Seeing free agent signings fall flat is nothing new to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, this franchise has endured the likes of Adam Laroche, Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Raul Mondesi and, of course, Derek Bell. While Clint Barmes's poor play hasn't reached the point where I could be considered a "saga", I still believe it belongs in the conversation of worst Pirate signings.
The Pirates -having grown tired of watching Ronny Cedeno bunt with the bases loaded- decided to replace him by signing Barmes to a two year, $10 million contract.
For a front office staff that prides itself on using sabremetrics in evaluating talent, this signing makes absolutely no sense, especially to a small-market team with a low payroll. Barmes's career OPS is .696 while Cedeno's is .640. Both players share the exact same fielding percentage at .970 and while Barmes has a higher range factor, Cedeno (29) is four years younger.
Those numbers seem relatively even, in fact, it shows that Cedeno and Barmes have followed very similar career paths. The difference is, Barmes is making five million dollars this season while Cedeno is only making $1.2 million. Even if the Pirates overpaid Cedeno and gave him $2.5 million to return, that still leaves $7.5 million over two years that could have been better spent on, say, a true first baseman.
This has been the most consistent problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last 20 years. They can't afford to spend the big bucks on free agents like the Yankees so they stupidly sign below average players to a ridiculously high salary. Luckily, Edwin Jackson turned down Pittsburgh's rumored three year $30 million offer to sign with the Nationals. Otherwise, this team would have had six average to above-average starters, less available money, and still no one to hit behind Andrew McCutchen.
Pirates' GM Neal Huntington had to know this team's strength was their pitching. With that in mind, why wasn't there a bigger push for a bat; either through trade or free agency?
Carlos Pena signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for one year $7.25 million. He's a left handed hitter who can draw walks, hit with power, and play first base. With the best first base prospect currently in A ball (Alex Dickerson), why not overpay for a big bat that can help your lineup?
Don't like Pena? Fine. He strikes out too much and can't hit lefties.
How about Michael Cuddyer? The Colorado Rockies gave him $31.5 million over three years to play for a losing team. Cuddyer has a .814 OPS this season and he has shown position flexibility, playing 712 games in the outfield, 211 at first base, and 171 at third base. Is that worth $10 million per year? Maybe not to the economist, but with lesser options available, it would have been worth a shot. Worse case scenario, the Pirates sell him to a contending team for mid-level prospects at the trade deadline.
Don't like Cuddyer? How about a trade?
I wrote back in November that the Pirates should have been shopping Joel Hanrahan and Alex Presley. Their suitors could have been the Boston Red Sox, a team that was loaded with position players and missing a closer. The Pirates could have targeted Ryan Lavarnway, a catcher stuck in AAA because of Jarrod Saltalamachia. Lavarnway has tremendous power, slugging 32 home runs last season for Pawtucket. A closer of Hanrahan's ilk paired with one or two mid-level prospects would have brought Lavarnway over and probably would've saved the team money on Rod Barajas in the process. With Tony Sanchez struggling to make it out of AA before his 25th birthday, it is safe to say the Pirates are inept at that position.
The Pirates had a multitude of opportunities in the offseason to improve the major league club without sacrificing future pieces. Instead, they elected to do what they always have done, sign mediocre players to super-inflated contracts in hopes that they produces career numbers. Now, the offense is left struggling while the pitching tries to produce at an unsustainable rate throughout the season. With the season only six weeks old, a big trade seems unlikely meaning the Pirates will continue to trot Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas out to give the opposing team, at minimum, six easy outs per game.