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.

Links and Notes

**How the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Season Was Like a Season of Boardwalk Empire

**AFL Preview: Pirates Sending a Talented Group of Prospects

**Jeff Banister to Interview For Texas Rangers Managerial Position

**Jose Tabata Designated For Assignment

**Pirates Acquire Preston Guilmet From Orioles

**Vin Mazzaro and Chris McGuiness Elect Free Agency

**AFL Bound Tom Harlan Showed Versatility in 2014

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94 COMMENTS

  1. First cut of Steamer projections is up on FanGraphs player pages if anyone is bored and wants to waste their time, like me.

  2. #6 is funny. I’m not the biggest fan of Pedro, but he’s led the league in homers, and out homered Ike this season too.

  3. Something worth noting: The Pirates had the fewest pure “homegrown” players of any of the NL playoff rosters. Cards had 16, everyone else had 10 or 11, Bucs had 9. Let’s forget Lackey & Masterson for a moment. What the Cards have basically done is develop almost 2/3rd of their playoff roster, spent big on a couple of guys (Holliday & Wainwright) and filled in holes with other FAs/trades. Now, in a perfect scenario, if you can time that sort of thing right, you would get a window where those 16 players are costing you $8 million and you have $80 million to spend on the other 9 guys.

    Of course development doesn’t work that way – all players don’t arrive at the same time – but even with early years of extensions considered, it’s not unreasonable to think you could pay those 16 guys under $30 million and have $60 for the rest. That allows you to pay for a Holliday, a Beltran, keep a Wainwright, etc. etc.

    On the 2014 version of Cards, those 16 players are costing the Cards less than $25 million (with $15.5 of that going to Yadi). Other than Yadi, only Carpenter and Jay are making more than $550K. It’s worth noting that the Cards have only kept one of their homegrown guys past age 30 and given him big bucks.

    Given the Cards >>> Rays over the past decade, once again, I’ll note it should be WWStLD.

    Scouting, smart drafts, player development, coaching… all areas where the Bucs can still improve.

    • You can only reach the conclusion WWStLD, if you completely ignore one half of the ledger. The Cardinals have not had a payroll under $80 million in the last decade, and currently have $80 million committed to six players in 2015-17. This does not sound like a situation that the Pirates could duplicate.

      The Rays and A’s due the most with the least, that is why they are the model. Homegrown players are beneficial because they are inexpensive but there are other ways to construct a roster, the Athletics had only two player who were major contributors that they drafted.

      The one thing the Cardinals due well is find talent later in the draft, it would nice to emulate this, but overall the Cardinals have certain structural advantages that don’t make them the best comparison.

      • Not really. I think it’s safe to say the Cards would’ve made it this far w/o the meager contributions of Masterson & Lackey. I’m paying attention to the 16 homegrown guys at a very affordable cost – all of whom contribute – allowing a team to carry a couple of $15 mill-plus guys and, when the team is ready to go for it all, add the missing piece(s), regardless of cost (e.g. Peralta in Cards’ case).

        Other than Choate ($3 mill) and Neshek ($1 mill), the Cards entire bullpen is homegrown pre-arb guys making less than $550K.

        As an example, In the Bucs’ case, in 2015 you would have about $14 mill invested in your OF (including Snider), $10 million in the IF (Pedro gone, Hanson in), $16 for catching (assuming Martin), $4 mill for bench (minus Snider, who’s already accounted for), leaving you $46 for pitching, of which $4 goes to Melancon, $4 goes to homegrown pre-arb relievers, leaving you $38 mill for starters. Figure Cole and Worley are only making a combined $1 mill, so you’ve got $36 mill to pay the other three. And you’re at $90 mill, easily affordable.

        Or, if your system is strong on starting pitchers, you go out and buy a Holliday or a Sandoval or similar.

        That eliminates the need to only concentrate on reclamation projects.

        That’s what you can do with 11-12 homegrown guys and favorable extension contracts as with Cutch & Marte.

        The A’s and Rays have a combined one WS appearance in the past decade. And no rings.

        • I think you may have missed my point. Having a market and historic success (KMOX built a large following of Cardinals fans), supports a payroll that has been at the back end of the top 1/3 of the league.

          That is how four $15 million dollar players are carried on the Cardinals, yes they have home grown players more than the average team and they do things well, but every teams outside the Dodgers, Yankees, and Detroit relies upon internally developed players.

          The World Series argument is trite. To be successful in the playoffs the key is to get there often. The Cardinals accomplish this by a upper 1/3 payroll a significant advantage in a division with three teams residing in 5 of the smallest markets and one team that has been more concerned with its historic landmark status than actually winning.

          • I didn’t miss your point. Rather, I find your point mostly irrelevant. My argument is that the Cards are playing 16 homegrown guys, 13 of which are being basically paid minimum, 2 of which are making less than $2 million and Yadi makes $15mill. Their bullpen costs less than ours.

            IMO, the Rays and A’s both would’ve traded Yadi by now, regardless of his value to the team because of their respective dogmas.

            What I’m suggesting is you take what the Cards do consistently well and do it better and at less cost.

            The Cards’ playoff roster is $116 mill, if you account for the full value of Lackey. In reality it’s about $103 million, which is within striking distance for the Bucs.

