Here are the eight Pirates who are eligible for arbitration this offseason, with projections via MLBTR:
Tony Watson (5.101) – $5.9MM
Juan Nicasio (5.084) – $4.6MM
Jared Hughes (4.162) – $2.5MM
Jordy Mercer (4.095) – $4.0MM
Jeff Locke (4.020) – $4.2MM
Drew Hutchison (3.165) – $2.2MM
Wade LeBlanc (3.131) – $1.6MM
Gerrit Cole (3.111) – $4.2MM
If it were me, I would non-tender Hughes, Locke, Hutchison and LeBlanc. The Pirates’ decisions, though, might be somewhat different.
Cole, Watson and Mercer will be easy tenders. I would also tender Nicasio, although, as I noted in my Offseason Outlook piece on the Bucs for MLBTR, that doesn’t seem to be the consensus around town. Nicasio whiffed 138 batters in 118 innings this season, generally kept his walks in check, was very tough on righties, was successful as a reliever, and can pitch multi-inning stretches or start as needed. He’s well worth keeping around, in my view, even at $4.6 million, which is relatively expensive for a reliever. I’d tender him and feel pretty good about it.
Hughes and Locke should be non-tenders. I addressed Hughes’ case here. He pitched pretty well for a few weeks after I wrote that, but his overall performance this season was weak. Unless the Pirates feel his pitching down the stretch indicated a rebound, I’d probably pass on him, even though he would be relatively cheap to bring back.
The Pirates’ decision to non-tender Locke will probably be one of the easiest calls they make. He was terrible this season by any metric you’d care to name, he costs a non-trivial amount of money, and the Pirates now have several younger and more interesting rotation options.
Hutchison would be a non-tender, too, had the Pirates not received him as their only return in the Francisco Liriano trade. He’d already spent most of the year in Triple-A when he was acquired, and he did nothing since the trade to justify the Pirates’ supposed faith in him. As it stands, though, I expect the Pirates to tender him. And, hey, maybe they really do like him for some reason, and next year perhaps we’ll get to see what that is.
That leaves LeBlanc, who will almost surely be non-tendered, although I think it’s a slightly more interesting decision than it might initially appear. True, he’s 32, he throws 87 MPH, his pedigree is nothing to write home about, and the Pirates acquired him in a free-talent deal in mid-September. That is, he looks like the very definition of a replacement-level player. Then again, he pitched well for the Pirates, he has a career 3.55 ERA as a reliever, he limits walks and he’d cost very little to keep. The more obvious decision is often the right one, though, and the Pirates already have three lefties in Watson, Felipe Rivero and Antonio Bastardo penciled into their 2017 bullpen.