Earlier today, FanGraphs released crowd sourced predictions for the top free agent contracts this off-season. Obviously those numbers come with the disclaimer that they’re not set in stone and can change. As noted earlier today, the actual results tend to be higher than the predicted numbers. Sometimes the change isn’t that big, and sometimes it can be several million and an extra guaranteed year.

I thought I would have some fun with the numbers tonight, getting an early preview of how much it would cost the Pirates to field a team with several realistic free agent upgrades. I started with the 2016 payroll projection, which currently sits at $101 M. From there, I looked at the big areas of need for the Pirates this off-season: starting pitching, first base, second base, and a left-handed reliever.

My focus wasn’t to find a random free agent for each position, but to see if a free agent made sense at the position using the FanGraphs contract estimates, and what the Pirates currently have. The focus was also on seeing which free agent might make sense, with a deep breakdown here on the starting pitching market. There was a bit of variety here with the four positions and the conclusions I ended up with. Since this comes down to personal preference, and is an article based on fan salary projections and estimates about what the Pirates will do this off-season, I welcome you to add your input and ideas in the comments below.

Starting Pitching

There are several tiers involved here. I’m going to assume that the Pirates won’t get involved in a top-tier free agent like David Price or Zack Greinke. I’ll also discard Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann, as they’re both projected over $100 M.

Last year we saw the Pirates spend on Francisco Liriano, going three years and $39 M, so it’s not out of the question that they’d go for more than a value signing. I will add the disclaimer that I haven’t taken a deep look at potential bounce back candidates, so I’m mostly going with name value here and throwing out a few interesting options.

Jeff Samardzija seems like a bounce back guy, but might be costly for that bounce back. He’s projected at 4 years, $64 M, and is projected to receive and decline a qualifying offer, meaning he’d cost a draft pick. At his best, Samardzija would probably be in the Cueto/Zimmermann category, worth an extra $5 M a year, and 1-2 more years guaranteed. So there could still be some value here if he does bounce back to his 2014 levels.

In terms of contracts, Mike Leake (4 years, $56 M), Yovani Gallardo (4 years, $56 M), and Wei-Yin Chen (4 years, $52 M) are all close to Samardzija in value. But I’m not sure I’d take any of those guys over Samardzija. They seem like number 3-5 pitchers, while Samardzija has the shot at being more than that. Perhaps Gallardo could be a reclamation project and get back to his best days from 2009-2012, although he’s seen a dip in velocity since that time, going from 92-93 MPH to 90-91 on average.

As for Leake and Chen, they seem like the most expensive versions of the next tier — guys who could be good #3-5 starters. That group also includes Scott Kazmir and Hisashi Iwakuma, who are both projected for three years and $42 M. That’s the same average price, but one fewer projected year. From that point, you start to get into Liriano territory with the following projected contracts:

Marco Estrada – 3 years/$36 M

Ian Kennedy – 3/$36

J.A. Happ – 3/$33

Brett Anderson – 3/$33

There’s also John Lackey, who is projected for two years and $30 M, but would probably cost a draft pick. I’d think you’d want more years if you’re giving up a pick.

Last year the Pirates spent three years and $39 M on Liriano, so no pitcher in this group is out of their price range. The beauty of the Liriano deal was that:

1. They didn’t have to give up a draft pick in the process. The FanGraphs projections have picks going to Gallardo, Chen, Lackey, and Iwakuma.

2. Liriano was very under-valued in hindsight. Out of 86 pitchers with 300+ innings between 2013-14, he ranked 25th in ERA, 19th in xFIP, and 8th in K/9. He had top of the rotation stuff, and the ability to be one of the better pitchers in the league.

The Pirates paid for Liriano, but they also got value, watching him put up a 3.38 ERA and 3.16 xFIP, which ranked 25th and 13th respectively out of 78 qualified starters. His numbers belonged at a higher price range, but the perceived risk that he couldn’t repeat his 2013-14 success put him in a lower range. So who is this year’s Liriano?

I think the window has passed for Scott Kazmir. He put up a 2.7 WAR season in 2013, then signed a two-year, $22 M deal in 2014 and combined for a 5.6 WAR over the next two years, with excellent numbers. Then again, he’s projected for just $1 M more per year than Liriano received, and wouldn’t cost a pick, so this could be a candidate.

Brett Anderson is interesting. He’s been injury prone in the past, but gets a ton of ground balls, and put up a nice season last year. The injury history is concerning — more than the history with Liriano.

