Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Winter Meetings Preview
The 2012 MLB Winter Meetings take place this week, with the meetings usually kicking off the big off-season moves. In previous years the Pirates made most of their moves either during the meetings, or in the week following the meetings after setting the framework at the meetings. They’ve already signed Russell Martin, and have an interesting situation going into this week.
The Pirates are both buyers and sellers. They showed that they’re buyers, going for Russell Martin, which is a very short-term move. They’ve also been rumored to be shopping Joel Hanrahan and Garrett Jones, putting them in seller territory. It’s a tricky situation to sell off players, but try to compete in the short-term in the process. That’s not to say it’s a bad plan. If done correctly, the Pirates could come out much better than where they are entering the meetings. If done incorrectly, the Pirates could walk themselves in circles, ending up right back where they started with the same talent level, but different names.
To get an idea of what to expect for the winter meetings, here is a preview of the key things to watch for during the week.
Garrett Jones and Joel Hanrahan Trade Rumors
We’ve already heard rumors surrounding Joel Hanrahan and Garrett Jones, including two specific rumors. One rumor had the Pirates talking with the Dodgers about a Hanrahan for Chris Capuano swap. Another rumor had Hanrahan and Jones going to Seattle for Justin Smoak, John Jaso, and Hector Noesi. The Seattle rumor wouldn’t make much sense now that Russell Martin is on the team, since there would be no need for Jaso. It’s possible that those discussions took place before Martin signed, and maybe even before the team acquired Zach Stewart and Vin Mazzaro, which would leave little need for Noesi. The Dodgers deal wouldn’t help in the long-term, but would improve the team in 2013.
Dealing Hanrahan or Jones would be smart moves. Hanrahan is projected to make $6.9 M in 2013, and is eligible for free agency following the season. The Pirates don’t need to be spending that much on a closer, especially when they can deal him and potentially get back a guy who could provide a bigger impact. They’ve been rumored to be interested in retaining Jason Grilli, who would be a strong closer candidate to replace Hanrahan.
Jones is coming off a big season, but could be a sell-high candidate. He hit 27 homers while posting a .274 average and an .832 OPS. However, there are signs that his 2012 season was a fluke. His on-base percentage dropped, despite the rise in average. That was partly due to a drop in walks from 10% to 6.4%. He saw an increase in power, but that could have been due to luck. His HR/FB ratio in 2010 and 2011 was around 11%. It was 17.1% in 2012. Odds are that he will see a drop in that department, which means he’ll be closer to 20 homers than 30 homers. If his walk rate doesn’t bounce back, he could be in line for a big regression. Plus, he’s still a platoon player at best, so dealing him wouldn’t create a huge hole.
The perfect scenario for the Pirates would be to deal Hanrahan for a first base option, dealing Jones for a starting pitching option, and signing Grilli as the closer. The Pirates could opt to deal Jones and/or Hanrahan for prospects, then turn to the free agent market to fill their major league needs. Dealing Jones and Hanrahan would free up about $11.5 M in projected salary, leaving room for another free agent addition.
Using the trade value calculator, I project Jones to have $5 M in trade value. That’s using his projected salary for 2013, $6 M in 2014, and a 1.5 WAR per year, which is his 2009-2012 average. The $5 M trade value would be enough for a Grade B hitting prospect, or two Grade C pitching prospects. EDIT: I forgot to point out that Jones is arbitration eligible in 2015. However, I had him at a 1.5 WAR and $7.5 M in salary, which came out to a wash in trade value. I’d expect him to be non-tendered in that year. Even if he isn’t non-tendered, the 2015 season adds no additional trade value.
Hanrahan would have a $3.3 M trade value, using a 2.0 WAR and his projected $6.9 M salary. The trade value could go up when you consider the cost of closers on the open market, and the discounted salary for Hanrahan. I don’t think Hanrahan could bring more than a Grade B hitter or two Grade C pitchers.
I should also note that I haven’t updated the formula I use on the calculator. I use $5 M per WAR, and I’ve seen a few sites argue that the value per WAR is $6 M now, especially with the rising prices due to the new TV deals. That could take Hanrahan up to the $5 M range, and Jones up to the $7 M range. As always, the trade values are just a guide to show a player’s baseline value. The real value for a player is set by the market and what other teams are offering. Depending on the demand, that value could be higher or lower than the baseline value.
Also, if you’re wondering whether the Pirates could get a top prospect for either or both of these guys, I’ll refer you to our Trade Values article. Both players combined could land a guy in the 50-100 range, based on the values. If you’re expecting a top prospect for either guy individually, or a 1-50 prospect for both, you’re going to be disappointed. The Pirates would have to deal both players, and pick up all their salary, just to get a 26-50 prospect. In short, it’s unlikely that the Pirates get a top prospect in return.
