The Pirates just came off a season where they won 98 games, but lost the Wild Card game to the Cubs, ending their playoff run early. This was the second year in a row where they went up against one of the hottest pitchers in baseball in the Wild Card game, and likewise, it was the second year in a row that they lost that game. As a result, the goal for 2016 should be to win the division and avoid this situation entirely.

It’s going to be difficult to do much better than the team did in 2015. A bar of 98 wins is hard to top, and in most years it would be enough to win the division. This year it would have been enough to win any division other than the NL Central, which makes this situation even more frustrating. And that same frustrating situation will exist unless MLB adds a rule change to the way the playoffs are seeded.

The Pirates will also have a challenge of their own when trying to upgrade. They aren’t a team that has a lot of holes like previous years. They’re a team that won 98 games and will be returning almost all of their roster. That doesn’t mean the same team will win 98 games again next year, but it does mean the Pirates will be returning a good team that is set for the 2016 season. So in order to upgrade the team, the Pirates are going to have to find a way to upgrade established positions rather than filling holes, which can be easy in some cases, and difficult in other cases. Below I broke down some of the difficulties the Pirates face this off-season at a few key positions, along with some of the other storylines they face with prospects and other off-season plans.

The Departing Players

The Pirates will have a lot of potential turnover on their roster, but fortunately they will keep most of their core in place for the 2016 season. They’ll have the option of trying to upgrade over a few of those guys, but outside of the upgrades, they’ll have most of their team set going into the off-season.

Free Agents

The Pirates will be losing J.A. Happ, Joakim Soria, Antonio Bastardo, Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Joe Blanton to free agency. They will also lose Aramis Ramirez and A.J. Burnett to retirement. These losses will create a few needs around the team which will need to be addressed in the off-season.

The biggest need would be in the rotation. The Pirates have Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon set to arrive in 2016, but neither will be ready on Opening Day. As a result, they will need at least one more starting pitcher at the beginning of the season. The loss of Ramirez and Rodriguez also brings the need for more bench help, especially with current uncertainty about when Jung-ho Kang could return next season. They’ll lose Soria, Blanton, and Bastardo from the bullpen, and at the least will need to add a left-handed reliever. They will probably add some right-handed options, but those tend to be minor moves geared towards value, such as last year’s pickup of Arquimedes Caminero for cash considerations.

Non-Tender/Trade Candidates

The next holes that could be created would come through potential non-tenders or trades. In the 2016 payroll projection, I listed Vance Worley, Travis Snider, and Travis Ishikawa as non-tender candidates. Losing Snider and Ishikawa, combined with the losses of Rodriguez and Ramirez, would further the need for bench help. The Pirates could try to bring any of these guys back (outside of Ramirez), but they could probably do so at a cheaper price in each case. In Snider’s case, they could use a fourth outfielder, but he’s projected for $2.4 M in arbitration, and we’re only two months removed from every team passing on him at a pro-rated portion of his $2.1 M salary. He didn’t do anything in September to warrant the 2016 projection, and will once again be a cheaper option on the open market.

There are three other arbitration eligible players who are questionable to remain on the team due to their prices and production. Those players are Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Mark Melancon. I talked about each of them in yesterday’s payroll article, and will discuss their situations further below. That would create a need at first base, second base, and closer, although the Pirates have an internal solution for first base and closer.

The Needs

The Pirates will enter the off-season looking for the following:

**At least one Starting Pitcher

**Bench Help

**Bullpen Help, with a focus on a left-handed reliever

**Potentially a first baseman

**Potentially a second baseman

**A new closer, or an additional left-handed reliever if Tony Watson becomes the new closer

I’m not going to go into detail on the bullpen or bench, since there are so many options and so many ways a team can fill those spots. Instead, I’ll focus on the key areas above.

Shuffling the Infield

The Pirates didn’t have a problem offensively on the right side of their infield. The problem they had was with the defense. As I noted yesterday, Pedro Alvarez had the same offense as his 2012 season, but the defense was so horrible that he became a replacement level player. Neil Walker ranked 17th out of 18 qualified second basemen in UZR/150, despite having strong offense.

The Pirates have the challenge of trying to upgrade their defense at these two spots, while not losing a lot offensively. I think they can do that by going with Michael Morse over Alvarez at first. It’s not that Morse is a good defender. But you don’t have to be a good defender to be a big upgrade over Alvarez. There’s also the possibility that Morse could return to his pre-2015 offense, which would be an overall upgrade over Alvarez at first base.

Second base would be the harder spot to upgrade. Walker’s defense is bad, but his offense is good for the position. None of the free agent options available are big upgrades over what he can provide overall, and the guys who provide the same production would cost the same amount. The only possibility here would be a trade.