            Now, to be perfectly fair to Neal, he does have cost-controlled non-homegrown guys like Harrison and Holdzkom, Worley and even Stewart and Locke. So it’s close. But where the difference lies is that the Cards don’t carry post-arb guys between $5-$10 mill (e.g. Davis, Walker, Pedro). You’re basically either pre-arb or a multiple All-Star in top 10% of your position.

            You use that philosophy and you’d be dumping Ike and Pedro at a minimum, perhaps Walker as well. You take that $10 million (or $18 million if including Walker’s 2015 salary), buy yourself a superstar and plug in two more guys from AAA – and you’re ahead as far as WAR goes. The Cards always seem to have those guys at AAA ready to plug in. The Bucs don’t, yet.

            • So total payroll is irrelevant to roster construction?

              I think you are extrapolating too much from a roster snapshot, this youth movement has been a recent occurrence for the Cardinals. Look at their recent World Series teams, not a tremendous amount of homegrown players being paid league minimum.

              Cardinals hand out big contracts not because of their cost-controlled talent but because they have a revenue structure that can support it. The Pirates would have needed to increase their opening day payroll by 42% to equal the Cardinals this season and 75% in 2013. The largest free agent contract the Pirates have given out is 2 years $17 million, the Cardinals gave Matt Holiday $120 million, they gave Scott Rolen $90 million in 2003.

              There is a degree of scale that you are overlooking. The Pirates will be in striking distance when they close the $10 million gap in local television, and over 1 million gap in attendance.

              Team construction via home grown players isn’t some grand philosophy is it a byproduct of the labor agreement, most every team attempt to do this. But you need outside additions and the Pirates and Cardinals aren’t operating under similar conditions when it comes external acquisitions.

              • I understand what you’re saying, but I guess I’m not making my point clear. Let me try it this way: Mozeliak and Huntington have been on the job exactly the same amount of time. Both inherited crappy farm systems (the Cards were in the bottom third throughout 2000-2007 with four years being ranked 28th through 30th. That’s even worse than what Littlefield left. Since taking over, Mozeliak has had the #1 ranked farm system twice and a top 10 every year but his first at the helm.

                That’s how you have the pieces in place to replace a Pujols or a Rolen or a Beltran. It’s not so much “a recent development” as it is a long-term plan impeccably executed. The more guys they can bring up at $500K, the more they can backfill positions of need with superstars instead of journeymen. Payroll has been a relative constant.

                The Rays shot their wad. Their system is back down toward the bottom again. Not so with the Cards. And on top of developing their own guys, they go out and have trades like Freese/Salas for Bourjos and Randall Grichuk. No need to get into who won that deal.

                It might not be a popular opinion, but Mozeliak is definitely out-GMing Neal.

                • The original point of contention was what team serves a good model for the Pirates. You were advocating
                  for the Cardinals, my entire counter point is that the Cardinals are not a model for the Pirates because they have a revenue structure that provides them with greater resources.

                  The Rays and Athletics are a better comparison because they fill out, and sometimes construct entire, rosters by finding undervalued player types. Thus the Rays/A’s identification of undervalued talent is a better because the Pirates won’t be handing out multiple $15 AAV contract because their revenue structure does not support it.

                  Your point that internally developed talent is inexpensive isn’t exactly an epiphany. Yes more is better, and knowing which players to extend and who to trade is pivotal, this isn’t something unique the Cardinals do. The one unique characteristic the Cardinals do is find late round talent, I’m not sure if that is something the Pirates can copy it may be product of their scouting/player development that isn’t transferable.

                  However if I need a model I’m looking at teams with similar financial limitations.

                  • “Yes more is better, and knowing which players to extend and who to trade
                    is pivotal, this isn’t something unique the Cardinals do. The one
                    unique characteristic the Cardinals do is find late round talent, I’m
                    not sure if that is something the Pirates can copy it may be product of
                    their scouting/player development that isn’t transferable.”

                    And I’d argue all of the above are areas where the Pirates can improve.

                    • Yes everyone wants to draft better and make better decisions, but I see revenue structure as big limiting factor, the Pirates have more flexibility than the Rays A’s but their situation is closer to them than Saint Louis.

                      Like I previously said Cardinals have done very well at finding later round talent in the draft, and have made good decisions on whom to sign long term, Holliday has skills that age well.

                      However they aren’t infallible, the Pirates have been better in Latin American market. Last year’s much lauded pitching depth evaporated, forcing the Cardinals to trade for Lackey and broken Masterson. There have been some rumbling about their medical decisions. And the $80 million due Wainwright will not look so good when he soon will need his 2nd UCL reconstruction.

    • Patience, bucsws2015, patience! Why couldn’t the 2017 roster look like this:

      1- RF: Polanco
      2-2B: Hanson
      3-CF: Cutch
      4-3B: Walker
      5-LF: Marte
      6-1B: Bell
      7-SS: Mercer
      8-C: Diaz

      Bench: Harrison (super utility), Ngoepe, Gamache, T.Sanchez, Rojas, Allie

      SP: Cole, Taillon, Kingham, Glasnow, Sampson
      RP: Holdzkom, Watson, Cumpton, Sadler, Wilson, Rodriguez

      • Because you’d definitely be paying Walker far more than he’s worth and likely Mercer, too. Not sure why you’re not starting Josh, although he’d be making $8 mill or more by 2017, but stands a good chance of being well worth that. Watson will be far too expensive. Sadler sucks. I’m not sold on Sampson or Kingham both being starting material. You still need to go out and buy some star power, not a lot, but 2 or 3 guys where you’re not getting a top talent out of the draft. Basically, to mimic the Cards, the Bucs’ system has to get even better, with pitchers and position players coming out of rounds 3-10 every single year.

