By John Perrotto
When the movie version of Moneyball opening in theatres Friday night–I saw the preview version last weekend and highly recommend seeing it–it is a fitting time to play pretend general manager.
If I were the GM of the Pirates, I would be faced with plenty of decisions as I looked forward to 2012. So many decisions are needed to be made, in fact, that it will take three articles to lay out exactly what I would do.
Today in the first part we’ll look at what needs to be done with the seven players who could be could eligible for free agency once the World Series ends. Later, we’ll break down the 11 arbitration-eligible players then finish the series by looking at what trades or free agent signings could make the Pirates better in 2012.
The most pressing decisions concern the four potential free agents who have club options in their contracts for 2012. If the options aren’t picked up, they can become free agents.
Left-hander Paul Maholm’s is worth $9.75 million, catcher Chris Snyder’s is worth $7.5 million and shortstop Ronny Cedeno’s is worth $3 million. Catcher Ryan Doumit’s contract stipulates that a pair of options must be exercised, one for $7.25 million in 2011 and the other for $8.25 million in 2012.
The decision with Maholm is difficult. He has been a good soldier for the Pirates for many years and was very durable through his seven seasons until suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in August. His 6-14 record this year belies a fine 3.66 ERA in 26 starts and he almost certainly would have surpassed 200 innings.
Maholm has been asked to pitch near the top of the Pirates’ rotation over the years when, in reality, he’d been a No. 4 starter on a good team. If the Pirates had more pitching depth, it would be easy to let him go. However, they need a veteran anchor, so I would swallow hard and pay him the $9.75 million.
Snyder would be an ideal guy to pair with Michael McKenry behind the plate in something like a 95/65 split in games started. However, the fact that Snyder played in just 34 games this season before needing back surgery makes it too risky to pick up the option.
Instead, I would attempt to either trade for a catcher or sign one in free agency. If that didn’t work then I would try to persuade Snyder to come back on a one-year contract at a lower salary, say $3 million, with performance bonuses that would push the worth to $7.5 million if he stays healthy in 2012.
If I struck out on the trade market and free agency and Snyder had no interest, I would then turn to Plan C. That would be Doumit, whose options I would definitely not pick up because of his defensive deficiencies.
However, Doumit is having a fine season offensively as he is hitting .300 with a .479 slugging percentage in 230 at-bats. I would offer him a straight one-year, $3-million contract with no incentives mainly because the Pirates don’t have a No.1 catcher on their roster or anyone close to being that kind of player in the farm system.
When it comes to Cedeno, I would make a decision that would not be popular with the fans as I would pick up his option.
Love him or hate him, Cedeno’s $3 million salary in 2012 would be very reasonable. Furthermore, he has improved dramatically with the glove this season and the advanced defensive metrics bear that out. Bringing Cedeno back would also give Chase d’Arnaud a much-needed extra year of development at Class AAA Indianapolis.
The Pirates’ other potential free agents are right-handed reliever Jason Grilli, first baseman Derrek Lee and outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
Grilli has done a fine job since being signed off the roster of Philadelphia’s Class AAA Lehigh Valley farm club in July, going 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA in 25 games while striking out 32 in 29 2/3 innings. Grilli is an extremely bright guy and knows his place in the game as a journeyman. He would agree to come back on a one-year deal for $1 million and be worth the price.
The 36-year-old Lee has been reborn since the Pirates acquired him from Baltimore in a trade, hitting .363 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in 80 at-bats. Re-signing Lee for 2012 would be my top priority but the big problem is that Lee seems to have no desire to remain in Pittsburgh.
Regardless, I’d give him my best sales job and persuade the organization is in better shape that is has looked since he arrived in late July right when the Pirates started plummeting in the standings. Then I would pique his interest with a one-year offer for $10 million.
It is a lot of money for a small-market club to pay an aging slugger and the Pirates have been burned before in making that type of move. However, I have a feeling that Lee has one really good year left and the Pirates need a middle-of-the-order bat to team with center fielder Andrew McCutchen in the worst way.
Ludwick hasn’t made much of an impact since being acquired in San Diego in trade, hitting .231 with two homers and nine RBIs in 104 at-bats. It’s an easy decision to say goodbye to him since, as GM, I would commit to a starting outfield of Alex Presley in left, McCutchen in center and Jose Tabata in right in 2012.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball since 1988