Wrapping up the Winter Meetings

The 2009 MLB Winter Meetings are over, after a pretty uneventful week for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates made a few moves, but for the most part these moves were an addition to their bench, or depth in the minors.  It’s starting to look like we should believe Neal Huntington and John Russell when they suggest that this could be the team that goes to Spring Training.

Not that this is a bad thing.  Take a look at the team right now.  Where would you make a move?

C - Unless Ryan Doumit is traded, the Pirates don’t need a catcher, and even if Doumit is traded, they would only need someone to back up Jason Jaramillo.
2B - They added Akinori Iwamura earlier in the off-season at second base.
SS - They added Bobby Crosby this week to compete with Ronny Cedeno at short.  Crosby isn’t the best option you could have, and neither is Cedeno, but there really isn’t much available as far as upgrading the position goes.
3B - Andy LaRoche didn’t have the best season in 2009 at the plate, but he had a strong finish, and that should buy him two months time as the starter at third base, until Pedro Alvarez arrives in June.
LF - Milledge is a lock to be the starting left fielder.
CF - You’re not replacing Andrew McCutchen.
1B/RF - I mention them together because Garrett Jones is a lock to play one of these positions.  This could be a potential upgrade spot, although it’s not too urgent with Jose Tabata potentially up in June.

Bench - Jaramillo, Delwyn Young, Bobby Crosby, Ramon Vazquez, Brandon Moss, Steve Pearce, and John Raynor are options.

Rotation - Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, Daniel McCutchen, Donald Veal, and Brad Lincoln as options in 2010.
Bullpen - Matt Capps, Joel Hanrahan, and Evan Meek as locks.  Steven Jackson with an inside lane.  Leaves three spots open, with a few guys in the system, and a few cheaper options signed recently.

I’m not suggesting the Pirates should pack it up and wait until Spring Training.  I wouldn’t mind them taking a flier on a one year stopgap in right field, which would allow Jose Tabata more time to develop.  However, I’m fine with Jeff Clement getting a shot, as this could be his only opportunity to prove himself.  I’d like it if they could add a top of the rotation starter.  However, the starting pitching market is looking to be overpriced, and the Pirates have a ton of options ready to come up in the next year or two, so that’s not a huge need.  The only other position is the bullpen, and bullpen arms can be a dime a dozen.

I also don’t think the Pirates will pack it up.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Ryan Doumit and Zach Duke traded by the time Spring Training starts.  Both players have a lot of value, as both positions are in demand.  The Pirates could increase that value by waiting until closer to Spring Training to trade one, or both, of them.  I also don’t think they’re going to be content with the current bullpen options they have.  All of that said, I don’t expect a major splash.  I think we saw that with the Iwamura trade.  I think the remaining moves will be of the Crosby variety: low key, one season, and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle without jeopardizing the future or blocking prospects down the line.

As for the happenings this week:

The Additions

-The Pirates started off by adding Vinnie Chulk as a minor league free agent.  Chulk is an interesting option out of the bullpen, as he is two years removed from a 3.57 ERA in 53 innings in the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen.  He will compete for a roster spot in Spring Training.

-The Pirates addressed the shortstop position by adding Bobby Crosby.  The goal is to have Crosby pushing Cedeno, although both players will have an equal shot at the starting position.

-The Pirates took outfielder John Raynor in the Rule 5 draft.  I think Raynor will be treated like any other bench player with no options remaining: if he’s not good enough to make the team, he’ll go to waivers.  Considering Florida’s crowded outfield situation, the Pirates could work out a deal to keep Raynor, assuming he clears waivers past every other team.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates wait and make him one of the last cuts, trying to slip him through waivers at a very busy time.

-The Pirates also added Rodolfo Cardona in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 draft, although that’s a minor move, more for organizational depth.

The Subtractions

-The Pirates removed Luis Cruz and Jeff Sues from the 40-man roster to clear space for Crosby and Raynor.  Cruz was claimed off of waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers.  Sues cleared waivers and was sent to AAA.

-Robinzon Diaz, who declared free agency a few weeks ago, signed with the Detroit Tigers.

The Rumors

A lot of rumors went around, but for the most part nothing seems to be close for the Pirates.  What we do know:

-The Dodgers like Paul Maholm.

-Toronto is interested in Ryan Doumit, and has had some discussions with the Pirates, to the point where Jeremy Accardo’s name has been mentioned as part of a potential return.

-Speaking of Accardo, he could be a non-tender option tomorrow, which means the Pirates could pursue him if Toronto doesn’t tender him an offer.

-Rick Ankiel is looking for a three year contract and “big” money.  I don’t think that would work for the Pirates, as it would block Jose Tabata.