        • My point is not that the suggested roster is what should happen, or would be best. Rather it is that within a few years the Pirates could field a roster containing 100% players who have spent time in the Pirates minor league system (to me it’s irrelevant if they were acquired through the draft, the international market or acquired from another team as a minor league player). So the Pirates aren’t doing as badly vis-a vis the cardinals as you seem to imply. They also have four or so players at every minor league level that have a legitimate shot at MLB, and that is enough for total internal replacement. Not that depending on total internal replacement will lead to the best team, they’ll always have to make trades, sign FAs to respond to injuries and unexpected declines in performance.

          I like Josh at either 3B or 2B, but his versatility as a super utility player with his skill at the plate is special, and very valuable in my opinion. As long as he gets regular at bats I don’t care where he plays as long as where he plays gets the most productive combination of bats on the field.

  4. I have been saying for the last two years that 2015 is the year for the front office to put up or shut up. The pipeline from the minors will be as in place as it’s ever gonna get, ticket and merchandise revenue is up and fan enthusiasm is quite high, the team has a solid core that’s as good as any, it’s now time to fill in the blanks. The bigwigs have been saying for years that they would spend when the time was right, well the time is right so let’s see them put their money where there mouth is. One last thing, it’s pretty obvious rec. projects can get you there just not over the top, how about getting at least one established starter to solidify the rotation and provide some stability for the rec. projects they are sure to sign come the stretch run and the playoffs.

  5. 1.) They will not re-sign Russ.
    2.) They should try to re-sign Liriano as there is probably a chance. If not, they need to go after guys like Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana. They need to add two SPs this offseason.
    3.) Let Volquez walk his peripherals sucked this year.
    4.) Yes Worley is a rotation lock.
    5.) Yes they need to add help to the rotation until Morton is back (McCarthy and Santana). Locke and Cumpton suck.
    6.) Adios Ike, let Pedro be the left handed bat in the platoon.
    7.) It is not now, and never will be, time to extend Neil Walker. The Pirates control him until he’s 32, he’s already got a bad back, and is very possibly the worst defensive second baseman in all of baseball.
    8.) Absolutely not. Have you ever seen Mercer’s career numbers against RHP? Awful. The sooner the Pirates can replace him at SS the better.
    9.) $3.125 million.
    10.) Sure, why not. He’ll probably still say no, but it’s worth a shot.
    11.) Keep him around. He’s the 4th OF if Polanco starts to put it all together, which I believe he will, and insurance if he does not.
    12.) The catcher spot will be split between either Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez, I hope like hell not because of Sanchez, or Stewart and someone they bring in. Like Geovany Soto.
    13.) I’d keep Watson and Melancon as the 8-9 guys, any other reliever is trade bait though. They should have sold high on Wilson last year.
    14.) Agree on the Rule 5 guys.

  6. Alvarez still has value. I have read a couple of articles where in Boston and San Diego are looking for left handed power and are wondering if Pedro can be had. So my approach would be to try to trade Pedro for a SP. Maybe 2 years of Pedro=1 year of Ian Kennedy, considering the Kennedy will get kind of expensive on his last year of arbitration. Pirates offense proved this season it can be very good without him.
    If Pirates can not get a solid SP for Alvarez, then just keep him and Davis.
    THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Non tendering Davis would just be handing him in gold platter to the Brewers who are looking for a 1b and seeing Ike destroy the Pirates in Miwaukee is the only thing worst than paying him 4.5M to be a bench a player.
    As for the SP, every team would be looking for the “rebound” candidate in 2015 so players like Masterson and Anderson are too obvious.
    I started looking for less obvious choices and found Brandon Morrow. http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=9346&position=P
    With a 10M option his trade value has to be low, and in case the Jays do not pick his option, then he can be had for less.
    Keep and eye on Morrow. (5.67 ERA, 3.73FIP and 4.06xFIP plus a .357 BABIP?

    • Barletta,
      I agree if your going to trade Pedro, get major league ready starting pitching. If Liriano resigns, then getting Kennedy would make sense. If Liriano does not resign, I would go after someone like Wade Miley of Arizona. I would hate going into next year with the only lefty starter being Jeff Locke and nothing in the Minors.

      • Wade Miley is the better pitcher, but somebody is going to give Ross Detwiler another shot at a rotation spot and I’m sure he could be had for less.

        • Detwiler is intriguing in the same way Volquez was, but why would you be interested in him since you don’t like Volquez? Detwiler’s best xFIP as a starter was 4.08.

            • That’s a possibility, so I’ll just ask why do you like Detwiler when his best xFIP as a starter was 4.08?

                • You seem like a pretty intelligent person. Stooping to parsing words for intent when the context of said words is self-evident is beneath you.

                  Let me see if I can state this as clearly as possible so there is no misunderstanding. Miley was being discussed. You brought up Detwiler, with the “somebody” implied to be the Pirates. What is it about Detwiler that you think would interest the Pirates?

