Friday at 1 PM was a deadline of sorts, but not the hard cutoff that many perceive it to be. It was simply the set time in which teams and arbitration eligible players, who had been tendered a contract back on December 2nd, were required to present their respective salaries to the Major League Baseball Front Office in an attempt to come to an agreement on contract for the upcoming season.
As we have seen before, as recent as this year with Jameson Taillon, Eric Gonzalez and Michael Feliz, these negotiations can be worked out anytime between the beginning of the off-season up until a scheduled arbitration hearing in February. So, even the 13 players, who have yet to come to an agreement with their team, can still avoid arbitration up until the point where both sides decide to walk into a room to face off against each other; letting an panel of arbitrators decide exactly what the players service is worth. Many players, and team alike, try to avoid this final step due to the unpleasant nature of trying to prove your worth, while listening to your employer talk about all your shortcomings.
As the off-season began the Pirates were estimated to have as many as 20 arbitration eligible players. This overwhelming number was methodically whittled down through designations for assignment, along with the three previously mentioned agreements to get the a manageable figure of nine. While there were some arguments as to how this amount could have been lowered even further, such as questions surrounding Kyle Crick’s decreased velo last season, Cherington chose tender contracts to the remaining players.
As it came to be, General Manager Ben Cherington and the nine remaining arb-eligible Pirates players were no different than most in this situation as the worked together to come to a compromise on contract for the 2021 season; avoiding an arbitration hearing for at least one more year. In all the Pirates handed out contracts totaling $20.63 million, with Joe Musgrove ($4.45 million) and Adam Frazier ($4.3 million) receiving the highest deals in their second year of arbitration. Ultimately Pittsburgh fell toward the top of MLB Trade Rumors original estimates of between $14.9-$22.8 million, which is a little surprising based on the unknown ramifications of a quirky 2020 season. Nevertheless, the Pirates and Cherington have jumped over that proverbial hurdle and can now put more focus on the roster decisions that have to be, or could be, made leading up to Spring Training, which is scheduled to begin in approximately a little over a month.
Some moves that Cherington will make are necessary in the sense that they will need enough players available to perform drills and workouts in Pirate City, while others are simply for potential depth on the Major and Minor League rosters; specifically AAA Indianapolis as their season is currently set to begin on time as well. In fact Cherington made on such move on Friday by signing an experienced utility player, Wilmer Difo, formerly of the Washington Nationals to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Of course he has the opportunity to make the club to begin the year, but I believe it was a slight overreaction by some to say that this signifies the end of Adam Frazier in Pittsburgh. Could he still be gone? Yes, but the signing of Difo will have little or nothing to do with it. He isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the Open Day Roster yet. To me this is more of a JB Shuck type move (no offense to JB), where you are looking for guys that could ultimately fill out the lineup in Indianapolis , than it is to find replacement for Frazier or Erik Gonzalez, Cole Tucker or Kevin Newman. This is also not the last one of its kind you will see over the next few days and weeks as their are still a vast number of available free agents on the open market. Add in the non-roster invitations to Spring Training for players already in the Pirates Organization and you have the makings of a busy month for transactions page.
Needless to say there are other types of moves that could happen soon, but are totally not necessities, including a trade (or two or three) and the signing of free agent(s) to big league deals. As an example, even before the ink dried on Joe Musgrove’s contract the continued possibility of an impending acquisition of Musgrove, most likely by a perceived contender, was being dangled in front of Pirates Fans.
While I still see this as a likely scenario, it is far from a guarantee. As is the decision to bring in a free agent that will do little more than compete for a spot on the team. It is unquestionable that there are holes in this roster, however, I don’t look for them to be filled in the next month or so; more like patched and sanded down with position battles set at several key positions, especially up the middle.