This is almost like the Russell Martin situation last year. Martin looked to be the best free agent option, but would cost a lot of money. The Pirates could afford him, but at the same time, it would severely impact who they could sign in the future. They ended up adding Francisco Cervelli via trade, and Cervelli ended up being just as good as Martin this year, at a fraction of the cost. At this time last year, no one was even thinking about Cervelli as an option, and when he was added, no one was thinking he could put up a similar value as Martin. And you could argue that by going with Cervelli, the Pirates were able to spend in other areas during the off-season, like signing A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Jung-ho Kang, among others.

The Pirates could use the same type of situation with Walker this year. They can afford to pay his projected $10.7 M salary, but they’d be better off finding a cheaper option to do the same thing, and using that money elsewhere on other upgrades.

Adding to the Rotation

The Pirates need at least one starter to replace A.J. Burnett. The best option right now appears to be J.A. Happ, although that could just be because he did so well with the Pirates this year. The truth is that the Pirates have earned some leeway with their pitching choices, since they keep finding gem after gem. Happ is the most recent example of that. He turned into one of the best pitchers in the final two months of the season, and would be a great fit who would also be affordable under my estimated two-year, $20 M price for him. But I also trust that any starter the Pirates bring in would work, since that’s generally how it’s gone in the past.

The big question here is whether they’d want to upgrade beyond that number three starter and try to replace Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton. Morton is making $8 M this year, which is what a guy with a 1.3 WAR would make on the open market at $6 M per WAR. Morton didn’t reach that this year, with an 0.9 WAR, but did reach those numbers the previous two years, putting up a 1.5 and 1.6 WAR. His big issue is his struggle against left-handed pitching. That might be solved by trying to add another pitch this off-season, which could allow him to get back to those numbers from the previous two years.

Locke put up a 1.6 WAR last year, and his $3.5 M projected salary means that he would only need a third of his 2015 production to justify his contract. Every year he’s had issues in the second half, and while “he’s great in the first half” isn’t the type of trend that you can bank on, this trend does make him a good choice to start until the prospects arrive.

The Pirates could definitely try to upgrade over Locke and/or Morton. I would place the need for this upgrade behind the need for an upgrade at first base, the number three starting spot, and then second base. It’s more of a luxury than a need, as Locke and Morton would be fine for half a season. The Pirates could try to find another option in the Vance Worley/Clayton Richard mold, by finding a depth starter for Triple-A at the start of the year. They could also try to find a starter and use one of Locke/Morton as a long-reliever/depth option. That might be expensive in Morton’s case, although they could afford this if they shed some salary by parting with Alvarez, Walker, and the next guy I’ll discuss.

Overall, the Pirates need one starting pitcher, and if all other needs are filled, they could look into upgrading one of the remaining spots. However, Morton and Locke are capable starters, and the Pirates have combined for one of the best starting groups the last three years with those two playing a big role. They’ve got top prospects slated to arrive by mid-season, which is another reason you might not want a long-term option at those spots.

Sell High on Melancon?

In the 2012-13 off-season, the Pirates traded Joel Hanrahan, who was slated to make $7 M, and coming off two solid seasons as a closer. They traded him to create payroll space, which they used to sign Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin. In return, they got Mark Melancon, who has quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball, if not the best reliever. Out of 169 qualified relievers in this span, Melancon ranks third in WAR, first in WPA (10.21), first in shutdowns (123), and he has only 17 meltdowns during that span.

This isn’t the same situation that the Pirates were in with Hanrahan. They had a good reliever in Hanrahan, but definitely a guy who could be replaced or upgraded over for a lot less money. In Melancon’s case, they’ve got one of the best relievers in baseball. They could move on from him, but it would be hard to upgrade over him.

They do have a built-in upgrade in Tony Watson, who has ranked second to Melancon in WPA and shutdowns over the last three years. But if they traded Melancon and went with Watson, they’d be downgrading over Watson in the eighth inning.

The decision they’d have to make here is whether that downgrade from Melancon/Watson to Watson/replacement is worth the extra $10 M and what kind of upgrades the Pirates could get with that money. It’s basically the same decision the Pirates had with Hanrahan (which was ultimately Hanrahan/Grilli vs Grilli/Melancon), only they’ve got a much better reliever combo to upgrade over this time around.

Prospects

The Pirates don’t have any prospects who could fill needs at the start of the season. However, they have a group of top guys who could come up and make an impact by mid-season. Part of that is for Super Two purposes, but the players all have legitimate reasons to stay in the minors at the start of the season.

Josh Bell is the eventual first baseman in Pittsburgh, but still needs to work on his defense at first base. His offense saw improvements once he got to Indianapolis, and if those improvements prove to be lasting changes, then the defense will be the only thing that needs upgrading.

Tyler Glasnow still needs to work on his command and throwing his curveball for strikes. He’s good enough to get away with his mistakes in the minors, but MLB hitters will currently sit on his fastball and pass up the curve and the changeup until he can throw them for strikes.

