Week In Review: The Slow Off-Season Put in Perspective

Russell Martin Catching
This time last year the Pirates hadn’t even been connected to Russell Martin. (Photo credit: David Hague)

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.

Weekly Transactions

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.

**The Pirates signed five Minor League Free Agents. They also released three Minor Leaguers.

**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:

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 40-Man Payroll Projection

**Pittsburgh Pirates Future Payroll

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.

**Starling Marte has received permission to play Winter Ball.

**Harold Ramirez and Tito Polo both had big games this week.

Other News

**The Pirates released their 2014 Spring Training Information.

**2014 Baseball America Top 10 Pirates Prospects

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The less the Pirates need the slower the off-season is going to be, they know better than anyone else what they need, between now and the end of ST a lot of things can happen. The Cards had more weakness’s than the Pirates and need to do more to patch up their 25 man roster and that is what they are doing.


leadoff, could you please tell us how the Cardinals have more weaknesses than the Pirates? The Cardinals sure did a great job stabilizing the weaknesses that they had a lot better than the Pirates have thus far…but I do not understand how you view a World Series team as having more weaknesses than the Pirates. The Pirates have nothing at 1B (unless you think Gaby Sanchez is a full-time 1B) and are missing a top of the rotation arm (Remember AJ Burnett’s sub 3.50 ERA last year and his 209 k’s?) and are going to give a tryout at SS to Mercer and hope he can hold it down for the whole season and play decent enough defense. We also have a 2B that should be platooned, a 3B who arguably should be platooned, a question-mark in right field…and we actually have fewer major league ready prospects than do the Cardinals: Oscar Tavares (better numbers and younger in AAA than our own Gregory Polanco), Carlos Martinez (already spent some time in the majors last year at 21), Kolten Wong (major league ready 2B), and maybe Stephen Piscotty (maybe another year away) and that doesn’t even mention Mike Adams who is a great backup for 1B (would start for the Pirates) or even James Ramsey who is in a similar position to Polanco. So how are they weaker than the Pirates?


leadoff: that move to get Duke Welker back was substantial in my estimation. Grilli and Melancon finished weak, and Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris also finished weak. And, at 6’7″ 265, he and Farnsworth could make an awesome tag team in bench clearing brawls.


Tim can you give us an idea of what the trade value of Mitch Moreland is? What would it take from the Pirates to swing a trade?


Exactly, Moreland has never been in the same conversation about defensive first basemen with Justin Morneau and James Loney, and his bat will not overcome that problem with the glove. Morneau and Loney will justify $8 to $10 mil if just looking at WAR – Loney coming off possibly his best season with the bat in the majors, and Morneau having probably one of his lesser seasons with the bat. Morneau finished 2nd in Fielding %age, and 2nd in Range Factor and Loney was down the list in both, but still better than average. With the edge in fielding, and what I perceive as the better upside with the bat, I would love to see the Pirates sign him for 3 years/$24 mil with a signing bonus, and then get a younger LH hitting 1B like Vogelbach, 20, of the Cubs – he is stuck behind Rizzo, and this would be the time to try a 3 team swap. Morneau has the clubhouse attitude we can always use, and is a great guy in the community.


Some good fodder for slow periods – When the new management team was assembled, the P-G (DK) did a 5 part series on the Pirates bid to re-shape the franchise. They ran Jan 16, Jan 23, Jan 30, Feb 6, and Feb 13. The one on Cohesiveness (Jan 30) I thought was especially good in that it gave the insight into the path forward and how this system was going to operate, the termination of Brian Graham, hiring of Kyle Stark, etc. Almost 6 years later I would bet it would provide a lot of insight into how determined this group was and still is to Staying the Course.

Yes, getting Duke Welker back could be big. I think the Pirates thought that Morris and others were enough, but it is always nice to have that mid to upper 90’s thrower.


Can you do a article on how some of the other available SP like Phil Hughes & other possible targets. How they threw last year, did they have a dip in velocity & what price tag they may have. That kind of stuff. Thanks & great site.

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