Operation Offseason: Arbitration Decisions

10-12-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Baseball decides for us the order in which we have to attack the offseason. If you’re a playoff team, you’re thinking about these things too, but the likelihood your fans are is just about nil.

First you have players being released and others choosing free agency. Then you have the players who are eligible for arbitration and the non-tender deadline. Typically this deadline crops up in later November or early December and sometimes it’s rather surprising.

You’ll recall last year the Pirates chose to move on from Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl. Now, I saw them choosing one of these to jettison, but not both. It was aggressive, and probably should have educated us a bit prior to watching them make a snap judgement on Michael Chavis 9 games before the season ended.

Make no mistake, had he not been DFA’d, he’d be on this list and we’d be discussing, is he worth bringing back or is it so obvious they need to upgrade either internally or externally that a non-tender is coming. Clearly Ben Cherington’s answer was the latter.

Let’s get into who’s in question, the estimated figures (provided by MLBTR), and my thoughts as to what goes into each decision as well as which way I ultimately think they’ll go.

Keep squarely in mind, I wouldn’t have non-tendered Chad Kuhl last year, so my wishes and thoughts certainly have no guarantee of lining up with the Pirates.

Robert Stephenson – $1.9 MM

First, Stephenson had very little time here in Pittsburgh, in fact if I’m honest, I didn’t even know he had another year of arbitration available. He’s had a couple decent seasons, one for Cincinnati in 2019 and his 2021 with Colorado wasn’t bad either. None compared with what he laid down here in Pittsburgh. In 13 games, a terribly small sample size, he laid down an ERA of 3.38 and a WHIP of 0.825.

Now, that sample stacked up next to his career numbers ERA 4.90 and WHIP of 1.413, means very little except one thing, and that ‘s what Robert said himself. Robert openly talked to the media upon his arrival and simply said something along the lines of, I need help, and I’ve come here to get it.

He didn’t pitch for almost a week and a half after arriving as he was put in the lab by Oscar Marin and the results were pretty stunning really. He found velocity, he fine tuned his breaking stuff, I mean it was stark to what he was just doing out in Colorado before being DFA’d where he had an ERA of 6.04 and a WHIP of 1.478.

I look at this as almost a good will move by the Pirates. You help guys figure things out and send them back out into the world singing your praises in hopes of future benefit. Jose Quintana still openly credits Marin and the Pirates with turning his career around for instance.

Ray Searage did this quite a bit in his time with the Pirates, and it really did benefit them especially when trying to and ultimately succeeding in acquiring a guy like Edinson Volquez.

Now, do the Pirates feel they’ve helped Robert and want to keep him around for a season? My gut says no.

Miguel Andujar – $1.7 MM

I hesitate to go chapter and verse through what has happened with Miguel in his career. You all know he had a really good rookie campaign back in 2018 finishing second in the ROY voting. You all know the Yankees and his own health conspired to rob him of any real opportunity following that season.

He’s due a small raise from the 1.2 he earned this year, and counting this season he’ll have 2 more years of arbitration. Meaning the Pirates taking a swing here on a 28 year old player who’s done some good things in this league isn’t a real risk. If they really like him, cool, they can bring him back. If they don’t, they can move on and it’s really pretty painless.

They could see him as an outfielder, DH, maybe even first baseman, but one thing is abundantly clear…

Yes. They never pick him up and jettison Chavis if they weren’t already wholly convinced they were going to have him return. Look at this more like a cheap free agent pickup over the offseason, cause that’s how they see it.

Mitch Keller – $2.4 MM

Listen, I have a format to stick to ok. I could pretty easily just jump to the verdict section from the jump here. But…

This is Mitch’s first year of arbitration and if he simply repeats his body of work from 2022, including the poor start 2.4 is a song. I’m not sure the Pirates will let Keller get to arbitration at all honestly. I think there is real belief in the player here, and I also think this team wants to be rewarded for all the work they put into him.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t Ben Cherington’s pick, but he’s been a project from the first time he was watching his group of players practice at that training circle over in Altoona. That’s 3 full seasons of work, approaches, messages, trial and error, and I’m sure more than a few conversations that at least broached the subject of non-tendering this kid at this deadline too.

