutting-edge work with PitchFX at Baseball Prospectus over the last year, has been hired by the Astros to work in their front office. The 'Stros also tried to lure Keith Law away from ESPN and have shown a considerably smarter approach since Jeff Luhnow was hired to be their GM. Which means that they're no longer one of the worst-run front offices in baseball. It's a good thing for Pirate fans that they're on their way out of the NL Central, I think.
Before I get into this post, I want to take a second to highly recommend Pirates Prospects' 2012 Prospect Guide. The 2011 version was invaluable to me when I was in Bradenton last spring and throughout the year as I tried to keep up with the Pirates' minor league system. The 2012 book is every bit as comprehensive. I can't imagine anyone anywhere knows more about the Pirates' minor leaguers than Tim and his staff, and the fact that this book is produced by an independent blog is awesome. If you're interested in the Pirates' minor league system at all, it's worth your $20.
John Sickels released his minor league organizational rankings today and he put the Pirates' 12th. Even though he did it with the caveat that it's not something he's done before and that he's a bit uncomfortable splitting hairs between every single team, it's a good jumping off point to discuss the state of the Pirates' system as the beginning of the 2012 season draws nearer every day.
When the rest of the lists come out (I'm talking mainly about Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, though FanGraphs will have a list and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com will likely do one, too), I'd expect the Pirates to probably finish, on average, pretty close to where Sickels put them yesterday. BP's Jason Parks (who doesn't do their prospect lists, but who has plenty of prospect knowledge and who does their podcast with BP's designated Prospect Guy Kevin Goldstein, which I'll talk a bit more about in a bit) said very late in the summer that he thought the Pirates would be in consideration to be one of his top ten systems in baseball (via) and from what I can tell, I think that most people will probably have the Pirates' system pegged somewhere in the back half of the top ten or the first half of the second ten.
This is pretty objectively a good thing, and many Pirate fans reacted positively when Sickels' list came out. On the other hand, though, I've put very little stock into the poor rankings the Pirates' system has gotten in past years, so it'd be a double standard for me to just trumpet a better ranking without asking questions. What does it mean, really? How good is the 12th best system in baseball? Should a team that always picks in the top five and spends money like crazy on the draft be happy with a 7-12 placing? Does it matter even a little bit how a farm system ranks?
For perspective, this is how Sickels writes up the 11th-13th best farm systems on his list:
11) Boston Red Sox: Large group of B- types who can improve. Hitting stronger than pitching at this point.
12) Pittsburgh Pirates: Heavy draft investments slowly-but-steadily raising the talent level in this system.
13) Colorado Rockies: Middle of the pack at this stage, two definite impact talents and a large group of C+ types who can improve.
B-minus types that can improve. C-plus types that can improve. In the Neal Huntington era, though, the Pirates have picked second, fourth, second, and first overall in the draft. They've spent a huge amount of money in the draft in the last few years, but look at how they rank compared to other teams that also spend a ton of money. The Royals are well above them, they rank on par with the Red Sox, and they're only above the Nationals (14) because the Nats just gutted their system to pick up Gio Gonzalez. No one else has spent within $10 million of the Pirates since 2007 on the draft. If you skip past the Orioles (who are fifth), the Pirates' system is out-ranked by the next five teams on the list. Put more simply, the Pirates have spent $52 million in draft bonuses since 2007. Of the ten teams that spent $35 million or more, their minor league system ranks eighth and it's ninth if you consider the trade the Nationals just made.
Now, I'm not pointing this out to be critical just for the sake of being critical. If you really like Robbie Grossman and Starling Marte, the Pirates' list grades out better. If you think there's still some hope for Stetson Allie because the Pirates' have had good luck with pitchers that have control problems, the Pirates' list grades out better. If you think Tony Sanchez's 2011 season was a fluke that he'll bounce back from, the Pirates' list grades out better. The problem is that this goes both ways. If you think that Jameson Taillon or Gerrit Cole will flame out before they get to Pittsburgh, if you think that Marte is all flash and no substance or that Grossman is all numbers and no flash, if you think that Allie and Sanchez are fundamentally flawed prospects, then the Pirates' system grades out pretty poorly.
When Goldstein and Parks talked about the Pirates' system on their podcast, the word that kept getting used was top-heavy. The Pirates score well because they have three young pitchers with just about limitless potential (Taillon, Cole, Heredia), but behind them there's a lot of dreaming to do, even with the Starling Martes and Josh Bells. When you consider that the three guys at the top of the list are pitchers that 1.) would otherwise be in high school, 2.) would otherwise be a college sophomore and 3.) hasn't thrown a professional pitch yet, well, you can see why I've got some reservations.
That doesn't mean that the Pirates are a dead-end system. Imagine the perception of the Pirates' system in a year's time of Gerrit Cole makes a few electric appearances with the Bucs in September and Taillon climbs to Double-A with a strong year and Grossman follows up his breakout with another good season and Sanchez bounces back with a strong showing split between Indy and Pittsburgh and Marte matures at the plate in his Triple-A debut and Bell mashes in the low minors and Allie finds himself a bit and Von Rosenberg continues the strides he made late in 2011 and Kingham makes a strong jump to full season ball. They could just as easily go the other way, though, and it's easy to see that the difference between 12th and 2nd or 22nd isn't huge. I think 10th-12th is probably exactly where the Pirates should be right now based on the talent they have in their system, but as was true in the past, it's much more important where they rank in 12 months.