The Pirates enter the meetings looking for a starting pitcher, a first baseman, and bench and bullpen help. Their biggest need seems to be the rotation, especially after the non-tender of Jeff Karstens. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald are all locks for the rotation. The final two spots are currently between Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Vin Mazzaro, and Zach Stewart. Locke and McPherson are unproven, and Mazzaro and Stewart are uninspiring. The Pirates could use at least one more starter, leaving the rest of those options battling it out for the final rotation spot.
If the Pirates deal Jones they will also need a first baseman. They have Gaby Sanchez, although Sanchez looks more like a platoon option. They recently acquired Clint Robinson, who also could be a platoon option. Robinson has hit for power in the minors, and has been blocked in Kansas City. The downside is that he’ll be 28 years old, and has almost no experience in the majors. Worst case, if the Pirates deal Jones they could go with a Sanchez/Robinson platoon. That’s about the equivalent of the four rotation options: unproven/uninspiring. They’d be better off trying to find an upgrade for the position.
The Pirates have several options for the bullpen. If Joel Hanrahan is dealt, they could try to sign Jason Grilli as the new closer. For the six other spots, they’ve got internal options. Jared Hughes and Tony Watson are both locks. Bryan Morris is out of options, so he’s a lock. Chris Leroux, Rick van den Hurk, and Vin Mazzaro are all out of options. Zach Stewart, Chad Beck, Justin Wilson, and Duke Welker could all compete for spots. The Pirates usually add one seven-figure middle reliever per year, but don’t expect that to come this week. That addition usually comes in January or February. If they’re looking for a closer, we might see that move being made this week.
As for the bench, they’ve got a few internal options. Michael McKenry has the backup catcher role filled. Jose Tabata and Alex Presley will compete for outfield jobs, and could end up on the bench behind Starling Marte and Travis Snider. One bench spot will be taken up by Gaby Sanchez. That would leave one final spot for infielders like Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud, and Brock Holt. The Pirates have done two things in the past. They’ve signed minor league free agents with invites to Spring Training — guys like Nick Evans, Jake Fox, and Garrett Atkins. They’ve also signed seven figure guys like Nate McLouth. The major league deals haven’t worked out, probably because guys signing with the Pirates for bench roles are probably taking those roles because they couldn’t sign anywhere else. Considering the options, the Pirates might be better off going the minor league route, which they’ve already done with depth options like Felix Pie and Darren Ford.
Rule 5 Draft
In previous years, the Rule 5 draft has been weak, mostly due to the new rules that have made it easier for teams to protect players. This year’s draft could be different. Jon Morosi quoted an executive who said this year’s class had potential impact arms and bats, and was “one of the best” he’s seen. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com looked at the top 20 prospects who are eligible for the draft, and there are some interesting guys on the list.
Two of the guys from that list that stand out to me are Destin Hood and Kyle Heckathorn. I’ve seen Heckathorn pitch once, and really liked him for the Vic Black pick in the 2009 draft. He went off the board two picks before Black, but hasn’t had the best numbers, with a 4.75 ERA in 119.1 innings last year in Double-A. He’s struggled with command, and profiles as a reliever. He throws a sinker, which seems to be the preferred pitch for the Pirates.
I’ve seen Hood a lot in Double-A. He hasn’t had the numbers, but has a good frame and Mayo notes he could be a 20-20 guy with his above-average speed and raw power. I saw him a few times in 2010 in the South Atlantic League, and a few times last year in the Eastern League. Each time his skills were impressive, but he didn’t put up the best results. It seems I’m not alone in liking the tools and the build.
I’m only highlighting those two because they’re players that stood out to me. That’s not saying they’re better than anyone else on the list, or anyone who isn’t on that list. Normally when I’m at a minor league game, I’m doing so many things to get coverage for the site (photos, radar readings, notes, writing stories) that I don’t even pay attention to the other teams. Players only stand out when I see them a lot, when I followed them as a draft prospect, or when they have a lot of success against the Pirates affiliates.
In the past few years the Pirates have approached the Rule 5 draft almost as a cheap way to add a bench player. They took Gustavo Nunez last year, although he spent the entire year on the 60-day disabled list. They took John Raynor and Josh Rodriguez in the previous two seasons. Both players started the year in Pittsburgh, and neither amounted to much. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates approach this year. They’ve got a lower pick (13th overall) and the talent is said to be better. I’d expect them to make a pick, as they have an open 40-man roster spot, and the cost of taking a gamble on a Rule 5 guy is incredibly small.
The following resources can be used to track the winter meetings this week.
Pirates Rumors – All of the rumors on the Pirates. This will be the top category on the main page of the site.
Transactions – Keep track of all the moves made by the Pirates.
2013 Payroll – The 2013 40-man roster and payroll projection, updated after every move.
Future Payroll – The Future Payroll chart, showing years of control and the breakdown of the 40-man roster.