Pittsburgh Pirates agree to contracts, avoid arbitration with three of four eligible players

The Pittsburgh Pirates have successfully avoided arbitration by agreeing to contracts with two three of their four arb-eligible players.

As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Pirates have agreed to contracts with two out of their four eligible players in Gerrit Cole and Jordy Mercer. While it is important to note that information could still trickle out, at this time relievers Felipe Rivero and George Kontos appear to be headed to arbitration. (UPDATE: Kontos has agreed to terms.)

Here is a snapshot look at these four Pittsburgh Pirates’ current contract status, compared to what they earned last year and the MLB Trade Rumors projections for each player:

Pittsburgh Pirates 2018 Arbitration Snapshot

 2018 Salary2018 Projection2017 Salary

Let’s first talk about Rivero and Kontos’ cases. With Rivero, the Pirates might end up paying a bit more than the projected $3.1 million dollar salary that MLBTR has arrived at. “Nightmare” certainly enjoyed a season worthy of a raise, with a 2.47 FIP and 10.5 K/9 rate. He adeptly assumed a traditional closer role after Tony Watson‘s departure, and finished 40 total games out of his 73 appearances.

Though we are not privy to the figures that were exchanged, we can reasonably assume that the Pittsburgh Pirates would have liked to see some cost certainty with Rivero, who will enjoy a fourth year of arbitration as a Super Two player. With the arbitration board traditionally favoring saves and the closer role in general, a scenario in which Rivero can demand a high salary over the next three years is easily pictured.

Kontos is an interesting case, as he clearly put up solid numbers since coming to the Pittsburgh Pirates after being DFA’ed by the San Francisco Giants.  During his 15 games with Pittsburgh, Kontos infused the Pirates bullpen with deception and strikeout ability, helping to stabilize a unit that had been shaky prior to his arrival. The arbitration panel might penalize Kontos for his perceived struggle in the Bay prior to coming east.

UPDATE: remember at the top when I said that information could still trickle out? Well here you go:

Kontos’ figure is incredibly close to MLBTR’s estimate, and if he can continue to strike out 9+ hitters per nine, the Pittsburgh Pirates will get fair value back.

Cole’s figure a formality, where he plays is anything but

For the second year in a row, Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates avoided heading to the arbitration panel, with Cole getting a bit less than estimated again for the second year in a row.

There’s not much to say here other than getting a starting pitcher of Cole’s caliber — home run issues in 2017 be damned — for just $6.75 million is a steal, and other teams know it.

You may have heard a bit about Cole around these parts lately, so we’ll save the space, but it goes without saying that this salary figure does nothing but help Cole’s trade value, especially to teams looking to stay under the Luxury Tax.

Mercer makes out in last year

Jordy Mercer has been nothing but a stabilizing presence for the Pittsburgh Pirates since he broke into the major leagues. Though his defensive capabilities are often overstated, teams can do a lot worse than he at the shortstop position. Offensively, he is what he is at this point in his career: an average bat suited for the bottom third of the order. He did provide the Pirates with 14 home runs last year, a career high, but his OPS+ of 92 did not match his dinger production. For reference, an OPS+ of 100 is considered “average,” a figure which Mercer has topped just once (2013, where he tailled a 117 figure).

All of this is presented as a build up to a declaration of surprise that the Pirates would settle at such a relatively high figure. Again, there is no telling what might have happened at the panel, but of all of the Pirates’ cases, Mercer’s seemed, from here, as one the team might want to roll the dice on. As it stands, the Pirates will now pay Mercer, Sean Rodriguez and David Freese a combined $16.75 million in 2018.

Some might say that is an awful lot for an offensively limited shortstop and two part-time players. I would be inclined to agree, but it is out of necessity that the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves laying out such a relatively high price for such players. With prospects such as Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker still at least a full year away (at the earliest), and the Jung Ho Kang situation still casting a long shadow of doubt on third base, the club really has no other choice.

Photo credit – Daniel Decker

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)