Busy arbitration deadline awaits Pirates
Nine players likely in for raises; Bucs could non-tender some
PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates continue to evaluate what free agents might be ideal fits to fill the club's remaining holes, there are several internal decisions still left to make.
In exactly two weeks, teams will have to decide whether to tender a contract to each player eligible for arbitration this winter. For the Pirates, that deadline will affect nine players. The list is down from 11 players, since Steve Pearce and Brandon Wood were already taken off the 40-man roster earlier this month.
Here is a look at the remaining arbitration-eligible players, and some of the factors that will go into the organization's decision with each:
Jason Grilli: Grilli might have resurrected his Major League career with his midseason arrival in Pittsburgh. Upon joining the organization, the right-handed reliever went on to post a 2.48 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. Grilli, 35, will remain affordable, even if the Pirates go the arbitration route with him. If he returns, Grilli would likely be a candidate to take on a setup role, given how well he fared in such a spot late last season.
Joel Hanrahan: There is no question that Hanrahan will be offered a contract for 2012. Rather, the biggest question surrounding the Pirates' closer is how much of a bump will he get in salary? Hanrahan and the Pirates avoided arbitration last winter by agreeing to a $1.4 million contract. But that was before Hanrahan became the full-time closer, before he was named an All-Star and before he finished a 40-save season. Hanrahan will get a big-time pay increase, but it's one the Pirates will be willing to pay given the contributions they expect from him.
Garrett Jones: Whether the Pirates are willing to keep Jones as his cost goes up will depend largely upon what the club sees as his fit and role moving forward. The Pirates still have no set answer at first base, though Jones remains in the mix to fill that opening. If the club is unable to sign an established first baseman to play every day, the Pirates could go the platoon route. In that case, Jones would be paired with a right-handed-hitting first baseman who could take the at-bats against left-handed pitching. If Jones is not going to get regular playing time at first, the Pirates will have to decide if it's worth paying him to be a bench player.
Jeff Karstens: Karstens is sure to get tendered a contract after the year he had in 2011. Karstens, who made $1.1 million this past season, made 26 starts and established a career high in wins (nine) and career low in ERA (3.38). The right-hander is in line for a sharp increase in salary, and the Pirates have little choice but to make room in their payroll for that, given that the organization is not stacked with many other established starting pitching options. Karstens' successful transition from a relief role to the rotation is going to make him much more expensive to retain.
Evan Meek: Though Meek battled injuries for much of 2011, he is expected to remain a part of the Pirates' long-term plans and should be offered a contract. The fact that Meek made only 24 appearances last season means that he won't be in line for a substantial salary increase. If he comes into 2012 healthy and pitching as he did in '10, Meek could turn out to be a steal for the Pirates, who need a reliable setup man in front of Hanrahan.
Charlie Morton: Morton's 2011 results put him in position to be a part of the Pirates' rotation for at least another year. Though Morton might miss the beginning of the 2012 season due to offseason hip surgery, he does have a place in next year's rotation. Morton made $441,000 last season, though arbitration should take that figure well over the $1 million mark. He is not at risk of being non-tendered.
Ross Ohlendorf: Ohlendorf has now had two straight forgettable seasons, and that has put his future in Pittsburgh in jeopardy. If the Pirates tender the arbitration-eligible right-hander a contract, Ohlendorf would be guaranteed no less than a $1.6 million salary in 2012. That seems a steep price to pay for a pitcher who has won just two games in 30 starts over the past two seasons. The fact that the Pirates haven't taken Ohlendorf off the roster yet might mean the club is considering retaining him. However, it still seems unlikely that the Pirates would tender Ohlendorf a contract knowing what the price would be for a pitcher who has not produced anywhere near expectations.
Chris Resop: Resop, who made $431,500 in 2011, is coming off his most successful season in the big leagues. His overall ERA suffered because of poor performances in May and August, but Resop did have some periods of dominance. Some of Resop's best performances came when he inherited multiple baserunners, which makes him an asset. If the Pirates don't believe they have another internal option capable of offering them the same ability, Resop would be an affordable pitcher to retain.
Jose Veras: Veras' future with the Pirates could be tied into the Pirates' decisions involving the other relievers on this list. It's unlikely that the Pirates are going to tender contracts to Grilli, Meek, Resop and Veras; rather, they are expected to hold on to two or three from this list. Veras had periods where he excelled as a setup man, but endured other stretches where his control waned. Whether the Pirates believe Veras can improve his appearance-to-appearance consistency will likely play a role in their decision.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.