The two guys I really like are Ian Kennedy and J.A. Happ. In Kennedy’s case, you’ve got a guy who can be dominant (a strikeout per inning), and a recent history that saw him pitching closer to a top of the rotation guy. He’s a guy with the potential to break out and get back to that number one stuff, especially with Ray Searage still around.

Then there’s Happ, who I discussed briefly today. I think his overall body of work in 2015 (3.61 ERA/3.69 xFIP) is worth the projected contract. I do think he’ll get two years with an option, but I think the price per year is about right. And the risk here is whether he can get close to his numbers with the Pirates. There’s reason for skepticism, but if he trends closer to those numbers than his numbers with the Mariners, he’d end up being another big steal, even when they are paying eight figures a year to sign him.

Getting someone like Kazmir, Happ, or Kennedy in the $10-13 M a year range makes a lot of sense, and would be a great addition behind Gerrit Cole and Liriano.

As for the rest of the rotation, we enter the Charlie Morton/Jeff Locke debate. Both pitchers are good enough to pitch in the majors. They’re undervalued in Pittsburgh, with numbers the last few years that put them as legitimate strong number four starters. The Pirates also have Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon in Triple-A, potentially coming up by mid-season.

Outside of adding another Edinson Volquez-type reclamation project at $5 M, most of the best options available to replace Locke/Morton would be in the $10-13 M a year range, over 2-3 seasons. With two top prospects coming up, and two capable pitchers in the majors, I don’t think it would be the best use of funds to upgrade two number four starters, when the alternative is a number three starter. With other needs on the team, the Pirates would be better off adding a solid number three starter, and going with their prospects as depth throughout the year, while spending the rest of the money on those other needs.

First Base

The Pirates currently have Pedro Alvarez (projected $8.1 M in arbitration) and Michael Morse (paying about $4.5 M of his 2016 salary) under control. They also have Josh Bell in the wings, projected to be up mid-season. So a multi-year deal isn’t the best approach, especially when there are bigger needs on the team. Finding a better one-year option than Alvarez might be a good approach.

Chris Davis is the big free agent on the market, but he’s projected to get $100 M over five years, and that’s not a number a team should pay when they’ve got Josh Bell in the upper levels.

The only other guy on the list is Justin Morneau, who is projected for one year and $7 M. Morneau wasn’t great last year, posting an 0.5 WAR, but that’s better than Alvarez. He’s also a bit cheaper, and would provide much better defense.

With these numbers, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go with Morneau once again in Pittsburgh, using him and Morse as a stopgap platoon until Bell is ready.

Note: Byung-ho Park wasn’t included in the FanGraphs predictions.

Second Base

The Pirates have Neil Walker under control for one more season, with a projected $10.7 M salary. They also have Alen Hanson and Max Moroff in the upper levels of the minors, so this is another situation where a one year option would work best.

Howie Kendrick (4 years, $52 M) and Daniel Murphy (4 years, $48 M) would both provide similar production as Walker, but would be more expensive and would require pretty big commitments. The other second basemen on the list are Chase Utley (1 year, $8 M) and Kelly Johnson (1 year, $3 M) and neither are starting options.

As I’ve mentioned many times this off-season, keeping Walker looks like the best bet when looking at the free agent options. Unless the Pirates can find a good trade option, Walker looks like a value at $10.7 M, when similar players will be getting guaranteed about $50 M.

Lefty Reliever

The Pirates have Tony Watson and Bobby LaFromboise under team control, so they’ll need at least one left-hander to round out the bullpen mix.

I’m assuming they won’t spend big on a lefty reliever, since that isn’t their normal approach with any reliever options. The top options on the projections are Tony Sipp and J.P. Howell, who are each projected for two years and $10 M. Rich Hill is also on the expensive side, but only for one year, at a $6 M price tag.

Antonio Bastardo is projected to be a bit cheaper, at two years and $8 M.

The projections only go down to one year and $3 M, so there could be cheaper options available, or options on the trade market. That’s how the Pirates got Bastardo last year, sending Joely Rodriguez and paying Bastardo $3.1 M in his final year of arbitration. As I mentioned earlier today, he’d be proper value at $4 M per year. He’s also more consistent than Sipp and Howell, and the youngest guy listed here, so I’d trust him more.

Fun With Numbers

The current 2016 payroll projection is at $101,267,833, and that’s assuming everyone on the roster gets tendered a contract. Let’s go with the assumption that the Pirates keep Neil Walker, get rid of Pedro Alvarez and replace him with Justin Morneau (1 year, $7 M), sign one of the $10-13 M a year starters (we’ll go with $13 M in 2016 for this experiment), and bring back Bastardo (2 years, $4 M).