                  • Remember, we’re on the internet. I don’t know you from Adam, so while YOU may think some YOU say is self-evident, OTHERS may perceive it to be much different. Perfect example would be you just perceiving I implied “somebody” was the Pirates when I actually meant no such thing.

                    Detwiler has the pedigree and the arm (92mph from the left side, up to 96) to draw interest from clubs. Combine that with a fastball-heavy (85% or so) sinker/slider approach that keeps the ball on the ground (46%-50% GB rate) and in the yard (.75 HR/9) and I think he’d be a perfectly serviceable #4.

                    • If you didn’t mean “Pirates” as the “somebody” then why even bring him up on this forum and in the context of replying to FrankRestly?

                    • Nicely veiled insult. However, the name of this blog is Pirates Prospects and the person to whom you responded was specifically discussing Miley as a potential Pirate. I visit other forums to discuss general baseball topics. I imagine that is the same behavior that most other baseball fans exhibit.

                      You’ve become too high maintenance. And sanctimonious. Take a walk in the rain and let your hair down 🙂

      • I also like Miley. The question would be if Alvarez is a fit in Arizona. DBacks already have Jake Lamb, so maybe they prefer to give him a shot at 3B.
        Could Oakland be interested in trading Kazmir? Maybe they want to shed his 11M contract for 2015. The question is who would they want in return.

        • Wasn’t Jake Lamb an August call up from Double A Mobile after Prado was traded to the Yankees? He (Lamb) batted .230 (.636 OPS) last year in a hundred or so MLB at bats. Not to say that Lamb won’t improve or that Pedro can’t play another position.

          With the speed Pedro has for his size, I’ve always wondered why he couldn’t play right field (ala Bonilla). If I am another team looking at Alvarez, I see talent. Just maybe not at 3B.

          There is way too much injury history with Kazmir
          2008 – Elbow strain at beginning of the season
          2009 – Started season on DL with elbow problem, in May went back on DL with leg strain
          2010 – Begins season on DL with hamstring and shoulder issues
          2011 – Begins season for AAA Angels affiliate, released in June
          2012 – Plays independent league baseball
          2013 – Started 29 games for Cleveland Indians, went 10-9
          2014 – Pitched 98 innings for Oakland, went 9-3

          I’d take a healthy but error prone Alvarez over a walking MASH unit Kazmir any day. It’s easier to hide a healthy bat in the lineup than it is to hide an injured starting pitcher in the rotation / bullpen.

  7. What about moving Tony Watson to the rotation? He has shown 3 plus pitches and NH has already said this is something that has been considered.

    • Interesting idea! His stats as a starter early in his minor league career don’t look bad. Looks like he had an injury which might have gotten him off the starter track. I advocated for Wilson as a starter last Spring, but his control took several steps back this year and his star doesn’t shine as bright at the moment.

  8. Not saying this is likely, but the front office could consider a free agent infielder. We currently have several players who could handle multiple positions (2B/3B Harrison, 1B/2B/3B Walker, SS/2B Mercer, 1B/3B Alvarez), so it may allow the front office to sign someone whose value they feel exceeds the contract amount — much like they’ve done in finding pitchers (Liriano, Burnett, Worley, etc.). Could they sign Rickie Weeks to play 2B (moving Walker to a corner)? JJ Hardy to play SS (moving Mercer and Walker)? Chase Headley to play 3B (moving Harrison and Walker)? Again, not saying this kind of move is likely, but the current roster versatility does provide some options.

      • For someone as concerned about Martin breaking down as you are, I’m surprised you’d want a middle infielder who will be 31 next year and has only managed to play two full seasons, one of which was poor. I’d take his younger brother though!

        As for Drew, I’m not seeing a scenario where the combined IF productivity goes up by adding Drew.

        I’m starting to think one of the best things that could happen is Martin taking a billion dollar contract elsewhere and Billy Beane blowing up the A’s so that Neal can get a package of Donaldson, Shark and Soto for cash considerations 🙂

    • I don’t see Pirates making any drastic changes to the lineup as you suggest. I’d bank on a lineup like this on Opening Day (if we face a RH SP):

      1. Harrison 3B
      2. Polanco or Snider RF
      3. Cutch CF
      4. Walker 2B
      5. Marte LF
      6. Martin C ( if not on team, it’s Pedro hear at 1B)
      7. Pedro 1B
      8. Mercer SS ( if no Martin, slide Mercer up to 7 and pencil Stewart or Sanchez or Diaz here)
      9. Cole SP

      • I agree with your lineup except that I would place Martin at #2 based on OBP and move the RF to #6 (less pressure on Polanco, more of a natural position for Snider). If Polanco is in the lineup this would place Marte and Polanco just ahead of Pedro, giving Pedro more fastballs to hit.

  9. I would not break the bank for Martin, I would extend a QA to him. I am sure the Pirates have spent a lot of time scouring the majors and the minors looking at catching this summer with expectation they won’t be able to sign Martin. I would sign Stewart if I could get him and would not be afraid to go with Sanchez, but I think he is in the Hurdle I won’t play you dog house no matter what Neal says. I would also expect big changes in the 1st base situation since Neal Huntington admitted his mistake in not signing Morneau. As far as the Pitching is concerned I would think they will try to sign Liriano and Volquez and I would expect them to land one of them. Letting a raw talent like Holtzcom pitch in big games does not show as much faith in him as it does in showing how little faith they had in the rest of the pen, I look for some pen changes also.

