The 2011 Winter Meetings begin today, which kicks off one of the busiest periods of the year for Major League baseball. This usually marks the time when the big free agents start going off the board. We’ve already seen the beginning, with Jose Reyes agreeing to a six year, $106 M deal with the Miami Marlins last night. This also surrounds some very important dates for transactions, which should lead to a ton of roster moves.
The Pittsburgh Pirates made most of their off-season moves last year during the Winter Meetings, signing Matt Diaz, Scott Olsen, Kevin Correia, and laying the groundwork for a Lyle Overbay signing. This year they’ve already added Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, but the Pirates enter the meetings with two areas of need remaining: first base and starting pitching.
The Pirates tendered an arbitration offer to free agent first baseman Derrek Lee. Lee has until Wednesday to accept or decline the offer. If he accepts, the Pirates keep him under contract for the 2012 season, with his salary being a raise over his $8.5 M compensation from the 2011 season. All indications are that Lee doesn’t want to play in Pittsburgh. If he declines, the Pirates would get a compensation pick after the first round of the 2012 draft.
If Lee doesn’t sign with the Pirates the next best option becomes Carlos Pena. Either player would add a power bat to the middle of the lineup, something the Pirates desperately need, not only to boost the team, but to take pressure off of the young hitters. Pena might be a better fit for PNC Park, as he’s left handed with a ton of power. At the same time, Lee didn’t seem to have any problems while playing for the Pirates in 2011, hitting for a .337/.398/.584 line in 101 at-bats.
If the Pirates can’t land Lee or Pena they could turn to an internal option, such as Garrett Jones or Matt Hague. First base is the biggest need for the team this off-season and it’s the only way the Pirates can add an impact bat. Jones and Hague won’t provide that impact, so it would be disappointing if the Pirates entered the 2012 season with one of the two starting at first.
Paul Maholm was non-tendered at the start of the off-season and Charlie Morton went down with a hip injury, leaving the Pirates looking for starting pitching help. Morton could return by the start of the season, and will be back no later than the end of April, so finding a replacement for him isn’t as big of a need. Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, and Morton are the locks for the rotation. Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia and Ross Ohlendorf could also be possibilities, although chances are Ohlendorf gets non-tendered next week.
The Pirates could use at least one starter to add to the rotation. They’re unlikely to get a number one or a number two option, but there are some interesting pitchers who could be obtainable. Chris Capuano was my top choice of the realistic options for the Pirates, but he went off the board to the Dodgers for two years and $10 M. The Pirates have been linked to international pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada, with either player providing an outside of the box solution for the rotation.
The Pirates have been linked to a few infielders, specifically guys who have played third base. We heard that they checked on Mark DeRosa last week, and we heard last night that they inquired on Ian Stewart, who is expected to be traded by the Rockies. Neal Huntington has said the team will look for a contingency plan for Pedro Alvarez, in case he struggles again in 2012. The rumors surrounding the infielders could suggest the team will look to add that contingency plan from the outside, rather than an internal option.
We also heard last night that the Pirates are looking for outfielders and that they are interested in bringing Nate McLouth back. McLouth probably wouldn’t return as a starter, and if the Pirates were to add such an outfielder it would probably signal the end for Garrett Jones.
We haven’t heard any concrete rumors that the Pirates are shopping Joel Hanrahan, though this might be their smartest move during the meetings. The market for relief pitchers is extremely high. Jonathan Papelbon received four years and $50 M. Heath Bell received three years and $27 M, with a vesting option for a fourth year and an additional $9 M. Joe Nathan got two years and $14 M.
Hanrahan is projected to receive $11.5 M over the next two years in his final years of arbitration. That’s a huge value for a team that is not only looking for a lower price, but for a team that doesn’t want to shell out a long term commitment to a closer. Hanrahan could bring back at least one impact player in return, which would be more valuable to the Pirates than having a guaranteed strong closer.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 draft is Thursday, and the Pirates pick eighth in the draft. They’ve taken a player every year under the new management group, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to add another player this year. You could almost make a case that the Pirates shouldn’t make a pick this year. They’re going to have a hard time finding a spot for a bullpen arm, as they already have tough decisions to make with their internal options. They could draft a bench player, but in the past they haven’t been comfortable using guys like John Raynor or Josh Rodriguez, leaving the team with a dead roster spot at the start of the year. At the same time the Rule 5 draft is a free way to add talent, and it doesn’t hurt to at least take a look at a player, even if he doesn’t make it out of Spring Training.