That series of moves would take payroll to just over $117 M, which is a big jump from their projected finish in 2015 ($101.9 M), especially when you consider that they usually add $7-10 M per year during the season.

It’s possible that their number wouldn’t include Mark Melancon’s $10 M if they traded him, and depending on the return, they might be able to shed salary in other areas. I’m not going to say that they can or can’t afford $117 M + in-season moves, but I will point out that they jumped from a projected $81 M at the end of 2014 to a projected $101 M at the end of 2015. So another big jump after another contending season wouldn’t seem totally out of the question.

That said, you can see how this team is limited when it comes to things like adding a Joe Blanton for their middle/long relief role, or adding an upgrade over Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton for the first two months of the season. They’ve got some money to spend, and can make some upgrades to the team, but they’re still likely going to be limited in how much they can do. Fortunately, this is a strong team that doesn’t need much to contend, so a few smart moves, plus those prospects coming up mid-season, should put them back on track for another playoff appearance.

**J.A. Happ Projected to Get Paid in FanGraphs Crowd Sourced Contract Predictions. Looking at some of the predictions from the FanGraphs numbers.

**AFL: Terrific Outing For Brault, Two Hits For Meadows in Glendale Loss. I’ll be heading out to Arizona in the morning (very early in the morning) for a week of live AFL coverage.

**Winter Leagues: Munoz Homers, Dodson and Lambo Struggle. Good to see Carlos Munoz continue to hit. That, plus his strong 2015 season in Bristol, should give him a shot at West Virginia in 2016.

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108 COMMENTS

  1. My guess would be that they get rid of Pedro, Walker, and Melanceon. I think they’ll try to sign Happ, Ishakawha and Bastardo. I’d like to see Soria or Blanton back but doubt that will happen.

    I don’t think they will sign a first baseman free-agent. They may acquire one in a trade. If they get rid of Neal I think it’s more likely that they’ll find a third baseman than a second baseman. I would like to see them get Zobrist but don’t think they will. Will have to wait-and-see. I don’t know enough about the available free agents to comment beyond that.

    My guess is that payroll at the beginning of the year will be right around $100 million. More than that would be surprise to me.

  2. After seeing the other options Happ looks like a nice bargain if they could get him for 3-5mil less for the 3 year deal. Maybe he will hook the Pirates up and give them 3 yrs-29mil.

  3. I don’t think Morneau is a good idea. He didn’t really fit here before*, and we’ve already got Morse. Morse is projected for 248/306/401 while Morneau is projected for 265/322/421 — slightly better but probably not worth $7M to go from .707 to .743

    * for one thing, he always referred to the team as “they” and not “we”. He didn’t perform well and didn’t appear to be enjoying himself.

    • Also, sadly, you’d be foolish not to be worried about him coming back from *another* concussion. Great player derailed by injury.

  4. The 2nd and 3rd tier FA starting pitchers don’t excite me. After Price and Greinke, there is no one I’d want to spend $15M/year on. I’d rather have Price for $28M than any two of those guys. After that don’t really like anyone until Happ and Latos.

  5. Actually, they did lose a draft pick by signing Liriano — the one they would have received if he had signed elsewhere. They were willing to give that up in order to bring him back.

  6. Pedro had 23 errors as a 1st baseman and 27 as a 3rd baseman. The 2nd worst errors by a 1st baseman was 11 and 2nd place for 3rd base was about 23. Relatively he’s a better 3rd baseman. Pirates don’t need that either.

  7. With Pedro they would have to offer him arbitration to have the ability to trade him. Then they would have to see if they could trade him first before making a move on a free agent 1st baseman. In that case what kind of value would Pedro have?

  8. I think Marco Estrada is an interesting name, move to the NL maybe see his numbers go up a little. Jays will pursue him hard however.

      • No doubt. I just thought it was quite funny. If the Pirates dish out a $100MM+ contract, it better be to Cutch.

        • I dont necessarily agree with that, but I dont think they will be doing that any time soon.

          (I dont necessarily agree with the Cutch statement because I am not sure I would really want him back when his current contract expires…he’ll be heading toward the downside of his career and already is not good defensively).

  9. Does anyone think that Elvis Andrus would be an upgrade at SS? I think his defense is, actually, worse (at least according to UZR/UZR150) than Mercer and he doesn’t have an appreciably better OPS…however he does provide value on the bases.

