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Pirates Facing Decisions On Seven Players

The Pirates need to decide by tonight whether to tender contracts to seven players: Oliver Perez, Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, Ryan Vogelsong, Humberto Cota, Craig Wilson and Jody Gerut. They are expected to tender contracts to all seven players.

You may remember that the Pirates also faced decisions about seven players last year, and they offered contracts to all of them, including Daryle Ward and Brian Meadows.

Memo to Dave Littlefield: You don't have to give raises to fungible players! In this case, I'm thinking of Humberto Cota. Say what you will about his clutch-ness last year; he would have helped the team a lot more by simply hitting well. Instead, he was dreadful at the plate. He might be some kind of good influence on his friend Perez, but that's not a good enough reason. The Pirates already have one fairly good catcher in Ryan Doumit who's already in the majors, and another in Ronny Paulino who doesn't need to stay in the minors anymore. The Pirates do need some sort of insurance policy in the very likely event that either Doumit or Paulino gets injured, but that's what minor-league contracts are for.

Unless Littlefield thinks he can make a trade later, I wouldn't give a contract to Josh Fogg either. Fogg may be a veteran, but he has posted ERAs above 5.00 in two of the last three seasons, and unlike Kip Wells, he doesn't have the performance record or the stuff to make one think he can improve much. In other words, he's as replaceable as can be. True, the Pirates did just trade two starters, and true, a team with lots of young starters needs to have lots of options because young starters tend to get hurt a lot. But I'd still much rather see another young pitcher or Victor Santos starting games for the Pirates rather than Fogg at $2 million plus.

Other Potential 2006 Pirates Starters, in Approximate Order of Desirability

Zach Duke
Paul Maholm
Oliver Perez
Ian Snell
Kip Wells
Sean Burnett
Tom Gorzelanny
Victor Santos
John VanBenschoten
Salomon Torres
Ryan Vogelsong
Mike Connolly

There are a lot of question marks there, but the point is that there really are a lot of them. If a few of the question marks mess up their arms or fail to perform or fail to recover from injuries (and that's likely), it's not as if the Pirates are going to run out. And it's not as if Fogg is immune from these pitfalls, either, particularly the one about not performing. The most important difference between Fogg and most of the other names on this list is that Fogg has no upside whatsoever.

As for the possibility of a trade, I'll believe it when I see it. As just pointed out today, the Phillies just traded a much more interesting pitcher in Vicente Padilla for a player to be named later, so I can't believe Fogg will have much value on the trade market.

One might ask what the Pirates should do with this extra money, since they seem to be having problems signing free agents who are actually good. My answer is: anything. Spend it on drafting and development. Overpay for a star. Or take on salary in trades. Don't spend money on pointless players just because you can.

Contracts for the other five players are all defensible, I think. Vogelsong and Gerut are borderline cases. Vogelsong's relatively strong second half gives me some hope that he can be an asset in the bullpen, and it's his first year of arbitration, so he'll be cheap. Gerut will too, and if he's healthy, he seems like the kind of player Jim Tracy can get good work out of in a part-time role; Gerut has an .838 OPS lifetime against righties. (It would, however, be a mistake for Tracy to use Gerut as an excuse to keep Craig Wilson glued to the bench, which might be what happens.)