Jameson Taillon pitched this year, but not in any official games. He threw sim games during instructs, getting more innings after his hernia surgery. His mechanics looked the best they have ever looked when he was pitching, and he doesn’t look like a guy that will need a ton of work in Triple-A. He’ll need to get readjusted to the level of competition, and get all of his pitches back on track.

Both Glasnow and Taillon should be ready for mid-season, with the ability to step up as upgrades over Morton and Locke. Until then, if they need short-term depth, they’d have Casey Sadler, depending on his health at the start of the year.

Alen Hanson could be an option at second base at some point. He needs to become more consistent with his hitting, but his defense has been much better at second. Hanson could be up before mid-season, since he has less to work on than the other prospects.

Elias Diaz is another prospect who could be up sooner than later, but would only be needed if there was an injury to Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart.

The Pirates will further complicate their off-season plans with the status of the prospects. They can’t add multi-year options at these spots, in fear of spending money and blocking a much cheaper option who can contribute for the long-term. But they need upgrades at a few spots, which means they’ll need to find short-term options who can help, while also stepping aside when the prospects arrive.

Rule 5 Draft

Back in July I wrote about the Rule 5 draft and how the Pirates have a lot of options to protect. Since that article was written, the Pirates have traded away Adrian Sampson and Yhonathan Barrios, and called up Keon Broxton. The locks to be protected look to be Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, Max Moroff, and Harold Ramirez. Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes also look like strong options.

This gives six players to protect, but the Pirates may find it difficult to protect that many players. After the retirements and the free agents, they will have five open spots on the 40-man roster. They can create more spots with non-tenders, but they’ll need spots for free agents and trades.

They’ll also have guys on the 40-man roster who won’t be ready for the majors at the start of the season, like Hanson, Diaz, Taillon, Willy Garcia, and Nick Kingham. As a result, they’ll have about 11 spots on the 40-man roster taken up by guys who won’t be ready at the start of the year, which doesn’t give them a lot of depth.

It could be possible that they use this prospect depth to make trades to upgrade other spots on the roster. This is exactly what they did at the deadline, dealing Barrios for Aramis Ramirez and dealing Adrian Sampson for J.A. Happ. That continued approach could give them the upgrades they need this off-season, while trading guys who wouldn’t be missed in the short-term or long-term.

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93 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a shame that the Pirates didn’t take advantage of the opportunity presented to them this year. It is hard to see them putting together a roster as talented or as deep next season.

    I really don’t see Tallion, Glassnow, Hanson or Bell contributing anything next year. They are all way too green. Kang is out until June and who knows if he will be the same player he was when he was injured. It is very unlikely that they will pick up a pitcher who will be capable of being an all star like AJ was this year without spending a lot more than they have spent in the past. I think they’ll miss Soria, Bastardo and Caminaro a ton. Having a lights out bullpen was one hell of a luxury which will be difficult to duplicate. This off season will be critical.

    I think cutting Pedro and relying on Morse until Bell became ready would be a mistake. Morse isn’t good with the bat or the glove and is best suited to be a bench player. That said, it seems clear that the Pirates want to cut ties with Pedro. Frankly I am not a Pedro fan but I wonder where the power would be in the line up without him. Thankfully he more or less ended the year as a productive offensive player. Hopefully they can get something decent for him in trade. I think it will be very tricky to replace him.

    If the Pirates were to dump Pedro I think it would become even more important to keep Neal around. He has more power than the average second baseman and is adequate defensively. Hansen isn’t ready and won’t be for another year at least. I think Neal would be a tough guy to replace.

    To me the idea of trading Melancon is absolutely ludicrous especially if you let Soria Caminaro and Bastardo go. Why create a problem when there are already many problems to address?

    We will see how it pans out. Huntington has done a good job the past few years keeping the team stocked with talent. I just wish it didn’t feel like the Pirates were constantly rebuilding. They had a great team at the end of the 2015 season. I think this year was their best chance to win a championship since the 1970s. Despite their “success” year, it sure looks like a monster of a job to improve next year. Here’s hoping they can be at least as successful this offseason as they were last.

  2. Nobody is talking much about the decline in productivity of the MVP. He just had a birthday – HAPPY BIRTHDAY CUTCH – for the four age years – 25 to 28 he has the highest cumulative WAR of any Pirate ever – finishing slightly ahead of Bonds [who was MUCH better defensively and not as good offensively] and Kiner [vice versa].

    But here is what is a bit troubling…
    25=6.8 WAR
    26=8.4
    27=6.9
    28=5.8

    Now 5.8 is still very good – 12th – but in 2013 he was second only to Mike Trout.

    I have heard some suggest that the knee was never right all year – and that he may need surgery to fix it – others have blamed it on cutting off the dredlocks :-)…

    Hopefully this is not the beginning of a decline – if so it will have started early for him.

