By the end of the month, we’ll be getting a good idea of who will be available as free agents, and who might make sense for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We don’t have to wait until then to see the off-season needs for this team. I’ve been prepping for the off-season this week, looking at the projected payroll, projected 25-man roster, and some of the biggest team needs. Here is a rundown of the biggest needs that would require outside help this off-season.
I feel like I don’t need to explain the Russell Martin situation here. The simple summary is that the Pirates need Martin back, but he’s going to be in high demand, which means they might not get him back even if they make a big offer (which they should).
So what happens if Martin doesn’t come back? Free agency offers nothing. The Pirates have Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart, although that’s hardly an ideal combo behind the plate. Both have seen their defense struggle lately, while the offense has been good. Either player would be fine as a backup, but you wouldn’t want one of them starting.
The alternative here could be a trade. However, catchers tend to be in high demand, and teams always want depth at the position, so a trade might be just as difficult as bringing Martin back.
As for other internal options, Elias Diaz had a big breakout season in Altoona this year, and is currently in the Arizona Fall League. He’s got better defense than Sanchez, and the second best catcher defense in the minors behind Reese McGuire. Still, it’s too early to consider him a starting option, since he doesn’t have much time in Triple-A, and needs to show that his offense is legit. That means the options are bringing back Martin, going with one of Sanchez/Stewart, or making a trade. I think the best bet here is outside help.
At the moment, the only pitchers I trust for Opening Day are Gerrit Cole and Vance Worley. I’d add Charlie Morton to the list as a 2015 option, although he might miss the start of the season. Jeff Locke has shown flashes of strong pitching, but has collapsed in the second half in each of the last two years, due to poor control. Brandon Cumpton had a chance to take a long-term job this year, but couldn’t capitalize on it. Locke and Cumpton are good depth options out of Triple-A, and fine as injury replacements for Morton, but neither pitcher should be given a rotation spot heading into the off-season.
The Pirates will need to bring in two starting pitchers. Bringing back Edinson Volquez wouldn’t be the worst idea, since he can eat innings and put up league average numbers or better. I think they should also go with another reclamation project, or two if Volquez doesn’t return.
I don’t think the Pirates need to make many long-term deals. They have a group of pitching prospects in the upper levels, ready to make the jump to the majors. Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Adrian Sampson could all be up by mid-season 2015, and Tyler Glasnow will be right behind them, projected for mid-season 2016.
Locke and Cumpton will provide the early season depth. Taillon, Kingham, and Sampson will give the Pirates some mid-season depth, if needed. But they’ll need two more starting pitchers from the outside.
The Pirates had some struggles this year, but actually finished the season with a quality bullpen. They’ve got Mark Melancon and Tony Watson holding down the late inning spots. Jared Hughes provided good middle relief. I’m guessing Justin Wilson will have a spot, and hopefully will pitch more like he did in the final month of the season. John Holdzkom should also have the inside track for a job. That leaves 1-2 spots open.
Neal Huntington said during Spring Training this year that the Pirates had trouble attracting relievers due to the depth in their bullpen. They probably won’t have the same problem this year. The Pirates don’t need to add a lot of relievers, but adding one sleeper for the seventh inning, and then adding the usual depth options wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The emergence of Josh Harrison creates a need for infield bench players. The Pirates might be best going with a familiar face and bringing back Clint Barmes for another year. Barmes hasn’t exactly been appreciated by Pirates fans, but I feel like that changed this year when he was injured and the Pirates had to go with the likes of Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel for most of the month of August. I get the feeling that people used to view Barmes in the same way that Martinez, Nix, and Morel are viewed, at least until we saw how bad things could actually be with those guys, and what Barmes brings to the table.
The Pirates might need one more backup infielder, depending on how their first base situation plays out. They could probably go the minor league free agent route here. They could also turn to one of their many waiver claims, like Dean Anna or Tommy Field.
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