After the World Series ends, teams have a window of five days to negotiate with their free agents before they hit the open market. The World Series ended last Wednesday, so that window draws to a close at midnight tonight, officially opening free agent season at 12:01 AM Tuesday. The Pirates have a ton of free agents this year (AJ Burnett, Clint Barmes, Marlon Byrd, John Buck, Justin Morneau, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jeff Karstens), so I think it's worth taking a couple of minutes to talk about this this morning.
One person that won't be a free agent at midnight is Wandy Rodriguez, because he picked up his $13 million option for next year on Friday to stay with the Pirates through 2014. A year ago, Rodriguez's age made this less than certain; it seemed like a distinct possibility that Rodriguez might try to hit the free agent market and get one last multiple year deal, and given his age (he'll be 35 on January 18th, and I'm just noticing now for the first time that Wandy Rodriguez and I share a birthday, though he's got some years on me), he'd be better off on the market this winter instead of next winter. That was before Rodriguez went down in early June with elbow/forearm issues and didn't throw another pitch for the rest of the season. The good news for the Pirates, of course, is that he won't require surgery and all indications in September seemed to be that with a full winter of rest and rehab, that he should be ready for spring training. Pitching depth is the one thing that I like to hammer on, so if Rodriguez is healthy I don't mind him back for another year at this price one bit.
Last week, Tom Singer ran through the Pirates' free agent candidates and reported that the team had identified Burnett, Byrd, and Barmes as their targets and that they're likely to let Morneau, Karstens, Farnsworth, and Buck all walk. That makes plenty of intuitive sense, of course; Burnett is a vital part of the rotation and has expressed plenty of interest in coming back, the Pirates have a corner outfield spot open until Gregory Polanco is ready, and Barmes's glove is the sort of thing that's useful to have around and probably not as easy to replace as most fans think. Buck will be replaced by Tony Sanchez as Russell Martin's backup and heir apparent and that's deserved based ont he season he had last year. Karstens is injury-prone and unreliable and shouldn't get more than a non-roster invite to camp from anyone this year. Farnsworth is fungible. Morneau will likely not be worth the money he makes and a cheaper alternative will exist.
It seems likely at this point that Burnett will get a qualifying offer from the Pirates, which would pay him in the neighborhood of $14 million next year, should he accept. Of course, the qualifying offer isn't strictly necessary since it's a mechanism to provide the Pirates with compensation if Burnett signs elsewhere and Burnett has repeatedly said that he won't sign anywhere but Pittsburgh (Charlie points out that the notoriously prickly Burnett might see a qualifying offer as a sign of mistrust), but I think that the $14-$16 million range is probably accurate for what it would take to sign Burnett, should he not retire. There are two key dollar figures in this negotiation, I think. One is Rodriguez's $13 million; Burnett will probably want to be the highest paid pitcher on the team, and so he'll need to make more than that. The other is the $16.5 million per year he was making on the contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. Burnett might take a bit of a paycut from that, but given how good he's been with the Pirates (as good, or arguably better than he was with the Blue Jays in the three years before he signed that deal), I suspect he won't be enthusiastic to go a whole lot below that number. To be honest, I don't expect Burnett to retire, and I do think he'll be back for at least one more year with the Pirates. That's just a gut feeling at this point, but I suspect he'd like one more run at the World Series with the Pirates after the way this year ended.
Byrd is, as I've said in the past, more complicated. He's unlikely to sign a one-year deal at this point, and that'd be ideal for the Pirates. That linked MLBTR post thinks he'll sign for something like 2-years/$15 million, which I think is doable for the Pirates and probably not an awful idea. Starling Marte has missed significant time with injuries a couple of times in his career, and so Byrd could start in 2014 and exist as depth in 2015, both in case of injury and in case Polanco needs more seasoning. It seems like the Pirates are awfully interested in bringing Byrd back at this point, so they must have some kind of multi-year offer in mind. I'm willing to bet someone will offer him something more like $10 million a year for two years, though, and that'd be the point at which I'd start to get wary if I were the Pirates.
There's a chance there will be some more news as the day goes along, so I'll do my best to stay vigilant and get posts up as things develop.