    An interesting side note is Clemente’s best years were in his early 30s – for the same age range his cumulative WAR 11 runs lower than Cutch @ 17.9 – he ended up with 80 for his career.

      • It’s most certainly a decline, Bruce.

        When a player who was never a good defender decides to stop doing anything of value on the bases, yeah, he sure as hell better start hitting the hell out of the ball. 2015 was not an encouraging start to Cutch’s decline years.

  3. I would be disappointed if Morton and Locke were both in the rotation to start the year. They should aim higher and move those guys to depth options. Not because their performance is terrible for 4th and 5th starters, but because SP is really the most obvious plate for an upgrade, and they will need depth anyway.

    Counting on Glasnow and Taillon to show up mid-year is not a solid plan A — Glasnow still has the same issues he had 2 years ago, and Taillon hasn’t pitched in games in two years. They could each turn out to be great, but they could still be duds.

    • I know this is an unpopular perspective to share, but in the world of MLB scouts and analysts, Morton & Locke are considered an excellent bottom of the rotation duo. That’s because they are better than 75% of what other teams are filling out their rotation with.

      Almost every team has Mortons & Lockes, except they are usually even worse.

      Chances are excellent one of the kid pitchers (Glasnow, Taillon, Kingham, Brault, etc…) will be ready mid-season. Surely it’s not too hard to wait until July to get rid of one of the top 5th starters in the game. This team has far more pressing needs to fill with their small market resources, than tossing aside above average 4th and 5th starters because our fans just can’t stand them. I believe that was a key part of this article no?

      • The Bucs lost the division this year in April. The Cards won the division because of the strength of their 3,4,5 pitchers. The only way to displace the Cards, w/o considering the Cubs is to upgrade the 4,5 slots, after signing Happ.

      • Except that the Pirates are no longer simply content beating 75% of teams, Gallatin. That’s the point Tim and you are missing.

        And if the point of the article was that the team has “far more pressing needs to fill” then it sorely lacked any sort of convincing argument. Runs are runs and wins are wins. This team and their “small market resources” have had far more success getting value out of pitchers than hitters, and there’s most certainly a need.

  4. Wonder what it would take to get Kyle Seager? Only two years of control left, power bat…moves Jung Ho to SS full-time, though.

      • Unfortunately, that is what I’ve assumed, too. Just looking through anyone with power, Seattle Seager is the only one who jumped out at me as someone who realistically (i.e., just forget Goldschmidt, folks) might be available and at a reasonable price.

  5. It will truly be an interesting off-season. I’m interested to know more about the financial details of Morse’s contract. Perhaps if Alvarez or Walker are traded, some of the question marks for the Pirates will be addressed. I’m interested in seeing if they’ll consider keeping Broxton on the major league roster. His speed and athleticism is exciting and maybe there’s a place for it, especially since the Pirates seem to have their fair share of 1-run games. Maybe they should have had more of a “small ball’ game plan to beat Arrieta. There’s really not much benefit to keeping Broxton at AAA. It’s not like he’s going to replace any of their big 3 outfielders anytime soon.

    • Under by a lot. Melancon could have broken the Bucs record for saves and still blown 4 more saves. A LOT of things went right this year – and in most years, the Pirates would still be playing, because 98 wins brings home the division most years.

  6. I think the Pirates will cross their fingers and hope that a rotation which includes Morton, Locke and some free agent pitcher (probably reclamation) will get them through the first half of the season. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s what I see happening, it’s the cheapest and easiet route to take.

  7. The quickness and completeness of Jung Ho Kang’s recovery will likely be the key to the 2016 season.

    Counting on Mike Morse to be both healthy and productive at the same time is completely foolish given the history of his career. Counting on Josh Bell as the safety net would be even more so. With Kang’s status uncertain, Walker almost has to be retained so that he can play both 1B and 2B. Alen Hanson probably won’t be a very productive hitter, but neither is Jordy Mercer. Hanson has an outside shot to be roughly a league average player if he defense and base running are pluses, which would give the club a decent shot at getting league average or better production from all four infield positions through a mix of Kang, Mercer, Walker, Harrison, and Morse.

    Getting rid of Alvarez *and* Walker removes almost all redundancy from the infield, which essentially makes the Pirates a worse version of the Reds; good lineup if everyone is healthy and productive but a disaster if baseball happens.

    The obvious place for improvement is the area in which the club has had the most success, the starting rotation. Two productive starters added to Cole and Liriano would push Locke into 6th starter/long relief/lefty bullpen role potentially filling multiple holes at once.

    • I think the Pirates, you are right, might be best served to look to improve their starting pitching at the back end. Maybe re-sign Happ as your 2nd lefty, but getting almost guaranteed loss pitchers Locke and Morton out of the rotation should be a top priority.

