Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings take place this week, running Monday through the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. The meetings are a time when things really kick off in free agency and on the trade market. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, I wouldn’t be surprised if the meetings are slow. There aren’t many areas where the Pirates need to seek an upgrade.
**They seem to be going with an all-defense catching combo of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, and with Russell Martin off the market, there aren’t really any good starting options available that could beat out this all-defense approach.
**The outfield is set with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. They’ve got a contingency plan in Travis Snider if Polanco doesn’t work out.
**The infield looks set at second, third, and shortstop, and they seem to be set on going with Pedro Alvarez at first base. They could try to deal Alvarez, but that might be foolish, since there aren’t any good replacement options available.
**The bullpen had issues in 2014, but came around at the end of the season. They have a great combo in the late innings with Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. John Holdzkom emerged at the end of the season as a potential seventh inning guy. Jared Hughes should return to a key role in the middle innings. They look to be going with Radhames Liz for another spot. The Pirates usually fill their bullpen needs with low-key moves. They need a second lefty, which could be filled by either Jeff Locke or Clayton Richard. They have added several right-handed options to help fill out the bullpen. I don’t expect them to make a big splash here.
**The bench looks strong, with Travis Snider and Sean Rodriguez providing good backup plans for the lineup, and good bench bats. I’d expect one of the Pedro Florimon/Justin Sellers/Jake Elmore group to take the second infield bench spot, with my money on Florimon. The final bench spot will depend on whether they go with a platoon at first base. If they don’t go with a platoon, they could carry an extra outfielder, or an extra super utility player. This is another area where I don’t think they’ll make any big splashes, or at least nothing bigger than Sean Rodriguez.
That leaves the starting rotation, which is the key area the Pirates needed to upgrade this off-season. They lost Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez to free agency. Charlie Morton is expected to miss the start of the 2015 season. That left the need for at least two starters this off-season. One of those rotation spots has already been filled by A.J. Burnett. The Pirates have been rumored to be prioritizing Liriano for the second spot.
Things aren’t expected to happen on the starting pitching front until after Jon Lester signs. Jon Heyman has the latest update on Lester, noting that the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, and Dodgers are in the mix, and that the bidding is going over $130 M, while the Cubs could be over $140 M for six years. Lester will set the market, and will open things up for other pitchers behind him to sign. At that point, we’ll probably start to hear more on what the Pirates might do, and what kind of market Liriano has.
There has already been one update, saying that Liriano’s signing could come down to whether a team gives him three or four years. Heading into the off-season, I expected he could get four years and $48-50 M. The Pirates can definitely afford that, as their payroll is projected to go over $90 M this year, and they’re currently projected at $72.3 M heading into the meetings. They could even afford him if the bidding takes the average annual value higher. They’ve already offered him $15.3 M through a qualifying offer that he turned down. Because of that, if he signs elsewhere, they will get a compensation pick after the first round of the 2015 draft.
Aside from the push for Liriano, I don’t expect anything big for the Pirates. Their off-season so far has been filled with a lot of moves to add depth, and fill out the final few spots on the roster. They’ve already addressed their catching situation, along with one of their open rotation spots. Going forward, I’d expect more low-key moves to help upgrade the bullpen and bench, and possibly one potential reclamation project for rotation depth. I also wouldn’t rule out a platoon at first base, which would require an external move.
The end of the meetings will bring the Rule 5 draft, which I’d expect will bring at least one transaction for the Pirates. Even if they don’t lose anyone and don’t take anyone in the draft, there’s a possibility they could trade a player to the Rays after the draft to complete the Sean Rodriguez deal. I think that’s possible only because “Player to be Named Later” deals at this time of the year are usually Rule 5 eligible players who get traded after the draft.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates draft someone. They have room on the 40-man roster. There is currently one spot, although that will be taken when the Radhames Liz deal is finally official. There are plenty of players who could be removed from the 40-man roster to make room, although that might end up being a wash if the Pirates do end up drafting a player, since Rule 5 picks these days amount to no better than waiver claims. As for the players who are eligible from the Pirates, here is the list, along with some thoughts on who the best candidates are to be drafted.
On a site note, the Rule 5 draft is the final transaction that goes into the 2015 Prospect Guide, unless another transaction takes place before Friday morning. I’m finishing up profiles tonight, and will be making the final changes to the book this week in the down time between Winter Meetings updates. I’ve already ordered a test copy to make sure everything will print out properly. The book will go to publishing on Friday, and I’ll have a better idea at that point when it will be officially released. If you want to guarantee that your book goes out in the first shipment, your order needs to be in by Friday morning. You can pre-order a copy of the book here. I’ll have a preview from the book at some point early this week.