The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates off-season was full of the same discussion over and over and over: A.J. Burnett.
The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates off-season will probably be dominated by a lot of Russell Martin talk, especially if he signs elsewhere. However, this off-season provides a ton of story lines to follow, as the Pirates will have a lot of interesting decisions to make. I’ll be going over a lot of these in more detail as the off-season goes on. For now, here is a quick summary of the top off-season stories we can expect over the next few months.
1. Can the Pirates bring back Russell Martin?
It’s going to be the biggest topic of the off-season for the Pirates. It’s also a very complicated situation. Here is what isn’t complicated: the Pirates should absolutely make him a qualifying offer, and should absolutely make a strong competitive offer. It’s hard to guess what Martin will go for this off-season, but if the price is around four years and $60 M, then the Pirates need to be involved.
2. Should the Pirates try to bring back Francisco Liriano?
Liriano is the other big free agent for the Pirates this off-season. This situation is complicated, but for different reasons. After the years that Liriano had the last two seasons, he’s due for a big payday. For that reason, the Pirates should make him a qualifying offer. However, I’m not sure they should try to bring him back on a long-term deal. The price will probably be huge, and if the Pirates want a shot at bringing back Martin, they’ll need to focus on reclamation projects, rather than paying for established pitchers.
3. How about Edinson Volquez?
Speaking of reclamation projects, Volquez will also be a free agent. He’s not going to be worth a qualifying offer, and he’s not going to cost as much as Liriano. The Pirates could sign Volquez. The question is: should they re-sign him? He will probably command at least a two-year deal, and maybe more. The price would probably be in the $8-10 M range per year. His ERA was great, but his xFIP suggested he’ll be more league-average in the future. But what if there is something left for him to improve upon? Volquez isn’t a reclamation project like he was last year, but the Pirates still might be higher on him than others, making his potential price tag a potential steal if they can further the improvements he saw this year.
4. Should Vance Worley have a rotation spot locked down?
My quick answer to this question is “yes”. Worley isn’t going to repeat his ERA, but the advanced metrics showed strong numbers. There’s little reason to believe this wasn’t legit. He came into the majors having similar success, then struggled due to an injury and poor mechanics. The Pirates got him back on track, and now he looks like he did before the injury. He’s under control for four more seasons, and they need starting pitching at the beginning of the year. This seems like a no brainer.
5. Do the Pirates need to plan for a Charlie Morton replacement, or will Triple-A depth work until he returns?
Morton’s timetable for his return puts him back near the start of the season, or later if there are complications with his rehab. If there are no complications, then I think the Pirates would be fine waiting on him. They will have Gerrit Cole and Vance Worley as starters in the rotation. I think they’re going to need to add two more options, no matter if Morton is healthy or not. If he isn’t healthy at the start of the year, they can go with Jeff Locke or Brandon Cumpton until Morton returns.
6. Which left-handed hitter from the first base platoon will be traded?
Pedro Alvarez or Ike Davis? The Pirates aren’t going to be keeping both. They both have two more years of team control. Either player would likely be in a platoon with Gaby Sanchez. Alvarez will cost more, but hasn’t really done much in his career to show he’s significantly better than Davis.
7. Is it finally time to extend Neil Walker?
Walker had a career year in 2014, and the calls for extending him will be pretty big this off-season. The only problem with an extension is that he’s 29 years old, and still has two more years of control remaining. He constantly deals with injuries, and his defense has struggled. If the Pirates extend Walker, they’re not going to get much of a savings at this point. They’d be getting his arbitration years for around the arbitration prices, and any free agent years would be close to the price they’d have to pay if he hits the open market. The downside to a deal with Walker is that they take on a lot of risk with the guaranteed years, history of injuries, and no guarantee that he will repeat his 2014 season.
8. Is Jordy Mercer an extension candidate?
Mercer is similar to Walker in that he will be in his early 30s by the time he is a free agent. A key difference is that Mercer has four years of control remaining. The Pirates could get some type of discount by extending him. It wouldn’t be a huge discount, but it would allow them to potentially get a reduced rate on his arbitration years and future free agent year(s), especially if he continues his defensive strides and shows the offense he has shown the last two years, minus the first two months of the 2014 season.
9. What will Josh Harrison make in arbitration?
This is going to be an interesting situation, as there aren’t many players who go from being a bench player to a 5 WAR player. I’d estimate that Harrison will receive around $3 M. He has three years of arbitration remaining, so this is a case where any extension would just buy cost certainty, at the risk of potentially over-paying for one good season.
10. Should the Pirates make the same offer to Gregory Polanco that he previously turned down?
The Pirates offered Polanco a deal prior to his MLB arrival that would have paid him up to $75 M over ten years. The deal was scoffed at as a huge underpay, since Polanco at the time was seen as a guy who would arrive in the majors and be an instant star. That didn’t happen, although I still see Polanco ending up as a star player. The Pirates should definitely continue their pursuit of an extension here, and maybe the early struggles will make it easier for them to reach a deal this time around.
11. What should the Pirates do with Travis Snider?
Speaking of that final outfield spot, I think Polanco will get the starting job next year. Travis Snider got the role at the end of the 2014 season, although that was probably due to Polanco’s initial struggles, and the playoff race. Snider ended up having a nice second half, and a possible breakout season. He’s got two years of arbitration remaining, and should be fairly cheap, although he’d be expensive for a bench player. It would make sense for the Pirates to keep him around, even if he’ll cost $2.5-3 M. He provides insurance if Polanco struggles or an outfielder goes down. The Pirates also don’t want to risk him going somewhere else and breaking out as a starter. If he does finally break out, then $3 M would be a small cost to pay to have that happen in Pittsburgh.
12. Who will be the backup catcher?
This might be an irrelevant question if Martin doesn’t re-sign, as the starting catching duties would probably go to Tony Sanchez, with Chris Stewart as the backup. But if Martin comes back (or if they trade for another starter), then it would be between Stewart and Sanchez as the backup. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Stewart, with Sanchez going to Triple-A to split time with Elias Diaz, along with getting time at first base and DH.
13. Should the Pirates sell high on their elite relievers?
I don’t know if anyone will be talking about this, but I’ll be bringing it up later in more detail. By now, you know my philosophy on relievers. They’re extremely volatile, and a smart team should buy low and sell high, since their performance isn’t guaranteed. The Pirates have two relievers with high values in Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. Those two relievers have also been used to an extreme the last two seasons. Watson has 145 appearances (tied for 11th out of 129 relievers) and Melancon has 144 appearances (t-13th). As for innings, Watson ranks fourth, and Melancon ranks 11th. The Pirates are running a risk with both pitchers running out of gas after such a big workload. Meanwhile, they could try to deal one or both of these relievers at a high value, lessen the risk involved with the duo, and maybe try and get a piece that can help in another area, like a starting pitcher or a Russell Martin replacement.
14. Who should the Pirates protect in the Rule 5 draft?
For the detailed answer to that, check out my article from last month. For the short answer, I’d protect Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Elias Diaz, Mel Rojas, Willy Garcia, and Jason Creasy.
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