  8. I totally agree with the article, and many of the comments. Doesn’t this demonstrate that to get anything other than marginally better, the Bucs would have to be willing to do something pretty drastic? For instance, and yes, this is a dream, what does it take to pry Paul Goldschmidt from the Dbacks? Definitely Glasnow, maybe Polanco, etc. But what team do you put on the field then? Cutch is better because he has actual protection rather than a series of “good enough” options. The infield defense is enormously better without having to make a series of offense-defense switches in late innings. I could go on, but you get the picture.

    My point is not that this is the only possibility, though obviously, Bucs fans would be thrilled to see a 100 rbi producer take over the 4-spot. My point is that if incremental progress is not enough, NH might need to take a more radical approach to try to get over the hump. And I believe one of Williams’ points is that the Bucs could put a very slightly better team on the field, and experience a somewhat worse season – like 93 wins. So… maybe slow and steady is no longer the model to get over the hump?

    • Arizona is one team that needs a shut down closer – badly. So a deal which included Melancon – who is from Colorado so it might be appealing to him – might get things started AND it might mean that you don’t need to include Glasnow. You can send Bell back to AZ since he won’t be needed.

      Polonco an a B pitching prospect, Melancon and Bell might get it done…

    • No. No. No.

      There will never be a big signing or trade of that magnitude. The Pirates high end talent will come from their system, with bit pieces added occasionally in the offseason and at the deadline.

      “Go for it” is not in the BMTIB mantra.

      And Dave Stewart would never trade Goldschmidt, at least with their current control of him.

  9. The Pirates won about five more games than their Pythagorean projection predicted. So, the Pirates were ‘lucky’ as were the Cubs and Cardinals. For the Pirates to maintain a 90-win or more pace, they will need better players. The reason: Cervelli, Melancon had career years and are heading into the twilight of their careers, Harrison, Mercer and Walker have had their career years, Locke, Liriano and Morton are unlikely to improve much over their current contributions, etc. Cole and Polanco should improve, Marte should add a few wins to his WAR total and Cutch could have another MVP quality year. The sum of these speculative expectations may produce another 90-win team. But a 90-win team may not make the playoffs. And then the Pirates will need to retool once again for the 2017 season.

    Given the team’s financial constraints and salary inflation in MLB, the best path for improvement leads through the farm system. This could generate a one-step back, two-steps forward outcome given the nature of prospect development.

    The Pirates should not fear the inevitable. Roster change will come. The question: Will the Pirates maximize their baseball value over the longer term by building on their farm system or will they use their farm system to sustain their current run.

  10. IMHO, the Pirates top priorities this off season should be – but not necessarily in this order:
    (1) Improve the backend of the rotation – #3-5. Re-signing Happ may addresses one spot, but that depends on his asking price. Guys like Taillon and Glasnow should get first shots, along with Kingham when he is healthy.
    (2) Improve the infield defense – which will help us win more games next year – especially at first, second, and third. I like Mercer at SS, but lets face it, he’s just a pedestrian SS and is not a real difference maker at that position. Unless Walker will accept a move to first base, I would trade him. He has some value, especially if combined with 1-2 other players in a bigger deal. I would also trade Alvarez, since he has more value now that he did after last year. Maybe the Yankees would want him, or some other AL team needing a power hitting DH. I would put Hanson at second base (assuming he shows enough in the Spring) – he could improve the defense while also providing a more ideal lead-off batter. Unless we get a better SS in a trade or free agent signing, we leave Mercer at SS and combination of Harrison and Kang at 3B and utility man. First base will be either Walker – or Bell, Lambo, or someone they get outside the organization.
    (3) I understand the reasoning for wanting to trade a closer at his peak value – and Melancon has a career year in 2015 and may never be able to match that. But, we currently don’t have anyone who is a strong closer candidate. I would not want Hughes or Watson moved from their current roles – and I don’t think either is closer material. That leaves guys like Caminero, Holdzkum, etc. So, for now, I would prefer to keep Melancon.
    (4) Happ and Blanton are the only free agents I would consider bringing back – and it all depends on their asking price. I’d pass on all the others.
    (5) We need 1-2 strong bullpen arms (assuming Bastardo is gone) – preferably one LH and one RH. Other than Holdzkum, I don’t see too many candidates at Indy.
    (6) We need a 4th outfielder (assuming Snider is gone, and I hope he is), and I think Broxton is the idea candidate at Indy to fill that spot. He is a good outfielder – can play all three spots – has a decent bat with some pop, and adds a lot of speed.
    (7) We need to get younger and faster – and improve the range and quality of the infield defense. We won 98 games, and could have won 4-5 more with better defense.

    • I agree with virtually everything, but I’m torn on Melancon.

      I don’t have the stats handy, but the Pirates were something ridiculous like 80-1 when leading after 7 innings.

      (SOMEONE, QUICK…get the exact stats!)