  10. Ok,
    I am an amateur at this, but I am going to throw out an idea. Lets just assume that we cannot sign Martin for a moment and we go with a combination of Stewart, Sanchez and Diaz at catcher (2 of the 3). What type of free agent 1st baseman can we get for 12-16 m per year we would have spent on Martin, who can play every day and who can make up for the loss of Martin in offensive production. Then keep one of the three or four 1st base candidates we have now (opposite hand of the one we sign or a player who can play multiple positions). Trade away the others and maybe get something in return and also save a significant amount of cash in the process as well on their salaries.
    Ok, remember I am amateur at this, but what does everyone think?

    • Just remember, none of the guys you’re reading here get paid for their thoughts either. 😉

      Specifically, there aren’t any free agent first basemen this winter that you’ll want to pay a hypothetical $12-16m.

      Generally, in the scenario you laid out, spending that money on catcher – not first base – will buy you more value overall. First basemen are generally overvalued. Good first basemen are almost always overvalued.

      Teams like the Pirates with limited payroll should focus their few free agent dollars on all-around players up the middle, not big bats at the least-contributing position on the field.

  11. I still hope that if the Pirates lose out on the Russ Martin shopping spree, that they make a hard push for Geovany Soto. I know that he hasn’t turned into the superstar as was expected, but he’s still a very solid catcher (actually throws out runners!!) and can occasionally give you some offense and will cost about 1/4 of what Martin will get (unless his price gets driven up by the lack of catchers), which would leave a lot of money to sign some pitching.

    All of this is assuming, of course, that the Pirates doctors give him a clean bill of health.

    I still say go hard for Martin, but Soto would certainly be 10 times better than leaving your fates in the hands of Tony Sanchez.

    • Building off your general comment, Huntington doesn’t get a pass at catcher if Russell Martin is not retained. And let’s not kid ourselves, going with Tony Sanchez as your primary catcher is not even trying. 19 baseball clubs got 2 WAR or better from the catcher position last year, and far from all of them had stalwarts like Martin entrenched.

      It certainly won’t be easy, but the potential is absolutely there to cobble together 2 WAR through minor free agents and/or trades, with enough money left over to get you pitching to make up the remainder of Martin’s value.

  12. What I would do! What I would do!
    I would like to have Liriano and Volquez back, Volquez would be easy because he wants to stay here and they might be able to get him for 20mil or under for 2 years, there are no other pitchers available that would be that cheap with his specs. I would like to have Martin back, I would like to trade Ike, Gabby, Wilson and Pedro, move Snider to 1st base, use Lambo as a 4th outfielder. Procure a specialty left hander for the pen and get rid of this philosophy that a pen pitcher has/should be able to pitch multiple innings.

  13. I’ve been pushing Walker to 1b for awhile. And no extension. He’s going to make plenty as it is. Get something for Pedro and use that money for pitching.
    My preference is to get a solid 3b via trade then move Josh to 2b where I think he’ll be just as good as he was at 3b given time to work there regularly, with more range than Walker.
    MLBTR is suggesting Masterson will get a $12 mill “pillow contract” for one year. I don’t think he’s worth that. I think Bucs could conceivably get Volquez for 2 years and $17-$18 mill. And I think Volquez will win more games than Masterson over next two years.
    Snider’s reverse splits (admittedly a SSS) in 2014 make him very interesting as at least a platoon option with Polanco and a valuable bench bat. If he could add 1b to his arsenal, all the better. And a QO to Liriano should be a given.
    My gut tells me now is a good time to trade Watson. Great stats, but seven blown saves tell me he’s not quite the money guy we think he is. OTOH, I wouldn’t automatically give that slot to Holdzkom. I think he slides into the 7th inning role until there’s more history. Not sure who moves into 8th inning, although options should become more apparent soon. I’m still OK with Melancon closing for one more year.

  14. -Nobody should be expecting the Pirates 2015 Opening Day catcher to come from within the organization if Russell Martin is not resigned.

    -Unless I’m missing something, Edinson Volquez and his 3.04 ERA isn’t exactly generating a ton of buzz heading into hot stove season. Takes more than one good year to reverse the momentum of so many awful seasons.

    -I think a qualifying offer would depress the market for a guy like Francisco Liriano. Last winter showed teams were hesitant to part with draft picks for players on short term contracts, and I’d be surprised if anyone will give him more than three guaranteed years at the age of 31. Could be smart to extend the QO and work on a longer contract behind the scenes.

  15. Martin should definitely receive a QO. But whether a long term contract is a good idea depends on how good Elias Diaz really is. If he is another Yadier Molina why would you want to block him with Martin considering Martin’s age and a reasonable expectation of age related decline in performance or availability in the back end of the contract.

    The Pirates should QO Liriano, and negotiate hard on a long term contract.

    If Volquez can be obtained for #3 money, then do it for two years. Otherwise pass as he has topped out his upside and is getting long in the tooth.

    I like the option of trading both Alvarez and Davis and playing Lambo at first base to receive the same or better production (and perhaps no platoon split necessary) at much lower cost so that the money saved can be redirected to other players (Martin/Liriano etc.). If you can’t trade both then I’d favor playing Pedro at first over Davis even though Davis has slightly better career statistics just on a hunch that Pedro’s a better bounce back candidate and shows more innate power, which is really want you’d like from 1B.

