PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates will not go to any salary arbitration hearings this spring after agreeing to terms on Friday with their eight arb-eligible players on contracts for the 2020 season.
About four hours after Friday’s 1 p.m. ET deadline to agree to terms or exchange salary figures, the Pirates announced that they avoided arbitration with All-Star first baseman Josh Bell, second baseman Adam Frazier and right-handers Michael Feliz, Keone Kela, Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams. The Pirates have not been to an arbitration hearing since 2017, when the club beat former closer Tony Watson.
According to industry sources, those players agreed to the following terms for their one-year deals:
Bell: $4.8 million
Kela: $3.725 million
Williams: $2.825 million
Frazier: $2.8 million
Musgrove: $2.8 million
Taillon: $2.25 million
Feliz: $1.1 million
Bell, Frazier, Kuhl, Musgrove, Taillon and Williams were arbitration-eligible for the first time, Feliz was eligible for the second of four times, and Kela is entering his third and final year of eligibility before reaching free agency. Those agreements leave the Pirates’ projected Opening Day payroll around $60 million, with Spring Training now a month away.
Bell picked a good time to have the best offensive season of his young career, receiving a big raise after hitting .277/.367/.569 with 37 homers, 37 doubles and 116 RBIs in 143 games last year.
Frazier, 28, is coming off consecutive -- but quite different -- 2.7-WAR seasons. In 2018, he rode a strong second half to a 118 OPS+ but played in only 113 games. Last year, he led the Pirates in games played (152) and recorded a roughly league-average 99 OPS+ while finishing as a worthy Gold Glove Award finalist at second base. Now, the question is whether the Pirates will trade the in-demand infielder before Opening Day.
Arbitration-eligible for the first time last year, Feliz agreed to a split contract ($850,000 in the Majors, $375,000 in the Minors) before the non-tender deadline and didn’t crack the Opening Day roster. The 26-year-old is coming off a much better season this time around. The right-hander posted a 3.99 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 73 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings in 2019. While walks and homers were still occasionally an issue, he worked his way into a higher-leverage role by the end of the season.
This will be an important season for Kela. The 26-year-old right-hander is expected to be the Pirates’ closer, and he’ll become a free agent at the end of the season. If he stays healthy, Kela could multiply his $3.725 million salary in free agency based on his production the past four years. Since 2017, Kela has posted a 2.84 ERA, 3.20 FIP and 1.01 WHIP with 150 strikeouts in 120 1/3 innings over 125 appearances.
Kuhl spent all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he hasn’t pitched in the Majors since the beginning of his age-25 season in 2018. Nonetheless, he accrued enough service time to enter the arbitration process before getting back on a big league mound this spring. Whether the 27-year-old right-hander does so as a starter or reliever remains to be seen, but all of his experience in the Majors is as a starter.
Musgrove proved his durability last season, pitching 170 1/3 innings while making 31 starts. The 27-year-old right-hander’s peripheral numbers suggest better days ahead, as he struck out four times as many batters as he walked last year, despite his 4.44 ERA (and 96 ERA+) being slightly below the league-average mark. He has also taken on a greater leadership role in the clubhouse.
Taillon, Pittsburgh’s Opening Day starter last season, isn't expected to pitch in the Majors this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August. The 28-year-old went 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings over seven starts last season, but he earned a raise due to his service time and performance prior to the injury.
You might look at Williams differently now than you did a year ago, when he was coming off a 14-10 season, a 3.11 ERA and an unfathomably stingy second half. In a season interrupted by an oblique injury, the 27-year-old right-hander finished with a 5.38 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP in 145 2/3 innings over 26 starts in 2019. Better health might lead to more consistent success for Williams, who had a 3.33 ERA in nine starts before his injury.