      That tells me the combination of Watson/Melancon was disproportionately responsible for the Pirates 98 wins.

      That said, Melancon can’t get any better and he’s only on the team for next season. Unless the Pirates pull out all the stops and say 2016 is THE year, then just competing isn’t a good enough reason to keep him.

      • The top 5 staffs in MLB this season were the five NL playoff teams. The top five starting rotations in MLB were also the the five NL playoff teams. However, the top five bullpens were not (Cubs 8th, Mets 11th, LAD 18th). Last year 4 of the 5 NL playoff staffs were among top 10 in MLB, while bullpens were not.

        That would suggest that despite KC’s success, solid starting rotations are still more valuable than pens. Which would imply Melancon is expendable.

        In 2014, Bucs made the WC with the 3rd most blown saves in MLB (24). This year, LA, NYM and CHC all made playoffs with save % between 69%-71% vs PIT’s 79%. So it would seem that Bucs could afford a slight drop in shutdowns at closer IF the rotation was improved, without taking the team out of contention.

        However, if, as you note, the goal is to win the division and not just get to another WC game, then a drop off at closer becomes something the team cannot afford (unless of course our guy is 2016’s Bumgarner/Arrieta in the WC game).

      • And on Sept 1st, the Steelers thought they would be okay with Josh Scobee.

        If you trade Melancon and give the job to Watson, fine. But you better find an external option for the 7th or 8th.

  11. Through the course of the games today and doing stuff around the house, I made a new spreadsheet. Focuses on team, market size (every site you look at is different, but it’s close), 2015 rank and if the team made the playoffs.

    Here’s my conclusion. The Pirates are overachieving based on their payroll, but to get further in the playoffs, they need to spend more.

    https://docs.google.com/spread

  12. I wonder if this would be a fit: Melancon to Nationals for Drew Storen+AJ Cole. There have been rumors that the Nationals will move on from Storen and Papelbon and want a new closer. Maybe we improve our rotation and get a good bullpen piece. Maybe Ross instead of Cole….Add Cole or Ross to Cole, Liriano, Happ and Morton and I’d be satisfied with the rotation.

    • I don’t know if that’s enough of a return. Storen is a rental who’ll cost $7Mish. Cole would be nice, but I think they’d have to kick in a little more.

      Detroit is also a place I could see Melancon going.

    • I thought about Storen as well, but last year of arbitration. If he had two or more, I would consider it. With one, probably not.

  13. I 100000% disagree on Pedro. He needs to be kept. Morse will hit 230 with little power and good defense. How in the hell is that going to help the Pirates? If a team that has to play in a division with 2 of the best having Morse as the 1B is a disaster.

    The team doesn’t have a whole lot of power in a big Park without Pedro. You cant possible count on prospects such as Bell to help right away. Replacing Pedro with Morse is a downgrade and they cant afford to downgrade

    • Downgrade how? So you are going to ignore what Morse did as a Pirate and his whole career and base everything on an injured start of the season on an underperforming team. Come on. The guy has a career .275ish average. And in full seasons hasn’t hit less that 15 home runs. Morse had a higher WAR in his time as a Pirate than Pedro had for the whole year. Pedro has been a mess. You don’t need to have a ton of power if you can produce when it matters. Pedro’s .220 average with RISP showed that. How many solo shots?

      • The main issue with Morse is his health. Can he stay healthy as a full-time starter for a half a season? I’d say that’s a crap shoot, but I’m willing to take that chance if they can get something, anything, for Toro.

        • Not difficult looking at his numbers offensively. Sub par defensively and doesn’t bring anything to the bases but for the most part of his career has a solid offensive game

      • Oh, and Pedro Alvarez drove in 16% of the runners he had on base during his at bats in 2015, the same rate as Mr. Proven Cleanup Hitter Aramis Ramirez.

    • I agree, Morse has shown that he could get on base, but cannot/will not pull the ball. His one HR was to right field. I would not like to see him as full tome at first base. With Bell, the Pirates might need a good 1st basemen for more than half a year. Bring the kid up and work him slow. This firstbase thing can’t keep going on…just sayin

      • morse went with where the ball was hit, something the Pirates didn’t do all year. Not sure how that’s a bad thing. Specially with his power and the short porch. Not saying he would be an all star by any means but can produce overall as much as Pedro if not more. Sure won’t be dropping pick off throws lol

  14. In general, they need to figure out a way to start better this season. Getting swept by the reds opening week started another subpar April in a season when we needed three more wins.

  15. I think the Pirates have to do better than a back three of Happ, Morton, Locke. There aren’t a lot of innings there. Banking on significant contributions from both Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon is highly suspect.

    Also it is imperative that Morton does something to improve against left handed hitters, since 2011 he has 4.43 FIP against with .366 wOBA. Lefties turn into Buster Posey, Freddie Freeman against Morton. It is very hard to be an effective starter when half the lineup hits like that against you.