    Harrison and Polanco would be my two extension candidates, though neither would likely be interested.

    I’d give Snyder a legitimate shot to win the RF job in Spring Training, which is a surprise for me since I would have cut him last Spring.

    No to selling high on relievers with multiple years of control left. I’d only like to do that with guys with one year of control left.with guys

    • So what if Diaz is another Molina? Everybody saw this season that the next great thing is no guarantee with Polanco. While I believe Polanco will be fine in the long run, it shows you can’t just sit on your hands and hope for the best. If in a year or two Diaz shows he is ready and the Bucs want to make him the starting catcher, then you can always trade Martin.

      • The Pirate’s still have budget constraints. I am in favor of signing Martin short term, hence the QO, and suggested trading him after a year or two of a three year contract a few weeks ago. The trouble could be, with a longer term of contract (say 4 or 5 years) that Russ may demand, if Russ’ performance falls off a cliff the Pirate’s might have to eat a significant portion of his salary in order to move him. The Yankees or Angels or Dodgers and their ilk can easily afford to do that. The Pirates have no such margin for error. They virtually must be right with every large dollar/long term offer they make. Look how Tabata’s contract is an albatross now, and that is for relatively small money. If you multiply a contract like his by 4 or 5 times the dollars you have a huge problem for the Pirates for several years, possibly killing their opportunity to compete for a few years. Those are the risks of signing a guy like Russ long term.

  16. While it’s easy to ask the question “Ike or Pedro,” it’s more complicated than that. This platoon did NOT work out this year — too low a batting average and too little power from both sides of the plate. Pedro would not solve that on the left side of the plate, unless he could return to 2013 or 2012 form.

    • Power numbers are spiky due to the frequency at which they occur. Alvarez was 3 HR away from posting an ISO over .200 and was top 30 in baseball in average fly ball distance.

      • Not sure why there is even much debate on this. Pedro will be the first baseman in 2015. Ike will be traded. And as to Gaby returning, I’m not sold on that, but if the Bucs like his ‘intangibles’ he is likely to be back, as he is definitely league average or so in a platoon 1b role.

        • Problem with trading Ike or Gaby or Pedro goes back to the Matt Capps lesson. No team is going to trade for a guy they know will be non-tendered, and the Pirates have not shown an inclination to tender players they plan on trading.

          Otherwise, Gaby is far better than league average platoon. Even last year – his worst – he was the best part-time RH platoon 1B in baseball.

          However, I think the team is and will be valuing positional flexibility as that’s the only true way to build depth on a 25-man roster, and Gaby has none. I think it’s more likely that they try to find a guy in the Mark Reynolds/Steve Pearce mold than stick with a 1B-only player.

      • I hear you, and I’m not one of those “Dump Pedro” guys. If he could find his 2013 form, they’re a much better team. But even with his cutting down his strikeouts, he did not make the strides Bill James predicted for him.

        • Certainly not, and to be more clear, I wasn’t so much defending his 2014 performance as I was questioning the insinuation that he is now a less powerful or talented hitter than in ’12/’13. Simply variation in performance.

  17. QO Martin and Liriano. Try to sign Volquez to 2 yrs and $18 mil. Trade Pedro or Ike OR make Lambo your firstbaseman and trade both.

    • What about moving him to 3b and JHay to 2b?

      I NEVER want to see Pedro at 3b again. I am very pessimistic that he’d ever get over his yips.

  18. Why do all these Walker extension articles never mention his decreasing range at 2b? He fields what he gets to, but he is ‘getting to’ less and less each year.

  19. I love how everyone is so quick to give up on Pedro Alvarez, non tender? Really? The guy was the national league HR leader a year ago and still hit 18 HRs this year despite having an awful season mentally. It is not like he has physical problems, all his problems are in his head. Just as quick as those problems came for him this year, they could easily disappear next year. I’m not going to get rid of guy that can change the game with one swing of the bat. Ask yourself, out of Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez and Pedro Alvarez who do opposing pitchers fear the most and do not want to throw a mistake too? The answer is Pedro. When he is in the lineup it is substantially better just because of the chance he can change the game with one swing, no one else does that in this lineup.

    • Pedro has a career OPS of .742. Sure, he hit 36 HRs one year, but Ike, who has a higher career OPS of .759 hit 32 HRs one year.

      I’m not thrilled with either one, tho.

      • I don’t think many/any of us are thrilled with either option. But the idea of non-tendering Pedro is just silly.

      • First, Ike has never hit 32 HR’s in Pittsburgh. What he did in NY several seasons ago is irrelevant to me. If anything it shows me he has been trending down for longer than Pedro. Next, Pedro was drafted by Pirates, paid a large signing bonus, and was an integral member of the team as it turned the corner from loser to winner. I’d be much more inclined to give Pedro a chance for redemption in ’15 than watch the slow death of Ike Davis’ baseball life.

      • Honestly I would bring them both back. Let Pedro try 3B out again, with also playing in the mean time. How do we know Josh Harrison won’t turn into a pumpkin next year? Alvarez, Davis and Snider I would bring back. The offense was good all year long. I would look for a new RH platoon at 1B.

