PITTSBURGH (AP)Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell’s breakout season earned him a hefty pay bump going into 2020. Bell will make $4.8 million this season after agreeing to a deal ahead of Friday’s arbitration deadline.
The 27-year-old hit .277 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs while making the All-Star team for the first time in 2019. He has become the unquestioned face of the franchise since making his major-league debut in 2016, though the clock may already be ticking in terms of how long his tenure might last. Any chance Bell – who is under team control through 2023 – signs a long-term deal would likely require him to give the Pirates a discount at the bargaining table in the future as former center fielder Andrew McCutchen did in 2012.
Bell’s signing was the most notable on a busy day for the revamped Pirates. New general manager Ben Cherington agreed to terms with all eight of Pittsburgh’s arbitration eligible players, with Bell’s pay increase from $597,000 last season to more than eight times that amount in 2020 the biggest of the bunch.
Reliever Keone Kela will make $3,725,000 and could move into the closer’s role this spring with former All-Star Felipe Vazquez in jail facing multiple felony charges stemming from an improper sexual relationship with a minor. Kela dealt with injuries while going 2-0 with one save and a 2.12 ERA in 32 games in 2019. He was also suspended for getting into an altercation with a member of the support staff. When he’s on, he can be dominant but his behavior has been erratic since arriving in a trade with Texas in 2018.
Second baseman Adam Frazier agreed at $2.8 million. The versatile Frazier thrived after moving to second base full time in 2019. He saw action in a career-high 152 games in 2019, hitting .277 and becoming one of the better defenders at his position in the process.
Starting pitcher Joe Musgrove will also make $2.8 million. Acquired as part of the deal that sent ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros in January, 2018, Musgrove has become a workhorse for a starting rotation that spent most of 2019 in perpetual flux. Musgrove went 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA and a career-high 157 strikeouts in 31 starts last season.
Starting pitcher Trevor Williams will make $2,825,000 as he tries to recapture the form he showed in the second half of 2018. Williams went 7-3 with a 1.38 ERA after the All-Star break that season but couldn’t sustain the momentum into 2019. Williams went 7-9 with a 5.38 ERA in 26 starts last year while dealing with minor health problems that made it difficult to find any consistency. He gave up 27 home runs in 145 innings, nearly matching the total he allowed in 2017 and 2018 combined (27).
Staff ace Jameson Taillon agreed to a one-year deal worth $2 million, though he will spend all of 2020 recovering from a second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The former first-round pick became one of the de facto team leaders following the departure of Cole and Andrew McCutchen in January, 2018. Taillon was off to a strong start in 2019 when he was shut down in early May with pain in his elbow before eventually having surgery in August.
Pitcher Chad Kuhl will make $840,000 as he returns from Tommy John surgery that forced him to sit out all of 2019. Kuhl went 18-20 as a starter from 2016-18 but his high-90s fastball may end up making him a better fit as a reliever.
Right-handed reliever Michael Feliz signed for $1.1 million. Feliz posted a 3.99 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 73 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings for the Pirates in 2019 and may find himself taking on a more prominent late-inning role in a reshuffled bullpen.
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