    • I’m in total agreement.

      For all the accolades Searage gets for turning around struggling pitchers quickly, I would think the continued struggles of Morton and Locke indicate they are what they are and aren’t going to show much sustained improvement.

      As for Happ, if you prorate his Pirate numbers out for a full season, you get a WAR that puts him in the Scherzer and Kershaw class. What he did this season was great, but, yeah, he’s do a major regression next season.

      If the Pirates go into 2016 with Cole/Liriano/Happ/Morton/Locke, this rotation has the potential to violently implode…especially when the fallback plan is two guys who’ve never pitched in the major leagues.

      I’m all for bringing Happ back at the right cost and assuming he can be a viable good #4/weak #3 starter, but a lot more needs to be done.

      Liz should be stretched out and made a depth option…and the team needs to actually obtain a solid starter instead of just hoping they can revive another career. Shields from San Diego, plus salary relief for a good prospect or two seems like the kind of deal they need to make.

      Cole/Liriano/Shields/Happ/? would be a heck of a more competitive rotation.

      Both the young guys will still get chances. There will be doubleheaders and injuries next season. If one or both turn out to be as advertised…great…trade off one of the established starters and feed the farm system

      • This is going to be one interesting offseason. They have to be past the point of both Morton and Locke in the rotation, right? In a perfect world, both would be gone. I know, not a perfect world.

      • Not Shields. Maybe a Kennedy or someone else, but please not Shields. I think the likelihood there is not mechanics, but simple wear and tear. He’s a Ford with 200K on it being promoted as a cherry Lexus.

        • Agreed. Relative to last season their is quite a few interesting options on the free agent market. Whether you are looking to give someone a Liriano like deal or a Volquez type deal.

  16. I’d like NH to move quickly instead of letting the market set itself. The Martin signing and Frankies new deal were examples of that.

    I believe we will know about Happ fairly early.

  17. Great article…the only place I veer is in the thought ‘mid-season rookie call-ups’.

    I don’t think it’s a given to assume they’ll contribute. The Pirates were spoiled with Marte and Cutch, but brought back down to earth with Polanco.

    Sure, it’s great to have guys projected to do well, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to take some serious beatings as they step up to the majors. Heck, even Barry Bonds had some seriously disastrous stretches during his first campaign. So, I’m not on board with the idea that, if Locke or Morton struggle, Taillon or Glasnow will be an acceptable replacement/upgrade.

    By the way, best line ever written here goes to:

    “…you don’t have to be a good defender to be a big upgrade over Alvarez.”

    • Short term memory – it was not that long ago that many were arguing that Marte needed to go back to AAA – need to see if Polanco “gets it” sometime next year.

      My main concern with him is that he is a corner guy who gives you ~ 10 home runs a year – not sure that is enough from that spot on the roster.

      • Short term memory with Marte? His first season he put up a 1.1 WAR in less than 50 games. He’s never been under 5/season since. Many might’ve argued he needed to go back down…and many were wrong.

        Polanco? Yes, he’s definitely indicative that not all prospects waltz into the major leagues like Kris Bryant did. Some need time to grow. I think he’ll be fine in the long-term.

        • Bryant is very good and will probably eventually be great, but I wouldn’t call his 200 strikeouts this year “waltzing” anywhere

          • Well, 199…but that’s no reason to split hairs 🙂

            But how about his .858 OPS which was +134?

            or…

            6.0 WAR?

            Would you really have preferred the Pirates 3Bmen over him?

            As a guy who had less than 1.5 minor league seasons, how much more could you expect than what Bryant delivered?

            • I didn’t mean to sound like I don’t think he didn’t have a great season, especially for a rookie, it’s just that those strikeout totals would have me worried heading into his second season when pitchers can truly try to make adjustments. That being said, of course I would take him in a heartbeat.

      • There is a replacement outfielder getting ready in MiLB if it becomes necessary. If Polanco doesn’t extend in the near future,he will go at any rate.

    • The Pirates have done pretty good trading with the Yankees. The Yank’s may be a little gun shy this time around. But, i agree, the yankees will get Pedro either through trade or free agency after 2016.

      • The Wilson/Cervelli deal has worked out pretty well for both sides. Wilson was pretty lights out for the Yanks this year. 9.74 K/9, >3 BB/9, FIP at 2.69, xFIP at 3.12, and a 1.5 fWAR.

      • The Yankees already have a DH signed through 2017 in A-Rod. The Orioles are more likely to acquire Alvarez if they don’t re-sign Chris Davis.

