Who Are the Ten Best Pirates Free Agent Signings in the Nutting Era?

10-20-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Couple of friends of mine on Twitter were talking about how unrealistic the Free Agent signing suggestions have been for this club on social media, so I thought, hey, why not come up with the top 10 since Nutting officially took over as owner here in Pittsburgh.

Sounds fun right?

Well, really I just want to find a way to help typically reasonable people understand just how silly it is to think they’ll sign someone like Carlos Correa.

Now, I could go back further and you’d run into Reggie Sanders and I suppose I could put AJ’s comeback season in there, but this is where I landed. I’m sticking with the Nutting era because I think it shows just how out of whack expectations are. This isn’t a team I’d really try to build on yet, and in your heart of hearts you probably recognize that too, but check out the list and see how they fared in his tenure.

I’d also say, this list is why so many are so very protective of the prospect driven rebuild Cherington has begun. It’s clear at the very least that free agents aren’t going to save this franchise.

It’s not all doom and gloom, when they hit on someone, they often retained them, but going out and buying known homeruns just hasn’t been a thing, not here.

If I missed someone you think should have made the list, let me know, just please bother to look into their actual status as a free agent first please.


10. Matt Joyce – 1 Year $1 Million

In 2016 the Pirates needed a bat bench/outfielder and Matt Joyce signed a 1 year minor league deal with a baked in chance to win a spot in Spring, he did so. In fact he started his Pirates career hitting .360 with 5 dingers in his first 40 games. He’d set the record for pinch hit walks and led the league in pinch hit RBI with 15.

9. Jason Grilli – 1 Year $1.1 Million

Another minor league signing and another fortunate outcome. Grilli would go on to be the Pirates closer after signing a 2 year $6.75 Million deal and notably turning down more lucrative offers to stay. A 2013 All Star he became the first Pirates player since 1992 to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated (That used to be a big deal youngins). In 2013 he went 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA and was 33 for 35 in save appearances.

8. Jung Ho Kang – 4 Year $11 Million ($5 Million Posting Fee)

This went south fast once it went bad, but this was the largest international posting fee paid since Yu Darvish to the Rangers in 2011 and quite a departure for the Pirates. In his four seasons in Pittsburgh he only played in 297 games, but the power was very real, unfortunately so were the strikeouts and boorish behavior off the field. If there ever were a case of what could have been it’s Jung Ho.

7. Clint Barmes – 2 Year $10.5 Million

Ever since the Pirates traded Jack Wilson, short stop had been a sketchy place for the Pirates, Clint was a lock down defender and key leader for another young shortstop named Jordy Mercer who would learn a whole lot about the intricacies of being a dependable middle infielder in this league. Many would get frustrated at how much Clint Hurdle loved to use him but his steadying effect on the defense often paid for itself. He embraced the role as mentor and even resigned with the Pirates for an additional 2 million in 2014 knowingly as a backup to Mercer.

6. Kevin Correia – 2 Year $8 Million

Signed in 2011 Correia started his Pirates career as the opening day starter and performed reasonably well over his two seasons in black and gold going 24-22 with a 4.49 ERA. After the Pirates traded for Wandy Rodriguez in 2012 and bumped Correia to the bullpen he requested a trade that was never given. He was also selected to represent the Pirates in the 2011 All Star Game but didn’t appear in the game.

5. Edinson Volquez – 1 Year $5 Million

From struggling starter looking to enjoy some of the rebirth waters Francisco Liriano had enjoyed in Pittsburgh to starter in the Wild Card Game and lost 8-0. It was such a shame because his season was quite simply brilliant. 192 2/3 innings with 140 Ks, 13-7 record and a 3.04 ERA. You simply can’t ask for better from a marginal investment, if this list was bang for the buck he might be number one.

4. David Freese – 1 Year $3 Million

The Pirates signed David at the beginning of Spring Training in 2016, and if Jung Ho Kang had not been injured catastrophically the season before, it maybe never happens. The funny thing is Kang’s off field hijinks gave the club cause to extend Freese two more seasons for $11 Million with a club option for 2019. He became a vocal leader on the club and spoke up about things he didn’t like seeing in and around the club house. On a personal note, David took the time to talk to me back in 2019 after he retired from the game and really helped jump start what I’m doing today. I learned from him there is always more going on than what you see.

3. Garrett Jones – Minor League FA – $400,000

Jones went on to do some really good things in Pittsburgh despite his inauspicious start as a minor league free agent in 2009. He was the first Pirates player to hit the Allegheny river on the fly and hit ten bombs in his first month to be named NL Rookie of the Month. He’d go on to play for the Pirates until 2013 when he was DFA’d to make room for Jaff Decker of all people and was non-tendered a few days later.

2. Francisco Liriano – 2 Year $7 Million

That’s what his contract ended up being, he was signed to another 2 year deal that was voided after injuring his non throwing shoulder trying to scare his kids, you know, Pirates curse stuff. He’d re-up with the team in 2015 for 3 more years at $39 Million, once more in 2016 for $8.52 Million before being moved to the Blue Jays. He even came back in 2019 this time as an effective reliever for only 1.8 Million. If Frankie was a Phoenix, the Pirates had the magic dust to help him rise from the ashes. He and AJ Burnett led the pitching staff through those important years.

1. Russell Martin – 2 Year $17 Million

2013 came and the Pirates were ready to plug holes, Russell addressed their biggest by far, catching. He hit only .226 with 15 homeruns in 2013 but the leadership and handling of the pitching staff were keys to the success of both the 2013 and 2014 playoff teams. Hard to argue this is the best free agent in the Nutting era.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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