First Pitch: Potential Off-Season Moves

In estimating the 2013 payroll, I had to make some guesses on which players would return. Some of the guesses I didn’t like making. There are some players who I feel could be candidates to be removed from the 40-man roster, but I left them on the 40-man. I explained that this was done because it really doesn’t impact the payroll. But which guys were candidates?

First, I’d have to say that the future doesn’t look good for the guys who were left in Triple-A at the end of the year. The Pirates called up almost anyone who could help them down the stretch. They didn’t call up Yamaico Navarro, Matt Hague, or Daniel McCutchen. The only other player who didn’t come up on the 40-man roster was Duke Welker, although he was coming off an injury. It’s only speculation based on their assignments at the end of the year, but it doesn’t look good that these three guys weren’t called on when the team needed help and could call up anyone on the 40-man roster.

Next I’d look at guys who didn’t see much playing time. Chase d’Arnaud and Eric Fryer would top the list of the guys who were called up to the majors. I don’t see the Pirates keeping Fryer on the 40-man. As for d’Arnaud, he seems to have fallen behind Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Brock Holt for the middle infield battle, and it looks like there’s only room for two of those guys on the 25-man roster next year. Fryer would become a free agent if he was designated for assignment, but the Pirates could keep d’Arnaud if he cleared waivers. The same is true for Hague and Navarro, although Daniel McCutchen could elect free agency.

This did leave a few questions about the positions that could be addressed during the off-season. The catching position would be a big one. The Pirates have said that Barajas won’t be a starter next year, so I doubt they bring him back for his $3.5 M option figure. Michael McKenry could be a starter, but he probably needs to split time with someone. Would that someone be a guy like Tony Sanchez? Or maybe a trade or a free agent? Will the Pirates look for a backup to McKenry, or look for an upgrade that would make McKenry a strong backup? That will be one of the bigger storylines in the off-season.

At the other positions, the Pirates are set with options, but they’re not really set. They’ve got Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez at first base. Jones did well this year, but those numbers don’t match the previous years in the majors. There could be some regression. Sanchez is hoping to bounce back to his 2010/2011 numbers, rather than his poor year in 2012.

In the outfield the Pirates have Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley, but no one has stepped up as a long-term option.

At shortstop the Pirates have a strong defensive wizard in Clint Barmes, and prospects like Jordy Mercer who haven’t established themselves in the majors. Barmes will get the starts because of his salary, but which middle infielder will step up if he struggles again in 2013?

The Pirates have similar questions in the rotation. Which James McDonald will they get? Can Jeff Karstens stay healthy? Can Kyle McPherson and/or Jeff Locke become successful starters?

In all of these situations the Pirates have options. Another way of looking at this is they have a lot of question marks. They could help the team by filling one of those spots, and removing one question. I mentioned in the payroll article that I think trading Joel Hanrahan could bring in a potential filler for one of those areas. They could also try for another A.J. Burnett type deal where they try and pick up salary. Their payroll is projected to start at a higher level than last year’s payroll ended, but that shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve always pointed out that most small market teams see three things happen in order: improved record, increased attendance, and higher payroll. We’ve seen the first two from the Pirates. Now is the time for the third part of that plan.

Links and Notes

**The site was down for a long period of time today. I apologize for that. One of the servers went down, which needed a quick reboot. For some reason I never got the e-mail alert about the server, and I was out most of the day, so I wasn’t around a computer to check and see if the site was up and running. All of that and the solution was clicking the reset button when I got home.

**AFL Recap: Kaminska Throws Five Shutout Innings.

**A List of the Pittsburgh Pirates Playing in the 2012 Winter Leagues.

**Winter League Results: McPherson Rocked in First Start.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Recap: Center Field. Also in this: my thoughts on why Starling Marte should be the starting center fielder.

**With No Moves, the Pirates are Projected to Spend $63 M in 2013.

**I haven’t really looked at the available free agents yet, so I couldn’t say who would be a fit for the team. However, following up on my thoughts a few weeks ago about how free agency wasn’t worth it, I don’t think I’d personally be interested in the free agent crop. That’s not saying the Pirates shouldn’t try to go that route. I just don’t think they’ll be able to land the guys in the middle tier, I think the guys at the top make too much for their production, and I think the guys in the lower tier — who the Pirates usually sign — won’t make much of an impact. For the positions I mentioned above, the Pirates would be better off going internal, rather than adding a lower tier guy. The one exception is the catching position, since they wouldn’t need a top guy to be the backup to McKenry.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    Unfortunately we already know the answer to the “which middle infielder will step up if Barmes struggles” question. None of them will, because it has been proven that no matter how much Barmes struggles they won’t give anybody a legitimate opportunity at the job. They might give Barmes an extra day off or two, but he is the starter come hell or high water.

    • whiteAngus

      barmes should be the starter out of the gate next season. his glove is very important to our team. the only other SS we have that is an average defender is Mercer, and IMO hes barely average with any part of his game. d’Arnaud has the most potential but he too cant defend anywhere near as well as Barmes.
      barmes will never be a good hitter but he does have to improve. if you take away april and may, he was actually halfway decent with the stick.

