The Pirates acquired two players in a trade Monday that led to the team cutting ties with Garrett Jones.
Outfielder Jaff Decker and right-handed reliever Miles Mikolas joined the Pirates from the San Diego Padres in exchange for minor leaguer Alex Dickerson. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Pirates designated Jones and minor league right-hander Kyle McPherson for assignment.
Jones, 32, was eligible for arbitration for the third time and would have received a raise from his $4.5 million salary in 2013. This first baseman and right fielder hit .233 with 15 home runs and a .289 on-base percentage. He split time with Gaby Sanchez until the Pirates traded for Justin Morneau in late August.
"Garrett's probably a victim of the arbitration process in that his value is artificially inflated based on the arbitration process," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It got to a point where we felt it was above where our threshold was. We made the difficult decision to either trade him or, if we're not able to trade him in these next days, he'll get non-tendered."
The Pirates saved roughly $6 million they would have spent on Jones in arbitration. They could apply that money to re-signing A.J. Burnett, finding a solution at first base or shortstop, or sorting out the right-field situation, which contains several options with varying degrees of uncertainty.
Jones had a strong 2012 season, when he hit .274 with 27 home runs. He couldn't replicate that performance this past season and continued to struggle against left-handers to the point where he received only 23 plate appearances against them in 2013.
The move left Sanchez as the only first baseman on the 40-man roster. Sanchez hit .254 with a .361 on-base percentage in 320 plate appearances this past season. Sanchez, 30, is eligible for arbitration for the second time.
The removal of Jones means eight players, including Sanchez, are eligible for arbitration. The others are Charlie Morton, Neil Walker, Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro, Travis Snider, Michael McKenry -- who qualified as a Super 2 player -- and Pedro Alvarez, who Huntington confirmed will void his 2014 option and become eligible. The deadline to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible players is Dec. 2.
The Padres had designated Decker and Mikolas for assignment last week to clear space on their 40-man roster. They both have minor league options remaining, Decker two and Mikolas one.
Decker, 23, whose first name is pronounced Jeff, went 4 for 26 in 13 games with the Padres this season. He hit .286 with 10 home runs at Class AAA Tucson.
"We've traded for him with the idea that he'll have every opportunity to come in and make our club and earn some playing time," Huntington said.
Decker had a .381 on-base percentage in his 415 plate appearances in Tucson this season and has a .402 career OBP in the minors. He drew 103 walks in 2011 with Class AA San Antonio. The Padres drafted Decker out of high school as a supplemental first-rounder in 2008.
"First and foremost he commands the zone, uses the whole field with authority," Huntington said. "Can hit a few balls into the seats, works the count, finds his way on base, by a hit or will take his walks."
Mikolas, 25, pitched briefly for the Padres this year but appeared in 25 games in 2012, when he had a 3.62 ERA.
"It's a hard fastball with heavy sink, live, he gets a lot of ground balls," Huntington said.
McPherson, 26, had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in July. He pitched in 10 games, starting three of them, as a rookie in 2012 and missed out on the rotation in spring training before this past season.
He made two starts for Class AAA Indianapolis this season before requiring surgery. McPherson will not be ready to pitch until July 2014 at the earliest, so he might pass through waivers unclaimed and the Pirates could retain him.
"We'd like to," Huntington said. "This was a tough decision on a pitcher that we like that's coming back from injury that's going to require some time to get healthy and compete again."
Dickerson, 23, a first baseman and outfielder, was a third-round draft pick in 2011. He hit 17 home runs for Class AA Altoona this season to go with a .288 batting average and was named the Eastern League rookie of the year. He grew up in Poway, Calif., north of San Diego.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published November 25, 2013 1:48 PM