Via Vlad at Bucs Dugout, Fangraphs writes about Jeff Karstens' value this offseason. The question is relevant, of course, because of the possibility that the Pirates could non-tender him, but Fangraphs doesn't seem sure that would be a good idea.
Depending on the Pirates’s finances and how the rest of their offseason shakes up, the uncertainty surrounding Karstens’s durability may make a $5 million payday unreasonable. Perhaps they keep him; perhaps they non-tender him, and a trade may be on the table as well. But looking at what’s available this year, Karstens could be a sneaky value for some team out there, whether it’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.
If the Pirates take Karstens to arbitration, he's likely to make between $4 million and $5 million. He's had trouble staying healthy over the past couple seasons, but when healthy, he's been effective. The Pirates will have A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald in their rotation, but have plenty of uncertainty beyond that.
The broader context here is that the Pirates have acquired a number of players in that $4-6 million income bracket in recent years, and they've mostly been awful. Erik Bedard cost $4.5 million; Lyle Overbay cost $5 million; Kevin Correia (who was nowhere near as good as most Pirates fans think he was) was two years and $8 million; Rod Barajas cost $4 million; Clint Barmes got two years and $11 million; Akinori Iwamura cost $4.85 million. Karstens isn't a risk-free player, but he's younger and more effective than most of those players were when they were acquired. Most of the Pirates' $4-5 million decisions recently have amounted to setting money on fire.
A recent article by Rob Biertempfel about possible free agent starting pitchers suggests that if the Pirates head out on the free-agent market, this year isn't likely to be much different. Tendering a contract to Karstens and paying $4-5 million is a much better idea than non-tendering him and potentially spending a similar amount on a free agent.
Of course, all bets are off if the Pirates are willing to throw money around, but it's worth noting that the Pirates have made competitive offers to higher-rent starters like Edwin Jackson and Jorge de la Rosa in recent years, and they haven't been able to land either of them. They finally got a somewhat similar player in A.J. Burnett last offseason, but that came via the trade market.
If the Bucs can save some money on Karstens and get another Burnett type of pitcher, whether that's via trade or free agency, great. Otherwise, though, non-tendering Karstens doesn't make a whole lot of sense. He's a good pitcher, and the Pirates are about to enter a relatively weak free agent market that probably won't be particularly kind to them. And as I've said in the past, if the Bucs are considering skimping on the $4-5 million they'll have to pay Karstens just so they can sign a similar or cheaper pitcher via free agency, they'll likely be shooting themselves in the feet.