The 2010 MLB Winter Meetings kick off tomorrow, and run through Thursday afternoon, finishing off with the 2010 Rule 5 draft. Leading up to the meetings, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been linked to a lot of free agents, but have yet to make a move, outside of letting a few players from the 2010 roster go. The main areas of focus for the Pirates have been the starting rotation, a first baseman/right fielder, and a shortstop. The Pirates enter the Winter Meetings with four open spots on the 40-man roster, and a projected payroll of just under $30 M. They are expected to make at least one selection in the Rule 5 draft, and could also fill a few of their needs over the next few days. Here is a review of the Pirates’ off-season so far, along with a preview of some of the moves we could see this week.
The Pirates have been said to be looking to add one or two starters to the 2011 rotation. They missed out on their top target, Jorge De La Rosa, who re-signed with the Colorado Rockies last week. That leaves them looking at several bounce back candidates. The names they’ve been linked to are Justin Duchscherer, Brandon Webb, Scott Olsen, and Jeff Francis.
Dejan Kovacevic mentioned today that the pursuit of Webb has gotten cold in recent days, while the Pirates are in serious pursuit of Olsen, and could be considered the favorites to land the former Nationals’ left hander. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of Olsen, and would rather see the Pirates do nothing than add free agent options like him. Of the names mentioned above, my preference would be Duchscherer or Francis, with Webb ahead of Olsen as a backup plan.
The Pirates could also look at the Rule 5 draft to add a potential starter. Normally the Rule 5 draft doesn’t provide pitchers who could make the jump to the rotation, although Aneury Rodriguez could be one of those rare instances, as he had some success in AAA in 2010, and could compete for a rotation spot to start the 2011 season.
First Base/Right Field
The Pirates have Garrett Jones, John Bowker, Steve Pearce, and Alex Presley as options who could compete for either first base or right field. They recently let go of Lastings Milledge, who was the starter in right field for most of the season in 2010. The main problem with the current group is that none of the options are established, and the Pirates have two positions to fill.
The internal options could work best as platoon players. Garrett Jones and John Bowker both have struggled in their careers against left handers, while Steve Pearce has had success in his career against left handers. However, the Pirates don’t seem to prefer a platoon situation.
Externally, the Pirates were looking at Lance Berkman, who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend for $8 M. Their focus now is on corner outfielders, specifically Matt Diaz and Jack Cust. Diaz is another guy who might be best suited as a platoon option, with historically strong numbers against left handed pitching. Cust lacks defense, but could add some power to the lineup, and be a sleeper everyday bat the Pirates are looking for. Both players were recently non-tendered. Cust will likely see a raise over his $2.65 M salary in 2010, while Diaz could see a raise over his $2.55 M salary from the 2010 season.
The Pirates have been pursuing J.J. Hardy and Jason Bartlett on the shortstop market, and even tried to trade for Hardy on Thursday. Hardy and Bartlett were both recently tendered by their current teams, although both teams made that move to try and get a return via trade for each player. Hardy will see a raise over his $5.1 M salary in 2010, likely receiving $5.5-6 M. Bartlett will also see a raise over his $4 M salary from the 2010 season.
The shortstop market has gotten very thin with buyers over the last two weeks, leaving a strong possibility that the Pirates make an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno this off-season. Despite recently signing Cedeno to a one year, $2 M deal with a 2012 option, the Pirates have stated their plan to use Cedeno as a utility player, and even have him playing some outfield in Winter ball.
My preference between Hardy and Bartlett goes to Hardy. Bartlett doesn’t seem like an upgrade over Cedeno, with his defense on a steady decline year after year, and his big year at the plate in 2009 looking like a career year. Hardy has seen his offensive numbers struggle during the last two seasons, although he remains strong defensively, and had more historical success on offense than Bartlett, giving him a better shot than Bartlett at bouncing back at the plate in 2011.
The Pirates could pursue help for their bench, as well as their bullpen, although any such moves would probably be minor additions at this point, such as what we saw last week when they added Andy Marte, Fernando Nieve, and Dusty Brown. One area where the Pirates could look is third base. The Pirates were linked to Adrian Beltre early in the off-season, although there hasn’t been much mention outside of the initial news. They probably won’t land Beltre, but the fact that they looked at him says they could try and pursue a third base option, which would move Pedro Alvarez over to first base.
There’s also the possibility that the Pirates could pursue one of the previously mentioned needs via trade, although they have said they aren’t looking to trade away any of their top prospects. Any trade would likely include Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek, who seem to be the most valuable trade chips that the Pirates can afford to part with.
The Rule 5 Draft
The Pirates have the first pick in the 2010 Rule 5 draft, and Aneury Rodriguez is a strong possibility for the pick, according to Dejan Kovacevic. I’ve previewed some of the more interesting position players and pitchers, as well as some of the top options for the Pirates. I’ve also gone in to detail over Adam Miller and Aneury Rodriguez, and will be going over a few more top prospects in the talent pool in the days leading up to Thursday’s draft.
With four open roster spots, there is the possibility that the Pirates could make multiple selections, although that kind of thing seems to be mentioned every year.