By The Common Man
It is a strange world we live in where Clint Barmes can earn $11 million to play in Pittsburgh over the next two years, but given the contracts doled out to fellow middle-infielders Jamey Carroll and Mark Ellis this offseason, Barmes' contract seems to fit the market. Barmes is better than either Carroll or Ellis because he has long demonstrated the ability to be a plus defender at shortstop. Carroll is a better hitter, given his patient approach, but he's stretched at shortstop and is five years older. Ellis may be a great defender at 2B, but shortstop is the tougher position, Barmes has managed to outhit Ellis in at least two (and possibly three) of the past four years and is two years younger. Plus, Ellis' offense has clearly slipped. While a similar slip defensively is certainly a possibility for Barmes entering his age 33 season, there's been no evidence of a decline.
Barmes is an OBP-challenged hitter, with no patience at the plate, and without the ability to hit for average. He has some pop in his bat, but some of that will be mitigated by a move from Minute Maid/Enron/Whatever Park to PNC Park, which favors lefty power-hitters. He also clearly had the best season of his career last year, in which he hit well, stayed at one position all year, and fielded it well, but he is likely to be a 2 win player for at least the next season, barring injury (which he's generally done a good job of avoiding in his career).
It's a little weird to see that Pirates spending this much in free agency, especially after losing 90 games. But clearly their hot start in 2011 has them feeling like they can compete in a relatively weak NL Central that could see the Cubs start from scatch, and the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Can they? Probably not. The signing of Rod Barajas, for all his pitch framing skills, should be terrifying Pittsburghians, their pitching was above its head for much of the season, and they still have major holes at 3B and 1B that they have to fill, and their front-line prospects are still years away from making an impact. The contract makes sense, but not necessarily for this team. Fortunately, it's not going to cripple the Pirates efforts to build a contender, regardless.