  20. I love the steps Jordy seemed to take this year, but he scares me long term.

    He is both bigger and older than you think. Maybe he can hold off father time in the field better than Walker has. I hope he can.

    I guess there’s no reason to think he can’t be an average SS for a few more years.

  21. No to extensions for Walker, Mercer or Polanco. Trade Ike, DFA Gaby and put Pedro at 1B. Bring in RH bench bat at 1B who can also be late inning defensive replacement.
    Keep Snider as 4th OF.

    As for SP, I’d give QO to Liriano and try to get EV back for 2/$20mm or so. Bring in one or two reclamation projects for depth, too.

    I like idea of trading high on either MM or TW, but not both.

    And above all else do what you can and then some to keep Martin!

  22. #1 – Love the play and leadership of Martin, but he is still averaging playing only 115 games per year. Does that merit a $15 mil/yr contract for 4 years?
    #2 – Liriano is looking long term and big bucks – a QO would be best for the Pirates
    #3 – Volquez pitched much better than the No. 5 guy we thought we signed. If we can get him for 2 years at $8 mil apiece, it would be worthwhile.
    #4 – Worley, Volquez, and Locke carried this years team when Wandy collapsed, and Cole, Liriano, and Morton struggled with injuries. Yes, Worley and Locke should be in the Rotation to start 2015 and hope that Taillon and Kingham are ready by June.
    #5 – Morton is a notoriously slow healer, so I would not be surprised if we do not see him until after the AS Break.

    The rest are position questions. I like Walker as our switchhitting 1B, because Alen Hanson is the real deal. Bell is trying out this Fall as a Switchhitting 1B in the AFL. Yes to a long term for Polanco, and for keeping Snider. Harrison is our starting 3B. The Pirates are listening with big ears for any reasonable offers for Pedro.

    • With Martin, it’s not how many games he plays if he can continue to contribute at a high level. If you’re getting 4-5 WAR per season at 115 games, you’re worth the money. So the only question is whether the FO believes he’s going to fall off a cliff shortly or be more like Pudge Rodriguez or Jorge Posada and still be able to play at a high level at 36. And if he is the latter, you can trade him at age 35 anyway and get a decent return.

      • bucs: Good point about the WAR of between 4 and 5, even though his number of games is low. And a look at just his 2 years with the Pirates, they average 4.7 – what gives me concern is the average of the 4 years prior to him coming to the Pirates. Over that 4 years he averaged right around 2.2, so I wonder if he is an automatic $15 mil per year for 4 years.

        • You’re absolutely correct to point that out.

          Nobody should be fooling themselves into thinking Russell Martin, in his early 30’s, has established some new baseline level of performance.

          His value before the Pirates and with the Pirates establishes an expected range of performance.

          There’s also the matter of diminishing opportunity defensively. Yadi Molina and Russ Martin both played the same amount of games, 107, in 2013. Teams attempted to steal 96 times on Russ, only 44 times on Yadi. That’s less opportunity for Yadi to add value.

  23. Neal Huntington should definitely be dangling Pedro Alvarez for a MLB ready starting pitcher. Whether that is a guy in Triple A who can begin the season in the rotation or a starter already in the majors, it doesn’t matter. A pitcher with upside that will be in the rotation for several years.

  24. I would like to see the Pirates go after Christian Vazquez of the Red Sox. He threw out 52% of base runners in his rookie season. I believe that Pedro Alvarez would interest the Red Sox. Or maybe Mark Melancon and a prospect for Vazquez.

    • Not a bad idea James. With Blake Swihart only a couple of months away from Fenway, they might be willing to move Vasquez and do have interest in Alvarez going back to drafting him out of high school.

    • The Red Sox and Meloncon are not going to be getting together again IMO. Mark and the BoSox had a rough 2012 season. That experiment probably won’t be repeated.

  25. One thing they need from the pitching staff is more of an overall abiility to throw strikes. Pounding the strike zone is of the utmost importance and I’m seeing the concept lost on too many pitchers, Pirates and non-Pirates alike. Edinson Volquez has great stuff sometimes but when he can’t locate that “great stuff” of his becomes irrelevant. Frankie seemed to struggle far too often with control issues this year too and the same could be said for Morton. I like Worley a lot because he seems to have an idea what he’s doing and I think Cumpton is still a valuable arm because he can throw strikes. I’d move Justin Wilson in a trade or keep him in Indy (does he have options left?) if he can’t learn to throw with better command too. Cole seems to be on the right track and I still have confidence in him but he still seems to too often find a way to give up 2-3 runs per outing in the early innings before he finds or gets full command of his stuff. I don’t know what to think about Taillon and Kingham but I fear the idea of trying to “fix” Masterson if they go after him this off-season. His “stuff” can be wicked but he too doesn’t pound the strike zone near often enough IMO.

    On an end of season note I’ll compare the last couple of Pirates seasons to the Steelers back in the early ’70s. The Bucs in 2011 and 2012 were like the Steelers in 1970 and ’71; they showed promise of getting better but it was going to take a while for Noll’s coaching and the Steelers FO magic to take hold. Then in 1972 the Steelers made the playoffs, beat the Raiders thanks to the Immaculate Reception before falling in a game they could have won vs the Dolphins. That was like the 2013 Buccos, making the playoffs, winning the WC game thanks in large part to an incredible crowd/atmosphere of pent-up emotions @ PNC before falling to a StL team they could have beaten. Now, move to 2014 and see a slight downturn of the Bucs in both the regular season and postseason – but they remained a team to be reckoned with ala the 1973 Steelers. In 1974 after a rocky first half of the season the Steelers put it all together and won their first Super Bowl in Jan.,1975. Perhaps the Pirates will do something similar in 2015…..? Just a thought anyway from an older Pittsburgh sports fan. Reaction…?

