Bob Smizik: Volquez worth the gamble

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This is the price of doing business in Major League Baseball:

A pitcher who was ranked only as the 109th best free agent was signed to a one-year, $5 million contract by a team known far and wide for its frugality.

Almost as though he wanted to prove how good of a deal he made with Charlie Morton in the early afternoon, in the late afternoon Pirates general manager Neal Huntington signed Edinson Volquez, Mr. No. 109, to that $5 million deal.

This is what Volquez did last year: A 9-12 record with a 5.71 ERA, a 1.59 WHIP and an .804 OPS-against.

This is what Morton did last year: A 7-4 record with a 3.26 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and a .683 OPS-against.

The Pirates will pay Volquez $5 million next season. They will pay Morton $4 million.

Some might call this ridiculous spending. I would call it trying to win a championship. Since the day he took the job, Huntington’s credo has been pitching, pitching, pitching. This is further proof of that.

The fact the Pirates have agreed to pay Volquez $5 million is a pretty clear indication -- short of injury or a super-horrendous spring training -- he will be in the starting rotation at the start of season. He will join three pitchers whose spots in the rotation are cast in stone: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Morton, who yesterday agreed to a three-year $21 million contract.

That leaves one open spot. If the Pirates are serious in saying the deal with Volquez does not preclude them from signing A.J. Burnett, this means they are not nearly so certain as they’ve indicated about the health of Wandy Rodriguez and that Jeff Locke is headed for Indianapolis to start the season.

The comparisons to Liriano are obvious. Both were high-end starters early in their careers who soon fell upon hard times and were not getting a lot of interest in free agency. The Pirates signed Liriano to mixed reviews and he had an outstanding season. It would be expecting too much for Volquez to do what Liriano did. It would not be too much to expect him to be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter.

At SaberBucs.com, Richard Jarzynka posted these 2014 projections for Volquez: K/9, 8.3; BB/9 4.92; HR/9, 0.85; xFIP 4.15; WAR 1.9. He added that Volquez’s ground-ball rate the past three seasons has been above the league average, a trait that was critical to the Pirates success last year.

Volquez is a gamble, but one worth taking.

The question many are asking today is with other options available to fill out the rotation, why wasn’t the money delegated to Volquez used to strengthen right field or first base?

That may yet come. Two first basemen were taken off the market yesterday and both by Seattle, which signed free agent Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison. But there is a slew of them still remaining.

James Loney looks to be the best of the litter, but he is said to be looking for a team that will play him full-time. With the Pirates, Loney does not project as a better option against left-handed pitching than Gaby Sanchez. Loney could probably get more money from a team that wants to utilize him full-time.

Ike Davis of the Mets is eminently available and as much as trading for him would pain those afflicted with the dreaded PSS (Prospect Separation Syndrome), in order to acquire something of value a team must give up something of value. Davis had the look of a big-time slugger in 2012 with 32 home runs, but he faltered badly last season -- although he did finish well

It’s up to the Pirates to gauge the value of Davis or any available player and determine what prospects that player is worth. Certainly Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow would be off the table in any deal. But if the Pirates wish to compete for a championship, there are times when they must focus on 2014 to the detriment of 2015 and beyond.


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