Are there any non-tender candidates on the Pittsburgh Pirates?

The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players is fast approaching. Are any of the the four eligible Pittsburgh Pirates a non-tender candidate?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have four players who are eligible for arbitration during the 2017-2018 offseason. As shown in our daily Hot Stove Handbook, here they are with their MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration estimate:

The deadline to tender a contract to tender a contract to these four players — Friday, December 1st —  is just two days away as of this writing. Could any of these four serve as a non-tender candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Before we answer that question fully, let’s get one thing out of the way. Obviously, Gerrit Cole and Felipe Rivero will be tendered contracts. Though there is some level of doubt — quite small at this point, but doubt nonetheless — about Cole’s fate between now and when he hits free agency, he is still a very talented starting pitcher as well as a controllable asset.

Rivero is entering the peak years of his career and the club is more than set with him as their preferred late-inning option for the foreseeable future. As they should be.

So, in reality, we are asking ourselves if either George Kontos or Jordy Mercer can find themselves without a contract offer on Friday. Let’s take a look at each of their cases.

A change of the guard at shortstop?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have become comfortable with Mercer. He is a lock for solid defense at the shortstop position, and a wRC+ of around 90. He’s got proven 10-15 home run potential, and teams could certainly do worse than Mercer with a bottom of the lineup-type bat.

But is comfort worth an estimated $6.5 million? That’s a tough pill to swallow for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of course, that figure is actually right around market value for a bat that provides anywhere north of 1.0 in fWAR, which Mercer has bested in four of his five full Major League seasons.

Before we can answer as to whether or not he should be tendered a contract, we have to first ask two hard questions. The first – is there enough of a trade market to justify the Pirates tendering Mercer, only to shop him? The waters are murky here, as Mercer has limited multi-positional flexibility — he has played shortstop exclusively for three straight years — and doesn’t carry much value as a bat.

There could be a market for Mercer as a stopgap or bench-bat option that could then be flipped at the deadline. Despite his perceived shortcomings, Mercer is the type of player that many contenders would bring in for a stretch run.

If not Mercer…then who?

Second, the Pittsburgh Pirates must look in the mirror and ask themselves who they could rely on at short in a hypothetical Mercer-free world.

Rivero is entering the peak years of his career and the club is more than set with him as their preferred late-inning option

And that is a hell of a question. We can rule out Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker coming up from the minors to take his spot. Newman is at least half a season away. Even though he took great strides this past season, Tucker has not yet had an at-bat above Double-A.

That leaves us with some conglomeration of Josh Harrison, Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez and Max Moroff to helm the position. The hard truth is that none of these players serve as an everyday — or at the very least, close to everyday — option at short. Harrison has all of 37 appearances at short for his career. Frazier has just seven innings at short and, plainly, his future is not there.

Rodriguez has a full season’s worth — 160 games and 1,075.1 innings — of time at short for his career but has committed 25 errors across those appearances. He did incur only four during his 177.2 innings there in 2016. Moroff had 16 appearances at short last season including 10 starts. While he certainly did not embarrass himself there, he too is a less than ideal option.

All of that above is to say that if the Pirates decide to use an in-house option at shortstop in Mercer’s stead, it would very likely be on a platoon/rotating basis. That could have its advantages – it could be a way to get regular at bats for Frazier and Rodriguez — but is less than ideal.

It is for that reason alone that the Pittsburgh Pirates will all but certainly tender Mercer a contract. Whether they should is up for debate, especially for those that might like to see his projected $6.5 million salary be spent elsewhere.

The $2.7 million bullpen man

George Kontos was a revelation in his 15 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He posted a 1.84 ERA/2.61 FIP while striking out 9.2 hitters per nine.

We recently talked about Kontos’ deception on these pages, and how it brought some much needed strikeout ability to the Pittsburgh bullpen. Here’s the money quote:

Though his “audition’ for 2018 was a short one at just 14.2 IP, Kontos was able to post a 0.3 fWAR in that short amount of time, as well as a 2.61 FIP and a 9.2 K/9. He had a swinging strike rate of 16.2 percent, and his O-swing was a respectable 33.7 percent. Talk about checking off some boxes.

True, Kontos gives the Pirates a live arm in the bullpen, but will the team balk at paying him north of $2.5 million? The answer might come down to resource allocation. It is a harsh reality that the Pittsburgh Pirates will have limited resources to pour into the 2018 club, and Kontos could become a casualty if the team feels other needs are more pressing.

However, much like Cole, Kontos is a controllable asset at a reasonable price. That alone provides enough value to warrant a contract tender. That might change this time next year, hinging on his 2018 performance.

In the end, beyond Kontos, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ arbitration decisions may not contain much debate. Unlike the team’s last big-name non-tenders — Pedro Alvarez and Jeff Locke — there are no major issues to consider such as Alvarez’s defense or prolonged periods of poor performance as was the case with Locke.

Instead, the team is stuck in murky waters with two out of their four arb-eligible players. As such, maybe it is best for the club to wade the waters of the process.

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years.

Jason’s previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA)

When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)

  • redrage97

    Mercer is certainly a candidate, but then you run the risk of loosing him. Hopefully there is some negotiation going on to bring him back at a similar rate than last year. say 4.5M. maybe add in a option for next year at 4.75 or 5M with a 500k buy out as insurance?

    If they pick up someone like Nunez they can flat non-tender but then they’d still have a whole at third.

    Ideally they get someone like Cozart for under 40m/3 year, sign nunez for 12M/2year non-tender mercer and release Kang from his contract so he can play internationally. by letting Mercer/Kang go that would be ~8m off the books while adding 52M over 3 years. both players probably getting better offers though.. and kang really isnt’ being paid anyway.. but they still have to plan on it just in case.

  • redrage97

    “It is a harsh reality that the Pittsburgh Pirates will have limited resources to pour into the 2018 club”

    While true, it is true for every team out there. MLBTR estimates the payroll to be at 103.3M after options and arbitration. I estimate the payroll ceiling to be 120M given what we think we know from previous season’s budgets with a realistic of more like 110-115M giving them some wiggle room, there are other places they can look to free up money if they have to.

    no way you don’t tender Kontos. previous to ’17 he had three pretty successful years for the giants before having troubles in ’17, when he got to pittsburgh he turned it back around. Add on the fact that the pirates need some average+ arms he is a huge need.

  • Norm Cubellis

    I think you tender Mercer with an eye toward trading him at the deadline. Frazier is not a great fielder who was moved off of shortstop a couple of years ago in the minors. He is barely adequate at second but makes sense there if Harrison plays some third. Rodriquez is good at a number of positions but not great at any….not an everyday shortstop, His career batting is not even as good as Mercer. I think Moroff makes some sense at shortstop, since he started his career there and has played it some in the minors recently. He showed a decent bat in the second half last year and good on base results even though he strikes out a lot. He and Newman could fight it out for the starting job in the second half. Tucker seems to be the long term answer, hopefully ready by mid 2019.