Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Has Neal Huntington Found a New Way to Stash Depth Players?

Almost every team runs into a roster crunch at some point. When a roster crunch occurs hard choices have to be made and players with no remaining options are designated for assignment. Often times these are useful players that the team would like to retain. But that is not always possible. If players are useful to your team chances are likely they will be useful to other teams as well. To be assigned to the minors a player with no remaining options must pass thru waivers unclaimed. If another team claims the player he is lost and organizational depth is depleted. But an interesting thing occurred with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014. They had two useful experienced major league players (Jose Tabata and Vin Mazzaro) that they were able to outright without being claimed multiple times. Both players had the right to refuse a minor league assignment. They accepted the assignments because they were earning money on guaranteed contracts. Their existing contracts are also what dissuaded teams from claiming them off of waivers in the first place. Teams are rarely interested in taking waiver claims on players earning above minimum salary. Essentially the byproduct of a couple of poor contract decisions that GM Neal Huntington made with Jose Tabata and Vin Mazzaro was that he got to stash them in AAA Indianapolis for depth. It certainly was not Huntington’s plan to overpay these players for them to perform for the Pirate’s AAA affiliate. But what if there was a situation in which it might make sense to overpay a potentially useful player just so you could stash him in the minors without him being claimed? Perhaps that is the explanation for the Radhames Liz contract.
When the news broke last month that the Pirates were signing Radhames Liz to a guaranteed major league contract worth reportedly $3 million most people assumed that it meant he would be almost guaranteed to make the club out of Spring Training. That was somewhat disconcerting to Pirate fans since no one knew much about the guy and he hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2009. Players like that do not command major league deals. More typical of a player of Liz’s ilk would be a minor league contract and perhaps a Spring Training invite. Sure, the Pirates have done well at finding diamonds in rough, but they usually don’t get a ticket straight to Pittsburgh. They have to get polished first. The Pirates obviously feel they have something special in Radhames Liz. He was managed this year in the Dominican League by Dean Treanor, the skipper of the Bucs AAA affiliate Indianapolis Indians. Maybe I’m misreading the tealeaves, but this feels much different than the type of shot the Pirates usually take on a fringe major league talent. This seems like a pitcher that they want to take time with and cultivate. In order to do that they need some time and they need to protect him. Paying him 3x the minimum major league salary does that. If Liz isn’t ready to help the Pirates at the end of camp they can still slip him through waivers without another team claiming him because the size of his contract will scare teams off. The Pirates won’t have to carry him on the roster all season long like they did last season with Stolmy Pimentel just because they fear losing him. This is entirely speculation on my part. I could be completely off base. Or I could have just uncovered Neal Huntington’s newest plan to stash talent in AAA.

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