  18. Why isn’t kingham considered as a midseason call up/starting option? He’s the 6th best prospect in our system.

  19. What is the latest on Lambo? If he recovers we could give him a shot with Morse while we wait for Bell

  20. It will be an eventful offseason. the Pirates need to bring in some more youngsters and Super 2 should not be the criteria. If they are ready and best 25 they should start The season In Pittsburgh. Look at Cardinals and Cubs and their youth. I predict Huntington will be bold

    • Always nice to see narratives from 2006 pop back up. Super 2 shouldnt matter, mostly because it aint our money we are making a poor decision with.

      • To be fair, based on the words you chose to describe the current status of Taillon and Glasnow, you’re implying on the one hand that Taillon and Glasnow will arrive around the same time, yet also noting that Taillon is waaaaaaay ahead of Glasnow in development and simply needs tweaking and reps to get back to peak performance. So just based on what you’ve just written, it would seem Taillon could be ready before early June and it really would be solely a Super Two issue.

        • It depends on how long you think it will take Taillon to readjust. Is it going to be five starts? Because that’s one month. If it’s 10 starts, then that takes you into June.

    • The Pirates farm system is not as good as St. Louis in developement. It takes a while longer. As for the Cubs, their rookies are exceptional. Great drafts and trades. Polanco had very little time in AA and a little more in AAA. He was brought up about 2 months to early, in my opinion. I think pitchers can learn faster in the majors. Look at Cole, he didn’t light it up in the minors, but after the first year up, he is a completely different pitcher…..just sayin

      • I think the Bucs can/should move on from Cumpton, Sanchez, Floriman, Lafrombose, Decker and probably Lambo – clears a lot of roster room for younger guys with upside.

        • Agree on Sanchez, Florimon, LA, Lambo, and I would add Snider instead of Decker. Cumpton will not cost anything to keep. We may need somebody like Decker or Snider as a utility OF – Decker is the more reasonable LH hitting option.

          Cervelli caught around 130 games in 2015. Stewie has been an excellent back-up, but is he necessary for the Pirates in 2016? We have Diaz who had an excellent year in AAA and spent the whole month of September working with our pitchers at the MLB level. He is the guy that we will most likely turn to in 2017 when Cervelli becomes a FA, and I think it would serve us better to get him into in the mix as early as possible in 2016. And I would not hesitate to find a place for Stewart in the Pirate org.

      • Tim, I know you are preparing for your off-season, however, could you reach out to the Pirates FO for comments about the Utley suspension? I truly believe Pirate nation lost a division because of that Coglin’s slide into Kang…and who knows what this team would have been with Mercer not knocked out for 2 months….

        • I like your suggestion, but lets be real… the Pirates would come back with a very clear PC answer, not faulting anyone, saying MLB has full disclosure to deem a play dirty or not. I have not heard anyone in the organization call Coghlan’s slide, that took out Kang, dirty. I don’t expect that to change now, nor will they say Utley’s slide was dirty or not. IMHO.

          • BF: Well, Joe Torre did the right thing and I think he suspended Chase Utley. That will be protested immediately, but this is the first step towards cleaning up the ridiculous situations allowed in slides into middle infielders.

            The MLB Rule is strong enough but has not been enforced – instead, over the years the allowance of the “if you can touch the base” type of slides have been allowed. Coughlan’s slide was that type of slide where his left hand could touch the bag (barely), but it was obvious that his “intent” was to take out Kang who was at least 5 feet to the right of and behind second base.

            • emjay,, why aren’t the umpiring and replay crew being criticized at all ? While watching that entire farce the other night I couldn’t believe the decisions that were made.

              • In the old days when I learned the game, middle infielders stood their ground and God help someone who did not get down because they were taught to put the ball right between their eyes. And, it was not unusual for middle infielders to block the bag on steals and take the spikes in their legs.

                Then we started to teach middle infielders how to avoid collisions by stepping across the base or behind the base to get out of the baseline. That’s when this “as long as you can come reasonably close to touching second base” theory came into play. Therefore, middle infielders such as Kang were fair game to slide into even though they were well away from the object bag. By taking the action he took, Joe Torre set into motion a tougher adherance to the rules around 2B in the future. He may lose this instant case, but things will be changing.

            • MLB did the right thing but far too late. Utley has a tremendous case when he appeals, as he can trot out the endless tapes of guys sliding worse than he did and point out that no suspension was given.

              He can show guys sliding so wide they cant touch the base, guys sliding beyond the base while making contact, and guys making contact high. MLB is doing what it always does, ignore the problem until it happens in a big game with a few big market teams and then overreact and wait until the offseason to actually fix the problem. If im Utley, im rightly pissed at being suspended. Thats a play baseball didnt want to deal with until it had to.

          • Coghlan’s slide was late and his right leg was up high. Only Ty Cobb had a more dangerous slide. Kang was the second player Coghlan put out of action. Joe Torrie didn’t do anything when Cutch was beaned by Arizona, and nothing about Mercer and Kang. You have to be from the major cities to get respect. If that would have happened to Jeter, they would have put the runner in jail….just sayin.

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