The Pittsburgh Pirates had an amazing off-season last year. They had two of the best free agent signings with Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano. They made a great trade to get Mark Melancon for Joel Hanrahan. Jason Grilli was signed at a below market rate for closers. They bought low on Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro, getting both relievers for next to nothing. And one year ago today the amount of moves they had made was zero.
The only players the Pirates had signed at this point one year ago were minor league free agents. They added Darren Ford, Jared Goedert, Anderson Hernandez, Stefan Welch, Ryan Reid, Jeff Larish, Brooks Brown, Erik Cordier, David Bromberg, Luis Sanz, and Felix Pie. A few of those guys made it to the majors in 2013, but none of them made a major impact.
It wasn’t until November 29th that the Pirates signed Russell Martin. The first Martin rumors didn’t come out until November 27th. They didn’t sign Grilli until December 10th. They first agreed with Francisco Liriano on December 21st and agreed to the Joel Hanrahan deal on December 22nd.
This doesn’t mean that the Pirates are less than a week away from their first free agent signing. But it does give perspective that a slow November doesn’t really say anything about how the off-season will go. I’d expect the news and rumors to pick up in the next week, only because some key dates are getting closer. A week from Monday is the tender deadline. The winter meetings are a week after that, and that’s when the market really opens up.
For now, here is the review of the events from the past week. The Pirates did make some transactions, but nothing major…yet.
Free Agent Rumors
It has been another week with little activity from the Pirates. That’s not unusual for this time of the year. At this time last year the Pirates hadn’t made a move, and the 2013 off-season was successful. There have been some moves, with the notable one for the Pirates being that Josh Johnson signed with the Padres. That takes one bounce back pitcher off the market. The Pirates were the runners up in the bidding, which makes you wonder where they stand with A.J. Burnett.
**The Pirates did check on Lance Berkman, which isn’t exactly something you want to hear. Berkman shouldn’t be an option as a starter, since he’s old and coming off a poor year in Texas. I will point out that we didn’t really hear what role they were looking at for Berkman, or if it was even serious interest. Hopefully if they were serious, it was only to have Berkman as a bench bat.
**On Friday I wrote that the price of free agents hasn’t really increased. A lot of the early signings are still getting about $5 M per WAR, but most of them come with risks and are being paid based on their former production and not their 2013 down-year. Since that article we saw two deals. Brian McCann got $17 M per year from the Yankees. In the last three years, McCann has averaged a 2.1 WAR each season. That would be about $8 M per win. If you consider 2012 a fluke (.698 OPS), then he averages a 3.3 WAR between 2011-2013. That’s a little closer to the $5 M mark. Jhonny Peralta got $13 M per year from the Cardinals. He has been about a 3.7 WAR player the last three years, although there are the PED concerns. A 3.7 WAR would be about $3 M per win, but I don’t think that is the expectation for Peralta. At $5 M per win, he would be expected to be around a 2.5 WAR player at $13 M per year.
The Pirates didn’t make any big free agent moves, but they did have a busy week on the transactions side of things. The big news was that they added Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Joely Rodriguez, and Casey Sadler to the 40-Man. That was to protect each player from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Here is a list of players who are eligible for the 2013 Rule 5 draft.
In the weekly Prospect Rewind I looked at the progression of Casey Sadler and Joely Rodriguez. The Prospect Rewind looks at reports from old Prospect Guides, in preparation for the release of the 2014 Prospect Guide, which is available for pre-sales right now.
**The Pirates traded Duke Welker away as part of the Justin Morneau deal. They re-acquired him for Kris Johnson this week. I like the swap for the Pirates. Johnson has value, but his value is better as a starter. He probably wouldn’t have been one of the top ten options as a starting pitcher for the 2014 season. Meanwhile, I’d rather have a 97 MPH right-hander with a plus slider over a third lefty relief option out of Triple-A.
**On the personnel side of things, Jeff Branson was named the new hitting coach.
**Here are the updated 40-man rosters with all of this week’s moves:
Winter League Highlights
**Andrew Lambo got a start at first base. That’s pretty noteworthy, since Lambo could compete for a roster spot in 2014, and the Pirates have needs at both first base and right field. In the long-term he’s going to need to play first base to stick with the Pirates, since Gregory Polanco will eventually take over in right field.