Replacing via Free Agency

Over the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to replace multiple positions with free agent players.  The positions, which hadn’t been adequately filled in some time, were in dire need of replacement due to the sub-par performances of the previous occupant.  One of the first positions the Pirates took care of was the left hander in the Pirates’ rotation.

The Pirates granted Paul Maholm free agency on October 31st, leaving the Pirates in a position of need: they “needed” to have a left-hander starting.  Neal Huntington and the rest of the Pirates’ front office combed through the free agent marked and found southpaw Erik Bedard and the two sides formalized a contract on December 7th, 2011.  The deal looked great coming in, as Bedard had pitched well in 2011 for the Red Sox and Mariners, going through 129⅓ innings with an ERA of 3.62 while allowing 1.28 base runners per inning on his own accord, striking out 125 for a K/9 of 8.7.  Compared with Paul Maholm, who threw 162⅓ innings through 26 starts with an ERA of 3.66 and a 1.29 WHIP, while striking out 97, or 5.4 per nine innings, the two pitchers look rather similar.  Perhaps their value in 2011 is better shown with a single WAR statistic.  Paul Maholm had a 2.1 WAR, making him a marginally above-average pitcher last season, whereas Bedard’s 2.4 value in that area placed him slightly higher than Maholm.  In 2012, however, Maholm’s exceptionally high xFIP has caught up to him, forcing his ERA to skyrocket to 4.82 despite having nearly the same statistics.  In fact, Maholm’s strand rate has risen to 74.2%, higher than every year except a fluky 2008 season, where Maholm’s ERA was 3.71.  Maholm’s WAR this season has been 0.0, meaning that a typical AAA call-up or a waiver claim could have the same success for a fraction of the cost.  Bedard, however, is performing the same way he did last season, having a 3.72 ERA through 11 starts with a 3.68 xFIP.  Bedard’s WAR has been 0.9, which isn’t league-average if it has been an entire season, but hovering around there for under 60 games into the season.  Neal Huntington and the front office made a great decision on signing Bedard and letting Maholm find greener pastures with a different club (although that hasn’t worked out for him).

The Pirates also granted free agency to shortstop Ronny Cedeno on October 31st and went out and signed shortstop Clint Barmes relatively quickly, reaching an agreement on November 21st.  Barmes’ contract is the biggest free agent contract in Pittsburgh Pirates history, signing to a 2-year, $10.5 million contract.  In 2011, Barmes hit .244/.312/.386 with 12 home runs, which translates to a .698 OPS and a 93 adjusted OPS+.   Cedeno’s line was similar, hitting .249/.297/.339 with two homers, with an OPS of .636 and an adjusted OPS+ of 78.  Both players were decent fielders, with Barmes having a UZR of 7.9, or a UZR/150 of 10.8 and Cedeno having 5.9 and 6.8 in those areas.  Value-wise, Barmes’ WAR value of 3.1 put him as being a “good player” using FanGraphs’ scale (I highly recommend you read the entire thing, great WAR primer).  A WAR of 1.4, which is what Ronny Cedeno had in 2011, means that Cedeno should have been a role player for the Bucs instead of a starter.  In 2012, the story is somewhat the same for both players.  Clint Barmes, or as I call him, Cant Harmus, has been horrendous for the Pirates.  The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything: 42.  Clint Barmes’ adjusted OPS+: 43.  On the bright side, it will only take Barmes lowering his .491 OPS to .480 to be the Pirates’ answer!  But that number isn’t the only shocking number.  His .176/.200/.291 slash line is absolutely abysmal to even look at, not to mention that he’s struck out in 25.3% of his at bats (40 times).  He hasn’t taken his struggles at the plate into the field, however, having a UZR of 4.1, which translates to a 14.1 UZR/150.  His value to the Pirates has actually been detrimental to their success, having a -0.2 WAR, which puts him below a scrub and means that a waiver claim could, and probably would, outperform Barmes.  Ronny Cedeno has been a bench player for the New York Mets this season, currently on the DL.  In 78 plate appearances, Cedeno has hit .231/.351/.308, which puts his adjusted OPS+ at 86, double what Clint Barmes’ is.  Value wise, Ronny Cedeno has allowed the Mets to collect 0.3 more wins this season in 25 games played.  Basically, Clint Barmes has been horrible this season.  If I were Clint Hurdle, I would give him a few weeks to bat his weight of 205 and then leave him out of the lineup.

Last season’s catching position was a dilemma for the Pirates.  Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder both went down early in the season, limiting Doumit to 57 games behind the plate and Snyder to 23.  Dusty Brown (bottom left) was called up but hit .074/.107/.074 in nine starts at the position before Wyatt Torregas was recalled.  Torregas was even more of a failure, reaching base exactly zero times in ten innings before being outrighted off the 40-man roster when the Pirates acquired catcher Mike McKenry from the Boston Red Sox in a trade.  McKenry fared well behind the plate, at least compared with any other option, hitting .222/.276/.322 while hitting two home runs with decent defense, saving 1.1 runs by simply blocking pitches.  The position as a whole hit .260/.320/.382 while collecting a WAR of 2.0, so they were average over the course of a 162-game season.  The Bucs decided to solve that problem by signing Rod Barajas to a one-year contract with a club option for the 2013 MLB season.  Barajas had hit .230/.287/.430 with 16 long balls in 2011, so Barajas would add a bit of pop to the lineup.  After struggling during the first month of the season, hitting just .143/.222/.184 in the month of April, Barajas has collected himself and gone on to hit .240/.301/.413 with five home runs in the season so far.  In May and the first two games of June, Barajas’ .306/.354/.569 slash line has contributed  immensely to the Pirates’ 17-14 record since May 1.  Barajas has contributed 0.3 wins to the Pirates this season, giving him a $WAR of $1.4M, prorated to $4.2M over 162 games, which is $1M higher than his real contract amount in 2011 of $3.25M.

Overall, the Pirates’ front office has added a few quality pieces to the team via free agency over the winter, two of whom are currently contributing in the Pirates’ effort to end a 19-year losing streak.


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