    • I love Vance Worley. I think he’ll regress to his peripheral numbers, but what I love is that unlike a lot of pitchers, not just pirate pitchers, he comes in and is highly efficient, and throws a TON of strikes. It is what gets him in trouble sometimes and thus why I think he’ll regress. But it also makes him a highly effective option and a reason why I think he could turn into a workhorse 200IP guy. I really wanna see is bring back Frankie. But if not we need another strong option, not just a reclamation project.

      • Speaking of pitchers who can throw strikes, what ever happened to Jeff Karstens? After his agent announced last December that he’d throw a showcase in January, I haven’t seen a word written about him. Is he done?

        Not saying he deserves a place on 2015 roster, but the man was nothing if not efficient. And I miss that 67mph looping curve.

        It’s worth nothing that a couple of last year’s FAs who were scoffed at here because of ERA/xFIP ratios – Vargas and Norris – are both winning games in the post-season and compiled better WAR totals than most of the Bucs’ staff.

        • I don’t think the Pirates like Vargas and Norris’s ground ball rates. Though they did inquire about Norris last deadline.

        • Pirates pitchers could benefit by just watching videos of Karstens’ best games, noting how he worked fast, changed speeds, varied locations, worked an effective mix of pitches. If a guy like Cole, with his stuff, could adopt an approach like Karstens used to display he would be almost unhittable!

  26. Not thinking about an extension for Walker until we get a better idea of what Alen Hanson is all about.

    The Ike-Pedro issue is going to be interesting. Pedro will cost more and bring back more in trade, but probably has the better upside if he can get out of his own head. And I have to wonder if re-signing Gaby is anywhere close to a sure thing. OPS against LHSP was .636, barely above his .609 mark against all righties. He basically mashes lefty relief pitchers and fields 1B well, a pretty niche skill set for $3+M.

    For the rotation, I feel like the team needs a horse to slot in at #2, which means either Frankie or Masterson. Otherwise even if Cole pitches the entire season like an ace, the drop-off to the next best guy (Morton? Worley?) is steep. Someone is going to pay Eddie good money to see if he can repeat his second peak season. Let them. I do think he’s better than his FIP would indicate, but not a run better. Worley and Locke can more than hold the fort down until Taillon and Kingham are ready to be called up.

    • Steve Pearce made a play in the playoffs where he went to his right to pick a grounder and while still running threw back across his body to the pitcher to get an out. I was thinking there’s no way in a million years Pedro makes that play without throwing the ball away. Ike’s defense was disappointing as well. 1B is an intractable problem for the Bucs, and needs a fresh approach. I say non-tender them all… Pedro, Ike, and Gaby. None of them are going to have much trade value if you arb them. Right away that frees up about $10M for pitching. Then move Walker to first. Maybe that helps with his injuries. Work him at 3B too, to back up Harrison. Pick up a Utility like Bonifacio to start 2015 at 2B (then backup everywhere afterwards), and hope Hansen slots in there mid-season.

      • Are we certain pedro has zero trade value.. He’s not far removed from 36 hr/100rbi.. he has pedigree. . He started showing some power before the injury.. I’m not trying to defend him as a long term bucco.. I’m just curious about what we could get on return? I really like hank conger of the angels, their backup catcher and thought pedro for hank would make sense for both parties. . I see hank as similar to martin actually.. at least when no one wanted him as a bucco.. not the 2014 Russ

      • I like the Bonifacio idea just so we don’t have to pitch to him. He killed us as a Cub the first half of this last season!

      • I like the Bonifacio idea because I like the idea of JHay starting at 3B and having someone like Bonifacio capable of playing everywhere and providing nice ability with the bat as well is intriguing. I really wanted Hughes last year as a reclamation pitcher and it sucks he went to Minnesota. I am thinking this: last year the Nationals pulled off the shocker move with the Fister trade…there may well be another similar type trade available this offseason and I think the Bucs need to be the team to pull that off. It’s nice that we were interested in guys at the deadline, but I would rather have them for a full season+…if there is a Fister type deal this offseason I want the Bucs to be the team buying.

        Like Tim I don’t believe in a “window,” but if the team is thinking about or does bring back Martin they are clearly trying to increase their odds of being successful in the playoffs/division…and to do that we need starting pitching. I think the money should be there to sign Martin, Liriano, and another arm (not in the “elite” category)…and we definitely should be able to sign Russ, Liriano, and trade for an arm. The rotation we have now and look to have even with potential prospects being ready by mid-year…isn’t intimidating and isn’t what I would want to have a legit shot at the division. Win the division and the Pirates have a shot at going deep…I think we could’ve gone toe to toe with the Nationals this year too like the Giants have if we had gotten there, but the WC is
        Not the way to get that opportunity. To win the division we need better pitching, need Russ, and I think we either need Polanco to be the Polanco we saw in winter ball/AAA or need Snyder to be the 2nd half Snyder of this year.

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