Today wasn’t an extremely busy day in terms of news for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But following the slow Thanksgiving break, and the slow week leading up to that break, today seemed like the Winter Meetings.
The Pirates made two moves that impacted the MLB roster, announced the signings of three minor league free agents, and a rumor had them making Francisco Liriano a priority. Here are some quick thoughts on the impacts of each move.
Sean Rodriguez Trade
The Pirates have been adding a lot of utility infielders, which has drawn the ire of a lot of Pirates fans who feel they are wasting roster spots. The odds of guys like Jake Elmore, Justin Sellers, AND Pedro Florimon all remaining on the 40-man roster heading into the 2015 season are slim. That was true before the addition of Sean Rodriguez. After the Pirates traded for Rodriguez, the roster becomes a little more clear.
The Pirates tend to go with a utility infielder and a strong defensive middle infielder when it comes to their infield bench options. Prior to the addition of Rodriguez, they had no sure bets for either position. Rodriguez locks up the utility infield role, which is a position that was vacated by Josh Harrison when he broke out as a starting option.
As for the backup middle infield role, I think they’ll continue going with cheaper options and eventually selecting the best of them. I’m guessing that’s the case because they could have just signed Clint Barmes if they wanted a veteran who was proven to have strong infield defense up the middle. It seems they’re trying to save some money on the backup shortstop role, which isn’t a bad thing if they are putting that to better use elsewhere.
Odds are, they’ll end up with one of the Elmore/Sellers/Florimon group as the backup middle infielder. The other two will either be waived off the roster, or kept as depth out of Triple-A, with the hope that they’re better depth options than Michael Martinez or Jayson Nix. Overall, these guys aren’t that significant to the makeup of the roster. They cost nothing, could provide a cheap option for the middle infield role, and are easily expendable if the Pirates need the roster spots later in the off-season.
The Rodriguez addition just means that these guys will be fighting for one bench spot, rather than two.
Gaby Sanchez DFAed
It’s hard to say what the Pirates will be doing at first base. I don’t think the decision to DFA Gaby Sanchez says anything more than the fact that they didn’t want to take him to arbitration. By designating him for assignment, they could non-tender him tomorrow, then try to re-sign him at a cheaper price.
Neal Huntington has said over and over that Pedro Alvarez is currently their first baseman. He hasn’t said whether they will go with a platoon. If they do go with Alvarez, they should go with a platoon. And like I wrote last week, Gaby Sanchez is a good platoon option.
It’s still possible that they could go a completely different direction with first base. Right now all we know is that Alvarez is the first baseman, and nothing else.
Minor League Signings
Minor league signings usually amount to depth throughout the year in most cases. I don’t think today’s signings will provide an exception. However, they were interesting additions. Gorkys Hernandez should be familiar to Pirates fans. Ironically, he was traded away for Gaby Sanchez, and returned the same day Sanchez was designated for assignment. He doesn’t have much of a bat, but has outstanding defense in center field, along with speed. Hernandez could be a good outfield depth option, capable of playing all three outfield spots with a lot of defensive value. It’s likely that he will play out of Triple-A.
Deibinson Romero is a bit more interesting due to this article from FanGraphs, looking at the best minor league free agents. Romero ranked number one, finishing first overall in the Steamer projections for WAR among minor league free agents. Each position player was given 550 plate appearances, and Romero finished with a 1.9 WAR, which is right around average for a player with 550 plate appearances.
The interesting thing here is that Romero is primarily a third baseman. The Pirates are thin in their minor league system at third base. Josh Harrison looked like a great option last year, and definitely deserves the starting role this year. But if Harrison doesn’t work out, the Pirates will need some fallback options. Sean Rodriguez could be one, although he’s more valuable as a utility player. Romero could be an interesting option if he lives up to his projections. If he ends up being this year’s Yangervis Solarte, then it will be a great addition. Otherwise, he’s just another low-cost guy who will be filling out the Triple-A roster.
Francisco Liriano Rumors
It’s probably no surprise that the Pirates are making Francisco Liriano a priority. They offered him $15.3 M under a qualifying offer, which was an offer that many people felt Liriano would accept. The Pirates had to think there was a good chance he could accept that offer, and I doubt they would have extended it unless they were serious about bringing him back. The starting pitching market looks to be stalled by Jon Lester, which means the Pirates might be waiting on Liriano, even if he is a priority.
The non-tender deadline is tomorrow, which is the deadline for the Pirates to offer all unsigned players a contract for the 2015 season. The guys with 0-3 years of service time (excluding Super Two players) will get offers, simply because they have no bargaining power, and there is no need to non-tender them. Most of them could be waived and possibly retained later in the off-season if a roster spot is needed.
The non-tender deadline is a bigger issue for arbitration eligible players. The Pirates have several of those, although none of them are expected to be non-tendered. Here are the players who are eligible, and their projected arbitration prices.
Neil Walker – $8,600,000
Pedro Alvarez – $5,500,000
Mark Melancon – $4,000,000
Vance Worley – $2,900,000
Josh Harrison – $2,200,000
Sean Rodriguez – $2,000,000
Travis Snider – $2,000,000
Chris Stewart – $1,300,000
Jared Hughes – $1,100,000
Francisco Cervelli – $1,100,000
I expect tomorrow could be a busy day for transactions for several reasons. First, the Pirates will have to tender all of these players offers, although I don’t expect anyone to be non-tendered from this list (Gaby Sanchez will probably officially be non-tendered, making him a free agent). Then you’ve got other teams non-tendering players, which could lead to a potential trade (much like today’s deal with Rodriguez). If that doesn’t happen, several new free agents will enter the market, which could provide some options for the Pirates, most likely in the bullpen or bench.
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