Players with fewer than six years of Major League service, and thus not yet eligible for free agency, are commonly said to be "under team control." But the team's financial "control" over players with three-plus years of tenure is considerably limited by salary arbitration.
Teams have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday to offer contracts to these arbitration-eligible players, thus, the deadline merely sets the playing field for negotiations. It is a formality for clubs to reserve rights to the players. The most meaningful numbers come later, when the two sides file figures for potential arbitration hearings.
Players within that service range who are not tendered contracts immediately become free agents, so decisions made greatly influence the offseason market and 2013 prospects.
So welcome to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington's pressure-cooker. The Bucs have eight arbitration-eligible players whose projected salaries -- a reliable index, considering much of the arbitration process is based on comparative analysis -- would comprise nearly half of the team's 2013 payroll if it remains in the $60-65 million range.
Non-tendering players keeps more payroll dollars in the kitty for talent acquisition. But their piece of the payroll pie suggests they were integral to the Bucs' improved play in 2012.
"We've got some pretty good players going through arbitration after pretty good seasons," Huntington said. "Some higher-profile cases."
They, and their scenarios, are (with 2012 salary/2013 projection) as follows:
Neil Walker, yes.
Walker is the only Super Two of the group, and he was having a notable season (.290, 14 homers, 67 RBIs through mid-August) until waylaid by hand and back injuries. To boot, he's an extremely popular local kid. ($500,000/$2.9 million)
Joel Hanrahan, yes.
A 90-percent conversion rate the last two seasons (76 saves in 84 opportunities) makes Hanrahan invaluable in the volatile world of closers. The Pirates will continue to be approached about trading him. Either as their own closer or as a trade chip, they need to retain him. ($4.1 million/$6.9 million)
Garrett Jones, yes.
Other than the fact Jones does his thing in the batter's box -- 27 homers last season, averaging 20-plus the last four -- see above. The Bucs have a crowded outfield and alternatives at first base, but Jones could fetch a nice prize on the trade market, especially from a DH-seeking American League club. ($2.25 million/$4.4 million)
Jeff Karstens, unlikely
On the mound, Karstens has been one of the Bucs' best performers the last two seasons. But manager Clint Hurdle hasn't seen him there enough. The club has serious concerns about his durability, as he has exceeded 123 innings only once. ($3.1 million/$3.8 million)
James McDonald, yes
McDonald's glass is definitely half-full (9-3, 2.37 ERA prior to the All-Star break), not half-empty (3-5, 7.52 ERA after). The Pirates are excited about the challenge of filling him to the brim. ($502,500/$3 million).
Charlie Morton, no
Besides not being able to afford locking up money in a guy recovering from Tommy John surgery and unlikely to pitch until August, Huntington is also aware of Morton's willingness to negotiate a fresh deal, since he likes the Pittsburgh environment.
The rate of full recovery from the Tommy John procedure is extremely high -- the reason teams have been increasingly prone to secure pitchers knowing they will not be immediately available. Most recently, Scott Baker, who also had Tommy John surgery last year, was signed a couple of weeks ago by the Cubs for $5.5 million plus incentives. It's one way of squirreling assets for the future. The Pirates could fall in line with that thinking for a guy who will not turn 30 until after the 2013 season.
Chris Resop, yes
Hurdle likes to turn over his bullpen, especially from guys with heavy workloads (the principal reason Jose Veras was dealt a year ago after a 79-appearance 2011), but Resop's outings dropped from 76 in '11 to 61 last season. Having young guns ready to step in is good, but keeping an affordable veteran with a combative attitude is even better. ($850,000/$1.3 million)
Gaby Sanchez, yes
The Pirates still love Sanchez's power and glove, and remain confident he can turn his page back to 2010-11 levels (38 homers and 163 RBIs with the Marlins). ($490,000/$1.8 million).