  • leadoff

    The Pirates were still very major league young at most of the positions on the field, they have a lot of young outfielders and infielders and to bring in someone that is just marginally better than one of the players they already have for a lot of money does not make sense when the real problems with the Pirates are not related to talented position players. They need two solid pitchers that can go the distance to team up with Burnette and Rodrigez. After these two they have no proven starting pitching talent. They know they need to upgrade the catching position, probably the toughest move they will have to make.
    Yes they have a lot of question marks, but some of them are questions about who will beat out who, those are good question marks. Will Walkers back be a problem? another question mark!

    • steve19981

      I think the starting pitching is rock solid. It is a testimony as to how well Huntington has traded that he has acquired all five starters on what could be an excellent rotation – AJ, JMac, Karstens, Locke and Wandy. You throw the success that Morton had before his injury and anyone who doubts Huntington’s ability to trade should look at the starters. They are great and what Huntington has done is great.

      • TonyPenaforHOF

        That depends on what your definition of “great” is.

        If it’s building a championship level team that performs consistently then the answer is no.

        – AJ and Wandy are old. It is very likely they won’t be productive after the next 2 years. And no one in their right mind thinks the Pirates will be contending for a championship (not .500, not the wild card) in the next 2 years. While they have played well and one we got for nothing as a salary dump they are only good for making the team better this past year and maybe next year.

        – JMac is a mystery but I still give credit to Neal for the trade. Locke hasn’t done anything at the ML level to be given a job and his ceiling is low as a #4 or #5. Locke isn’t a positive or a negative yet. I would rather have him than a older journeyman or another high round bust (Cedeno, Clement) but Locke doesn’t indicate Neal is “great”

        – If you throw in the success of Morton you also have to throw in the failure. He was an utter disaster for a long enough period of time he doesn’t get the “JMac small sample size” pass.

        How does that translate into “great”?

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    While it appears Bob Smizik is not popular on this blog with many of the followers, this post shows a pretty good view of the Pirates talent development since 2000. It isn’t a shot at Huntington or Littlefield individually, but it says quite a bit about both of their performances combined.

    http://communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/sports/bob-smiziks-blog/34635-cardinals-show-pirates-how-to-do-it-concerning-drafting-and-development

    When I comment about excellence, this is the type of performance I am referring to. As Pirate fans we should expect nothing less.

    • gonfalon

      Smizik probably didn’t help his popularity with two glaring errors: one was named “Bengie”; and Brock Holt was drafted in 2009 and reached the majors this year. That said, clearly the Pirates could learn a lot from the Cardinals.

    • leadoff

      Typical Smizik Pirate bashing column, one side of everything, that column is so easy to debate that it is not worth it. Everyone knows that overall the Pirates did not draft well until 2008, since then no comparison the Pirate farm is far superior to the Card farm. The Cards have the Pirates beat in a number of areas, but not the farm, The Cards know what to do with their prospects when they get to the majors, the Pirates don’t.

      • TonyPenaforHOF

        Not the point of my post. My point is to continue to produce evidence our GM and his people are not the best in baseball. They’re average.

        My objective is get my fellow Pirate fans to begin to put public and financial pressure the ownership to either:
        – make the organization great by bringing in the best talent there is in the F.O.
        or
        – sell the team to someone who will.

        I don’t care which one they pick, but they have to pick one.

        I think many Pirate fans think it’s a short trip from over .500 to the playoffs and a championship. It’s not. Look at the other small market teams in the playoffs and we see the championship almost always ends up in the big money.

        An average GM isn’t going to give us a chance at anything real or sustainable. Only the best there is will even give us a shot. That’s why IMHO Neal has to go. He doesn’t stink, he’s just not good enough to achieve a championship in Pittsburgh.

      • RandyLinville

        The Pirates farm system is far superior to the Cards? How do you arrive at tha?. BA had them ranked 10 and 11 to start the year. Fan graphs had them at 6 (STL) and 9 to start the season. Given that STL hasn’t drafted in the top 10 since NH took over, I’d say they are holding their own.

        • TonyPenaforHOF

          I agree with you the Pirates are not way ahead of the Cardinals in the farm system. But I think they are doing better that holding their own. They are unbelievable!

          For the Cardinals to win consistently at the ML level AND have a farm system in the top 1/3 is way above average. Add all of this to the fact they have 17 of 25 players on their playoff roster homegrown has put them at or near the top of all franchises.

          All of this after they let a 13th round pick from 1999 walk via free agency – Albert Pujols!

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      Facts and figures don’t bother the serial Huntington lovers. He must have given several people here money, for the love they show him. The Cardinals have the Pirates beaten in all areas, including the one that actually counts, wins. Instead of cheap GM’s, the Pirates should be hiring one with a track record of selecting and developing talent. Not another ‘first time GM’. Huntington, Littlefield and Bonifay all had that in common. And then hold them accountable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    I think it’s possible this offseason for them to improve in several areas of the team via various methods. I think internally there are options to replace some players, I definitely think that another trade in the way of AJ Burnett is possible, and who knows, maybe the Pirates have brought enough positive light on the franchise that they could make some sort of statement free agent signing. Then you have Geeritt Cole and Taillon nearly ready to take the next step. Very curious to see how this offseason works out.

  • buccotime57

    Marte is not a long term answer?

  • pirateswillwinin2012

    “I haven’t really looked at the available free agents yet, so I couldn’t
    say who would be a fit for the team. However, following up on my thoughts a few weeks ago about how free agency wasn’t worth it, I don’t think I’d personally be interested in the free agent crop.”

    There is a lot of nice mid tier pitching that the Pirates could get their hands on, Like a Edwin Jackson again.