Week In Review: Pirates Still Need a First Baseman After the Winter Meetings

The Winter Meetings are over, and the Pittsburgh Pirates made a few additions to the team during the week. None of the additions represented a big splash, and the biggest addition they made this week requires a lot of faith in Ray Searage. The one position they didn’t fill was first base. Several options went off the board, although the Pirates still have plenty of possibilities if they want to find a first baseman to platoon with Gaby Sanchez. Below you will find the recap of the Winter Meetings, with links to our coverage throughout the week.

I also want to mention that the 2014 Prospect Guide was submitted to the publishers this weekend. I anticipate getting the first shipment of books this week, and will be shipping them out by the end of the week. I’m hoping to ship everything out Thursday, which should get them to most places Monday or Tuesday. Everyone who has placed an order as of this writing is guaranteed to have their order going out with the first shipment. The first shipment will cover more than the pre-sale orders, so if you order this week there is a good chance your book will go out when I send out the first shipment. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

Edinson Volquez

The Pirates seemingly have filled their open rotation spot with the signing of Edinson Volquez. The rotation now has Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Volquez, and either Wandy Rodriguez or Jeff Locke. The last spot depends on the health of Rodriguez.

The signing of Volquez brings up two questions. First, how much do you trust Ray Searage? Volquez doesn’t look good, but neither did A.J. Burnett or Francisco Liriano. I’d argue that Volquez looks worse, and doesn’t have the potential to be a top of the rotation starter. I think Searage could improve Volquez to a starter who can throw league average numbers over 180 innings. That doesn’t look good if you’re comparing Volquez to Burnett, but it does look good if you’re just looking at the $5 M salary.

The signing also brings up the question of whether Burnett will return. Earlier in the week we heard that he was still undecided about retirement. Late in the week it was reported that the Orioles were pursuing him, although they have also heard he is unsure about returning. The “Burnett-to-the-Orioles” rumor makes sense, as they need pitching and he lives near Baltimore. The Pirates have said they could bring back Burnett, even with Volquez in the mix. I think a lot of people are severely discounting the possibility that Burnett could retire. It seems like a lot of people are viewing his return to baseball as a given, and the only thing stopping him is the Pirates not offering enough money. Now we have another team looking at him, and hearing the same response. I think if this was just about a team offering more money, Burnett would have been signed by now. It seems like he’s just honestly undecided.

The Pirates were connected to Bronson Arroyo, Jason Hammel, and Johan Santana this week. Of the three, Hammel is the guy I like the best, and a guy I liked more than Volquez. I don’t see any of those guys signing now that Volquez is in the mix.

First Base

A lot of first base options disappeared this week. Seattle added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. The Rays brought back James Loney on a three year deal. Of all the first basemen, Loney was my top choice. There are still first basemen available, which I detailed here after the Loney signing.

The Pirates have been connected to several of those first basemen throughout the off-season. They could be able to get anyone on the list that they want. There’s not much competition now at first base, with Milwaukee being the only other team actively seeking a first baseman.

My preference at this point would be Justin Smoak of the Mariners. Staying in-house with Andrew Lambo wouldn’t be a bad plan, but leaves no backup plan if Lambo struggles. The Pirates have shown interest in Eric Chavez, which could lead to an outside of the box idea with Chavez as the starter and Lambo as a Plan B. I don’t trust Chavez to hold up as a starter with his injury history and his age, but he has the numbers. If you’ve got Lambo as a backup, that makes his injury history less of a concern. He’s a free agent, so he would also be cheaper than Smoak, who would likely cost a major league pitcher.

Other Positions

**The Pirates signed Clint Barmes this week, filling their need for a backup middle infielder. I don’t think any player brings a bigger split in opinions than Barmes. He’s got a ton of value for his defense at shortstop, especially since the Pirates have a ground ball heavy pitching staff. He also has no bat, which brings on the negative opinions.

**They’re looking to stay in-house when it comes to right field. That’s not a surprise after the tendered contract to Travis Snider and the addition of Jaff Decker. Neal Huntington said that Gregory Polanco wouldn’t be an option at the start of the season, which also isn’t a surprise. I expect Polanco to be up in June or July.

Transactions

**The biggest transaction of the week was that the Pirates signed Charlie Morton to a three year extension. That’s not a move that will make any impact in 2014, since Morton was already under team control. It will impact the following 2-3 years. Morton would have been a free agent after the 2014 season. He’s now under control for a minimum of two years and $17 M, or a maximum of three years and $26 M beyond the 2014 season. Considering some of the prices paid for free agent starters on this market, the Pirates could be looking at a huge value for Morton during that time.

**Jerry Sands and Ryan Reid were designated for assignment to make room for Volquez and Barmes. Not a big surprise with either player, as I had them both listed as candidates to be removed from the 40-man at the start of the off-season.

**To complete the Chris Stewart trade, the Pirates sent Kyle Haynes to the Yankees.

**Wei-Chung Wang was drafted by the Brewers in the Rule 5 draft. It was a surprising move, and a smart move by the Brewers. Wang was our #30 ranked prospect in the Prospect Guide. He will have to make the jump from rookie ball to the majors, which is hard, but he’s got impressive stuff that gives him a shot to get there. The link talks more about him, along with a review of who the Pirates took in the minor league phase of the draft.

**The Pirates signed Michael Martinez to a minor league deal.

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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