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Examining the Pirates’ potential non-tender candidates

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a plethora of players that will be eligible for arbitration this winter.

As fans of the Pirates, we are all too familiar with the service time clock in baseball. In a player’s first three seasons of service time, they make very little money. In the three years after that, a player is eligible for arbitration and their salary increases. After six years of service time, a player then becomes eligible for free agency. As we know, the Pirates don’t really do the whole free agency thing.

Non-tendering a player heading into an arbitration year is a common thing. Sometimes the player just isn’t worth it. Sometimes the team doesn’t want to pay the increased salary. Heading into the offseason, the Pirates have ten players heading into arbitration. How many players, if any, will be non-tendered?

Locks to stay

  • Jameson Taillon (first year arb) - Although Taillon had his second Tommy John procedure performed on his elbow earlier this year, he is zero danger of being let go. He is still very much apart of the team’s future plans, even if the odds of a full recovery aren’t super encouraging. Taillon will spend the 2020 season rehabbing.
  • Chad Kuhl (first year arb) - Throw Kuhl in the same rehabbing basket as Taillon. He will be back at some point in 2020.
  • Josh Bell (first year arb) - Bell is coming off of a career offensive season in which he hit .277.367/.369 with 37 home runs and 37 doubles. He is the anchor of the Pirates’ lineup. Although his defense keeps from being an elite player, Bell is still one of the few productive players on the Pirates. Because this is his first year of arbitration eligibility, his salary will not be astronomical, even for the Pirates.
  • Joe Musgrove (first year arb) - Musgrove is coming off of his most productive season as a pro. In 170.1 innings, he had a 4.44 ERA with 157 strikeouts. He was easily the Pirates most consistent starter this season. He will be back. His salary will be cheap.
  • Trevor Williams (first year arb) - Although Williams struggled in 2019 (145.2 IP, 5.38 ERA 113 SO), he is still a lock to be with the club next year. Because the Pirates are so thin at starting pitching, Williams will more than likely be in the starting rotation next season.
  • Adam Frazier (first year arb) - Frazier was fine enough in 2019. His 2.2 fWAR was a career high. He had a modest 97 wRC+. Frazier is what he is. He’s fine. At such a cheap price, letting him go would not be smart. If the Pirates find an upgrade at second base next season, Frazier would be a solid bench piece.
  • Keone Kela (final year of arb) - Kela may end up being the most expensive arbitration player for the Pirates this winter as this is his last season of eligibility. That said, his salary still shouldn’t be all that expensive. Next season, Kela will be in line to be the Pirates closer. If (when) things go south for the Pirates in 2020, Kela will be a solid trade chip.

On the bubble

  • Michael Feliz (second year arb) - Feliz was okay in 2019. He navigated through 56.1 innings with a 3.99 ERA. He struck out 73 batters while giving up 11 dingers. I’m about 90 percent sure Feliz will be safe. The Pirates have a thin bullpen and the fact that Feliz wasn’t a complete train wreck in 2019 gives him a leg up.
  • Erik Gonzalez (first year arb) - Here’s the thing. Gonzalez isn’t that good. In 156 plate appearances this season, he hit .254/.301/.317 with one home run and four doubles. That said, when Gonzalez got everyday at bats is September, he hit .322/.349/.407 in 63 plate appearances. I expect the Pirates to tender Gonzalez as he provides the club with defensively flexibility.
  • Elias Diaz (first year arb) - Diaz was more than a disaster in 2019. To be honest, he was one of the worst players in all of baseball. His -1.5 fWAR was a career low. It’s hard to say whether or not he will be non-tendered though. I would expect he won’t be. The Pirates are extremely thin at catcher so I think his job is safe.

In conclusion, everybody stays!