Last year the Pirates signed Ramon Vazquez the day after the Winter Meetings, followed by several minor league free agent deals the following week, which included Garrett Jones.  I wonder what moves will come in the next week now that the Winter Meetings are over.

Coming up tomorrow we have the non-tender deadline.  That shouldn’t be an issue for the Pirates, as they plan on tendering offers to all three of their arbitration eligible players (Ronny Cedeno, Matt Capps, and Zach Duke).  The deadline could bring up some interesting decisions for other teams, leaving some talent available either through a trade to a team willing to pay the arbitration price for the player, or via free agency.  It will be interesting to see what happens with Accardo.

More on the John Raynor Selection

It’s hard to predict what the Pirates are going to do, mostly because we have such a small sample size.  In 2007 the Pirates took Evan Meek in the Rule 5 draft.  Meek spent a brief amount of time on the active roster before being waived.  Obviously he ended up with the Pirates, after a deal was worked out with Tampa Bay to keep him around.

In 2008 the Pirates took Donald Veal, and it seemed like they really went through a lot of effort to keep him on the roster all season, with a few curious disabled list trips, and a limited amount of innings in the majors.

With Veal fresh in our minds, I think everyone expected the Pirates to go with the same approach, sacrificing a roster spot the entire season in order to claim a high upside guy.  After thinking about it,

Raynor seems like an Evan Meek type position player.  The Florida Marlins have a lot of outfield depth, so there’s a strong chance the Pirates could retain Raynor and let him have some more work in AAA.  The only problem here is that the Pirates have to worry about 29 teams passing on him.

As for Raynor’s AAA struggles in 2009, I’m not worried.  There’s a reason he was made available.  For reference, Donald Veal had a 4.58 ERA with a 7.6 K/9 and a 5.0 BB/9 in 145.1 innings in AA the year before he was drafted.  The strikeouts were actually down from a 9.0 K/9 in AA the year before, and his home run ratio jumped from 0.8 HR/9 to 1.2 HR/9.  Evan Meek had a 4.30 ERA in 67 innings in relief at AA, with a 1.61 WHIP, a 9.3 K/9 and a 4.6 BB/9.

I don’t think anyone would have predicted Meek would turn things around, posting a combined 2.51 ERA in relief between AA and AAA in 2008, and emerging as a top bullpen option in the majors in 2009.  As for Veal, it’s too early to tell, but the early return from the Arizona Fall League looks great.  I think there’s a good chance that Raynor bounces back to his pre-2009 form.  He started showing that in the final months of the season this year, with a .294/.376/.431 line in 109 at-bats in August and September, after posting a .246/.307/.337 line in 338 at-bats before August.  At the worst, I think he’s a decent fourth outfielder, and that’s all you can ask for out of the Rule 5 draft.

What’s to come on BUCCO Fans?

With the Top 50 Prospects, the Rule 5 draft, and the Winter Meetings complete, I figured I’d update you on what is to come on the site in the next few months.

For the most part I’ll be keeping the featured content updated, such as the Off-Season Tracker, the 2010 40-Man Roster/Payroll, and I’ll be uploading the 2010 Spring Training Tracker soon to keep track of all of the players who have been invited to camp.

I also wanted to let you in on a project I’ve been working on.  I’m currently writing a book that I hope to release in late January.  The book will be a Pittsburgh Pirates 2009 Review/2010 Preview.  It will include a lot of easy reference features, such as a condensed version of my top 50 prospects, 50 more prospect profiles, complete season stats for every player in every level of the Pirates’ organization in 2009, and some other content that has been on the site, but will be in an all-in-one place for next season.

More importantly, the book will feature exclusive content, such as the extra 50 prospect profiles (although I’m not doing specific rankings for prospects 51-100, as that gets a little too ridiculous), some prospect interviews that will only be available in the book, a series of articles looking in to detail at small market teams, some 2010 individual player predictions based on statistical analysis, and more to be added later.

Overall it will be at least 100 pages, most likely more, and will be a handbook, which would be an ideal size to take to games, especially minor league games for those of you who attend those and want information on some of the Pirates’ prospects you are watching.

Obviously nothing is official yet, as I’m currently working on formatting the book for publishing, and securing a few interviews with some Pirates’ prospects and personnel.  My goal is to have it in the $15 range.  I wanted to mention it for two reasons: to let you know what I’m working on, and to try and get an idea of how many people are interested (which will help me plan out publishing options).  If you would be interested in purchasing the book, please let me know by voting in the box below (I had to put two options, so either one is fine, although enthusiasm is appreciated on the second one.  I didn’t want to put “no” because you can simply not vote if you’re not interested).

I should clarify that I’m not looking for Pittsburgh Pirates free agent style “expressing interest”, but more of a New York Yankees free agent style “expressing interest”.  Just to clarify that…


Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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