I posted a projected 2010 salary yesterday, which changes slightly with the John Grabow/Tom Gorzelanny trade, although not too much since Kevin Hart would just replace Gorzy in the projections. Ultimately, the situation is still the same, with the Pirates projected for a payroll around $25 M, and four spaces on the 25-man roster.
From this we can make two assumptions:
1. The Pirates will add a high priced free agent
2. The Pirates will spend the difference in the draft
Maybe $25 M is a lot to spend in the draft, but not if Stephen Strasburg is there.
The Washington Nationals have said they won’t be signing Strasburg this year. I’m not sure how much of that is the truth, and how much is just part of negotiations. In the event that the Nationals don’t sign Strasburg, the following will likely happen:
1. Scott Boras will try to make Strasburg a free agent, most likely by moving him to Japan, and trying to get him in through the Dice-K route. MLB can over-rule this, but it will spark a long legal battle.
2. Washington will get the first two picks in the draft next year (assuming they remain the worst team in the league this year), and Strasburg probably won’t grant them permission to re-draft him.
The Pirates have completely overhauled their roster, and the next two months will be very rough as a result of that. Currently, the Pirates are tied as the fifth worst team in the majors, three games out from the second worst team. I can see the Pirates falling behind teams like Oakland, Kansas City, and possibly Cleveland and San Diego, finishing next to last.
If the above scenario with Strasburg not signing takes place, the Pirates would have the third pick in the 2010 draft, with the first rights to draft Strasburg (once again, assuming he doesn’t grant the Nationals permission, and I can’t see how he would if they don’t sign him in 2009 as the top pick).
So let’s say it comes down to December. Free agency has just started.
The Pirates could have Pedro Alvarez up by mid-season.
They’ve got McCutchen and Milledge in the outfield, and Jones, Pearce, Moss, Clement, and Tabata in the mix for the right field and first base spots (obviously certain players would only be considered for first base, and vice-versa).
The rotation returns as Maholm, Duke, Ohlendorf, Morton, and Lincoln on the way as a mid-season call-up.
They fill the holes at shortstop, the bullpen (left handed reliever), and a bench spot with free agents, and sit around $35 M in payroll, about $20 M under the budget, with one roster spot remaining.
Most importantly, Stephen Strasburg is not only available for the 2010 draft, but MLB has ruled that this is his only avenue in to the majors.
At that point would you want the Pirates to go after a guy like Jermaine Dye, for an Adam Dunn-like contract (2 years/$10 M a year), or would you rather go for Strasburg, and hope that the power hitter comes from AAA (Alvarez, Tabata), or would you go for Dye, and pass on Strasburg.
Save the “why can’t we do both” talk. Aside from the fact that these are tough economic times, if we assume that Strasburg doesn’t sign with Washington, then we’re also assuming it’s going to cost at least $20 M to sign him (although not all of that will be a bonus, but the Pirates limit themselves by also spending on a big free agent).
Overall it’s a nice “what if” situation to dream about. It would take a lot of things happening for this to be possible. Also, in no way am I suggesting that the Pirates blew up their 2010 payroll for this scenario (I actually think they’re going to surprise by going after a big free agent to complement Alvarez when he gets the call). That being said, if Strasburg is there, and it comes down to a choice between him or a free agent bat for two years, I’m going with Strasburg.