Here's a two-tweet sequence from Jerry Crasnick on Friday:
Lefty Jeff Francis is starting to attract more interest from teams in the market for a starting pitcher.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) January 20, 2012
You'll notice, of course, that none of these teams are the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have seemed interested in Francis since the start of the winter, but there's been very little word on that front since Erik Bedard signed. They were also almost completely uninterested in Paul Maholm, a similar but better pitcher that signed for a reasonable price.
It's impossible to say for now whether or not the Pirates are completely done dealing this winter, but at this point they've been silent for six weeks and it's easy to think that they're probably not planning on doing much more.
Carlos Pena is headed back to the Rays on a one-year/$7.25 million deal, Jon Heyman is reporting today. That's less than the $10 million he made with the Cubs last year. The Pirates never even feigned interest in Pena this winter (at least not as near as I could tell), and so it's probably not worth wondering what they would've had to pay him to come to Pittsburgh. Between this and the Derrek Lee news, I'd say that we can be pretty certain that the Pirates will open up 2012 with some kind of Garrett Jones/Casey McGehee/Nick Evans platoon at first base.
Meanwhile, Bill James has decided to rank the 100 best pitchers' duels of 2011. The Pirates make the list three times: there are two Jeff Karstens starts and a Charlie Morton start on there. Had you told me on January 20, 2011 that Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens would be involved in three of the 1,000 best pitchers' duels of 2011, I probably would've been excited.
If you, like me, live outside of an MLB market and were hoping that Major League Baseball would revise its blackout policy to make it possible for you to actually be able to watch games involving all 30 teams, you'll be disappointed this morning to see that Maury Brown is reporting that the policy will remain in effect for 2012. In my case, this means that I can never, ever watch the Pirates play the Nationals or Orioles unless I go to DC. It also means that I'll never see Stephen Strasburg pitch unless he pitches on Sunday Night Baseball, FOX Saturday baseball, or I move to another part of the country.
Jerry Crasnick says that there are two big league GMs that think that Derrek Lee will retire if he doesn't get "the right deal" this winter. In the short-term, this means that you can pretty much cross Lee off the list for the Pirates, because the Pirates offered him arbitration and are therefore probably willing to pay him more than most other teams are, so money isn't really a hurdle here and Lee's looking for something more than that. In the long-term, it means that the Pirates wouldn't get a supplemental pick for Lee in this coming summer's draft.
I doubt this means much right now, but you may want to file it away for the future: the Brewers are saying that they're "way over" budget for 2012.
And this is a couple days old by now, but it'll be interested to see how Yu Darvish's deal (six years/$60 million) affects the market for guys like Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson. Darvish was expected to get in the neighborhood of $70 million from the Rangers -- close to Edwin Jackson's reported $12 million price tag -- and the fact that he signed for quite a bit lower may lower the prices on some of the other free agent pitchers as well. If the Pirates are interested in any of them. Of course, we don't really know if they are or not, so, again, this is just one of those things to keep in mind for the next ten days or so while the last part of free agency plays out.
I spent quite a bit of time over the last 24 hours trying to figure out exactly what I should do with WHYGAVS in protest of SOPA/PIPA, the two censorship laws being debated in Congress that threaten to fundamentally change the internet as we know it. I thought about shutting down the blog for the day and putting up a blackout page, but because this site is something much more personal to me, I'd rather leave the site up and make a personal appeal.
This is something that really, truly matters to me. A free and open internet has changed the way that we live life in the 21st century; it's changed the way we interact with the world around us, it's changed the way knowledge is passed, it's changed the way we share our lives with our family and friends. Think of how the internet has changed life for the better over the last five or ten years and consider what it might make possible in the future. Piracy and intellectual property theft are huge problems on the internet today, but burning down a forest to get rid of one sickly tree is never, ever the solution.
If you have just a few minutes today, please take the time to contact your elected officials and tell them that you oppose these laws (you can go here to send a form letter). It might not seem like one person can make a difference here, but every voice added to what is likely to be the biggest protest in the history of the internet will make it just a little bit louder.
It's the time of year where we get tons of non-news all at once! Evan Meek joined Jeff Karstens in avoiding arbitration today, signing an $875,000 contract.
That leaves two guys left without deals: Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee. According to Rob Biertempfel, here are the terms the two sides have exchanged:
#Pirates exchange salary figures with Garrett Jones ($2.25M/$2.5M) and Casey McGehee ($2.725M/$2.35M).— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) January 18, 2012
There's not a whole lot to say here because not a huge difference in the figures for either player. I'm guessing that the team will setlle up with both guys relatively painlessly. I do think it's kind of funny that the Pirates traded for McGehee and still can't agree with him on a deal, but since it's only a $375k difference, it's really not a big deal.
The Pirates avoided arbitration with Jeff Karstens today, signing at one-year deal for $3.1 mllion (per Rob Biertempfel). There's very little analysis to be done on these sorts of one-year deals, since there's usually a pretty narrow range that the salaries are likely to fall into given experience and performance. Karstens is getting a bit more than expected here and he would've made for an interesting arbitration case given the gulf between his ERA (3.38) and his FIP/xFIP (4.29/4.00). That said, it's understandable why the Pirates would want to avoid exactly this sort of arbitration case. Karstens was quite a bit better last year than he was in the past and arguing over how much better he was seems like the sort of counterproductive exercise better left for bloggers and private front office conversations about internal evaluations. In the short term, it's probably just easier for the Pirates to offer up a few hundred thousand more dollars and keep their players happy rather than fight over it in this kind of situation.