Adam Dunn - DavidMyersPhotos/Flickr.com
Yesterday, Nick talked about several young free agents the Pirates could consider signing in an effort to supplement the core of their current roster. Today, I'll look at a few of the more expensive options Neal Huntington could pursue.
These free agent signings aren't at all likely. If baseball were played in a spreadsheet, though, the Pirates would be better off with these players than without them.
In my opinion, to court a player in Dunn's mold, the Pirates would first need to clear a position for him. The 2009 outfield features plenty of names to sort through already: Start with Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss, and squeeze in playing time for Steve Pearce and Nyjer Morgan. For now, let's leave that group intact.
We've heard earlier in the hot stove league that inquiries have been made regarding Adam LaRoche's availability. For the sake of this post, let's assume that Mark Teixeira signs in Boston or Washington and that the Los Angeles Angels are in need of a first baseman. Huntington trades LaRoche to L.A. in exchange for Mark Trumbo and a lower-level starting pitcher. It's not the huge return which Che is known to expect.
With first base open, Huntington then signs Adam Dunn to a five-year, $65 million contract. Dunn, 29, sports a career .247/.381/.518 batting line with a .984 fielding percentage in 127 games played at first base. I'll stay away from my Lefty McThump soapbox, only stepping up long enough to say that Dunn's power and the close proximity of Clemente's Wall to home plate at PNC Park would be a welcome combination.
Dunn's similar batters through age 28 include Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, Harmon Killebrew, Rocky Colavito and Reggie Jackson. At age 33, all save Colavito were still producing above league-average levels. (In fact, Killebrew's age 33 season was the best of his Hall of Fame career.) It's a dirty estimate, but you could probably expect Dunn to produce throughout the length of the above-market contract that it would take to get him to come to Pittsburgh.
To that point in his career -- 2003 was his age 28 season -- Suppan had pitched only one half of a year in the National League. He had made 194 appearances (mostly starts) with the Red Sox and Kansas City Royals and had the reputation of being an average, durable starting pitcher.
He reached free agency at an inopportune time, though; the 2002-2003 offseason was the winter of collusion. With ownership allegedly conspiring against players, Suppan found only a one-year contract with a $4 million option for the next season on the table. He signed with the Pirates and went 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 21 starts before being dealt away at the deadline.
Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez went on to have solid careers with the Pirates. Half a year of Suppan was spun into 3.5 years of lights-out left-handed relief, two years (and counting) of strong first base play and four years (and counting) of a .300-hitting infielder.
What does that have to do with Jon Garland?
Through his age 28 season, Garland has a 4.47 ERA in 1625 innings spent as an average, durable starter in the American League. His next pitch in the National League will be his first. He's also a free agent in a bad economy, and his high-dollar offers are likely few and far between.
Huntington signs Garland to a one-year, $15 million contract with an option for 2010. Garland provides the stabilizing veteran presence in the rotation that the Pirates have interest in acquiring. He's only here for April, May, June and July, though. After fooling National League batters for half a season, he's traded at the deadline to a contender in need of a hired gun, and in return the Pirates receive more minor-league depth.
Let's say that for the sake of symmetry the Red Sox are the team that comes calling on July 31, and Garland is traded straight-up for Ryan Westmoreland.
Unlike Dunn and Garland, Abreu isn't still in the peak of his career. At 34, he's likely looking for one more big contract. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely that he'll find that this winter.
As was the case with Dunn, to sign a player like Bobby Abreu, Huntington would first need to clear a spot in the starting lineup. As much as I like Nate McLouth, it seems as if he may be difficult to extend -- and there's still the question of whether his 2008 was a fluke or not.
Huntington returns Frank Wren's phone call, and McLouth is sent south to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for a three-prospect package centered around Cole Rohrbough or Jeff Locke. The trade would be a bargain, but the Pirates would be looking to cash in later in the year.
With right field now open -- McCutchen plays center, with Moss in left -- Abreu signs a one-year, $20 million contract. Huntington has the option of trading him at the deadline or offering arbitration at season's end and earning draft picks as compensation for losing a Type A free agent. (Abreu would be expected to decline arbitration as he would be in search of one last multi-year deal -- the one he would've received this off-season in a better economy.)
In trading LaRoche and McLouth -- and ideally, Ryan Doumit, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and John Grabow, but that's another post -- Huntington clears enough payroll to make taking on big contracts manageable in the short term. (In 2010, payroll would drop substantially, as only Dunn would still be on the books.)
He exploits the market, as Ian Leyda of Zelienople has suggested.
The ledger would look like:
OUT: Adam LaRoche, Nate McLouth, $50 million or so in 2009
IN: Adam Dunn, Mark Trumbo, Ryan Westmoreland, Cole Rohrbough, three risk-reward low-level prospects, two extra 2010 draft picks
The lineup for 2009:
1. McCutchen, CF
2. Abreu, RF
3. Sanchez, 2B
4. Dunn, 1B
5. Doumit, C
6. LaRoche, 3B
7. Moss, LF
8. Wilson, SS
With a starting rotation of:
1. Garland, R
2. Maholm, L
3. Snell, R
4. Gorzelanny, L
5. Ohlendorf, R (and many others)
And a restocked minor-league system, too.
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