On the second day of the MLB Winter Meetings, the Pittsburgh Pirates moved closer to several deals in order to add depth to the major league roster. The team agreed to a deal with Nate McLouth, bringing back the former Pirates outfielder on what is believed to be a one year deal. The deal is pending a physical, and terms of the deal aren’t yet known. The Pirates are also moving close to a deal with infielder Wilson Betemit. Betemit has played mostly third base in his career, and would be a backup option in case Pedro Alvarez struggles again.
Both moves would add depth to their positions, and perhaps more importantly for the Pirates, would add contingency plans in case the young players struggled.
The Pirates need Pedro Alvarez to do a complete 180 degree turn from last season. They need him to be the middle of the lineup bat he was projected to become. If that doesn’t happen it would be nice to have a guy backing him up who had a .290/.359/.479 line in 599 at-bats over the last two seasons combined. If Alvarez does have a good 2011 season, then Betemit provides a strong option off the bench, capable of playing all four infield positions.
Jose Tabata and Alex Presley are expected to start in the outfield. Both dealt with injuries in 2011, and both are young and unproven in the majors. Adding a backup option protects the Pirates should one of the two go down with an injury or struggle. Whether McLouth is the right guy is another question.
Pat at WHYGAVS makes a good point that if McLouth wasn’t a former Pirate, the move probably wouldn’t receive much interest. McLouth hit for a .229/.335/.364 line with Atlanta after the June 2009 trade. If you would have suggested anyone else with those numbers, the reaction would have been pretty negative. That’s not to say that Pirates fans love the move. From what I’ve noticed, the reaction is more surprise that McLouth has returned.
McLouth had some good numbers in Pittsburgh, highlighted by his 2008 season when he hit for a .276/.356/.497 line in 597 at-bats. It would be crazy to expect the same out of him in 2012, especially following his two and a half years of struggling in Atlanta. But a move back to Pittsburgh could be good for the left handed hitting outfielder due to the short distance over the right field wall. According to Ball in Play data on Katron.org, McLouth would have seen five added home runs over the last two years playing his home games at PNC Park, rather than Turner Field. That would amount to 15 total homers in about 500 at-bats, which is an AB/HR pace I’d take off the bench.
The Pirates also are closing in on a deal with catcher/first baseman Jose Morales. I can’t imagine the deal being a major league deal. Morales seems like a decent option for catching depth out of AAA.
As I mentioned last night, the most important thing for the Pirates remains the hole at first base, followed by the need for a starting pitcher in the rotation. It’s a good move to add depth to the bench and add backup options for the young players. That move becomes meaningless if the Pirates enter the 2012 season without adding a good first base option, and/or with their current rotation options. But there’s still plenty of time left in the off-season, and we heard rumors on both fronts today.
Arbitration Decision For Derrek Lee Due Today
The deadline for Derrek Lee to accept or reject arbitration is tonight (Wednesday night) at midnight. Lee is expected to turn down arbitration, which could mean a draft pick for the Pirates if he signs elsewhere. The team is still pursuing him to return, and will continue that pursuit even if he turns down arbitration.
There have been some people wondering why he didn’t turn down arbitration by now. It wouldn’t make sense for him to turn down the offer prior to the deadline. It’s basically a one year offer for $8.5 M or more, and could be used as a negotiating chip against other teams.
The Pursuit of Left Handed Starters
We heard two rumors today linking the Pirates to left handed starters. Earlier we heard that the Pirates planned to meet with the agent for left handed pitcher Jeff Francis. The Mariners had a meeting today, and the Twins are also on the list of suitors. The left hander is believed to be seeking a two year deal.
Francis had a 4.82 ERA in 183 innings last year, but his advanced metrics suggest he was much better than that. He had a 4.29 xFIP, along with a 4.5 K/9, a 1.9 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 ratio. He would probably benefit from a move to the NL, and he would really benefit from pitching at PNC Park.
The Pirates have also expressed interest in left handed pitcher Erik Bedard. The left hander turns 33 next year and is coming off a season where he put up a 3.62 ERA in 129.1 innings with the Red Sox and Mariners. The big knock against Bedard is that he’s been very injury prone throughout his career. His inning total in 2011 was the most he’s pitched in a season since 2007, when he threw 182 innings. He pitched 81 innings in 2008, 83 in 2009, missed the 2010 season, and had two minor injuries in 2011.
The upside for Bedard is huge. In his career he has a 3.70 ERA, along with an 8.8 K/9, a 3.5 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 ratio. When healthy he is better than any pitchers the Pirates currently have in the system. At times in his career he’s put up ace numbers, such as the 2009 season when he had a 2.82 ERA before going down for half the year.
Bedard is a high risk player due to his injury history, but he also comes with a high reward. You could make an argument that 15-20 starts from Bedard at his best is better than a full season from your typical number five starter. Throw in that he would be pitching in the NL for the first time, and that he’s a left hander in PNC Park, and he might be able to put up some really nice numbers. There hasn’t been much talk of Bedard this off-season, although I think that has more to do with the fact that top pitchers like C.J. Wilson still remain on the market. Even though there hasn’t been much interest, I can’t see the Pirates landing Bedard without a decent amount of guaranteed money, plus incentives.
Don’t forget to place your order for the 2012 Prospect Guide. The first shipment will be ordered on Thursday, and will ship out by the end of next week. All orders during the pre-sale period will receive a coupon code good for $5 off the 2012 Annual, which will be released in early February.