Ideally you find something in a kid before they reach pay up or shut up time, but when you find it and it times up, let’s just say the prospect of maybe only having him here for 3 more years, and let’s face it the real belief that if he gets where they think he can in 2023, they won’t be able to retain him gets mighty real.

He’ll start 2023 as the team’s number one, yes above Roansy, and 2.4 for that, no brainer.

Are you high? Yes

Duane Underwood Jr. – $1 MM

I’m going to start this by pissing most of you off. Underwood hasn’t been that bad here. Honestly.

That said, he’s nothing more than average either. In fact if you go by WAR he’s below average -0.5. He’s been a workhorse, jack of all trades type for the Pirates, but the Pirates can easily replace him and get similar production.

The only real reason to retain Underwood is if you believe the stuff would truly be better if his role was reduced or solidified, I personally don’t have that belief. A WHIP of 1.448 is just not good, and I think two seasons of seeing if the stuff ever becomes outs seems like enough to me.

I mean, he averages a strikeout per inning but a walk every two. I will say his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in 2022 of 2.92 is impressive, so there is room to believe he pitched better than his numbers.

Not to mention I think the Pirates crushed his arm since he’s been here.

I think they’ll move on here.

JT Brubaker – $2 MM

JT gave the Pirates 144 innings in 2022. I wish I could sit here and tell you they were all sharp or even most of them were, but I can’t. JT’s WHIP is 1.465 for 2022 largely bloated by his inflated and uncharacteristic walk numbers. 54 walks over 28 starts, now that was paired with 147 strikeouts too but still far too many.

When Brubaker pitched the defense always seemed to blow up behind him, and that’s reflected in the FIP of 3.92, but that walk total inflated the WHIP and made the errors or miscues hurt that much more.

Look, Brubaker isn’t a top line pitcher, but he’s still a pitcher with value. Even if over the course of the year they figure out he’s more of a bullpen guy, JT is a guy I want in the mix. An ERA of 4.69 shouldn’t be ignored, that’s simply not good enough, but let’s go over what the Pirates wanted to see from him this year before we pronounce him dead.

The Pirates wanted him to keep the ball in the park. In 2021 he allowed 28 homeruns in 124.1 innings. So JT went out and in 144 innings only gave up 17. The Bucs wanted more workload, so he added 20.1 innings.

He may not be a long term answer in this rotation, but make no mistake, he is one of their 5 best right now.

Absolutely, he’ll be back, and further, he was the second hottest name other GMs asked about in 2022 at the deadline. That doesn’t happen without stuff.

Kevin Newman – $2.8 MM

Oh Kevin, you can’t ever make things easy can you?

This is year 2 of arbitration for Kevin, and considering most of you have been ready to move on since 2020 I’m guessing swaying you to want to keep him won’t be easy.

1.1 WAR in 2022, .274 batting average, OPS of .687. Bottom line folks, he’s a decent player. He’ll be a major league player whether here or somewhere else for quite some time. Maybe not a starter, but this simply isn’t a guy who’s going to wash out of the league.

Even on this team, he’s probably a bench bat and glove and considering this salary should he get it, puts him in the top 5 or so salary wise, I’m not sure it’s something the team will want to do.

Kevin is probably a guy the team could trade, but they’d really have to tender him to do so and since the point is will they or won’t they offer him arbitration, it’s really moot as to whether they move him or not.

He’s almost 30, and clearly not part of the future here, but on a team that we all want to see progress, he’s the type of guy you want on your bench. A proven MLB player, who can come in and handle multiple positions and chip in on the offensive side, even if only with OBP.

This is for me the hardest choice of this entire list.

Let me start here, I won’t be mad either way, but I think they bring him back if only because they don’t trust their depth defensively.

For more on this subject, listen to Craig’s latest episode of Bucs in the Basement.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Operation Offseason: Arbitration Decisions

  1. Id say no to Stephenson Underwood and Newman Andujar is a definite YES Keller yes and Brubaker for now for two more yrs MAX


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