  10. IF we could get Moreland (LHH, 1b) from Texas for Melancon, I would trade Walker, contender/trade Pedro and pursue Asdrubel Cabrera to play 2b or 3b with JHay at the other then have a utility guy when Kang ready. Then a SP like Happ would be on my wish list with trying to re-sign Bastardo. We’d save at 1B, 2B, and in the pen while adding young quality veterans. Texas accepting Melancon for Moreland would be the key move, though.

    • You want to trade Melancon for Moreland? He was not worth crap until this last year and Melancon has much, much more value.

    • I don’t want to sound redundant since I posted this below already but I
      really think if the Pirates are gonna talk trade with the Rangers it
      should be about Jurickson Profar.

    • Moreland posted the same wRC+ as Pedro with better but not good defense.

      Thats a stiff price to barely, if at all, upgrade 1B. Moreland has to repeat his best year to make me feel even okay. If he dips back down below 110 wRC+ he’s an overpay.

  11. Here’s an interesting idea: package Melancon and Alvarez to an AL team. Replace Melancon by bringing back Bastardo and bringing in Qualls.

  12. Trade Locke (or release him), Melancon and Alvarez freeing up $22 million. Sign Happ, Kennedy, Bastardo, Rodriguez, and Asdrubal Cabrera for about $39 million. That would raise salary to $118, improve the rotation, improve infield, and trades could fill bullpen gaps and strengthen minors.
    Morton leaves after 2016 opening a spot for Glasnow, Liriano leaves after 2017 opening spot for Taillon, and Happ & Kennedy would leave After 2018 opening spots for Kingham/Kuhl/Brault/Holmes. Plus injuries would probably speed some of these promotions up.
    Also, 2016 IF would be Kang, Cabrera, Walker & Morse with both Harrison, Mercer, and Rodriguez as UTs

    • Do you really think Taillon is gonna spend the next 2 years in AAA? I honestly think he’s gonna be ready before Glasnow.

      • You may be right but I am a little curious how many innings he can last. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s held back at the beginning of the season to pitch in a controlled environment and then lasts only about 100 innings. I do agree that he was more ready for mlb than Glasnow prior to the hernia

  13. My candidate for the 2016 Ray Searage Miracle worker school of pitching is Joe Kelly. Just like I said I wanted Jake Arrieta 2 years ago and got laughed at. Make a deal with Boston for Kelly. He’s got true lights out stuff but he struggles commanding it. Searage either turns him into a dominant #2 or #3 starter or he becomes another dominant Pirates closer

  14. Again. Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke are decent 4 and 5 starters by the numbers, but when are they going to go for more than just good enough?3 wild card appearances in a row. 3 years in a row the Pirates finished within 3 games of the STL Cardinals. They always have a better rotation than the Pirates 1-5. What would have happened if they Pirates would have given Volquez a very team friendly 2 year 20 million dollar deal and they would have had a rotation of Cole,Liriano,Burnett,Volquez, and then added Happ when they did. They would have won the division and probably would have beaten the Cubs in the NLDS. Time to stop going cheap with losers like Morton. Where is it written that a 4th starter has to be a mediocre starter

  15. Melancon + what else could get you Wade Miley? How much more would you have to throw in to make that happen(Of course it would probably never happen) but I’m curious.

  16. Certainly wish there were an option in which we could afford Samardzija and Kennedy. I think those 2 could be dynamic as mid-rotation guys with huge bounce back potential as we buy time for Glasgow and taillion. I think the writing is on the wall for melancon and Pedro. I think Pedro will flourish in the AL and melancon will probably be solid for at least 1 more year as a closer or setup guy. Ultimately, I trust NH and crew to make the right choices as they have last few years. Gonna be an intriguing offseason

    • That’s actually a solid idea. He always seems to fade in the second half. That plan would keep him fresh all season and he could probably hit 96-97 mph if he’s only pitching an inning or 2 at a time.

      • My thoughts exactly on the velocity perhaps increasing a bit. His issues have always been a lack of consistency. Maybe pitching more frequently (and less innings) would make him more effective.

        • I even said that last year, but I believe I was told his numbers out of the pen are horrible. I was too lazy to look it up, but if it is the case, it doesn’t mean that would be the narrative going forward.

          I believe Morse will be the 1B, Walker will be allowed to walk, and Alvarez and Melancon will be traded. Morton will definitely be the #5 due to money owed.

          • I think Glasnow or Taillon will force their hand and Morton will have some phantom injury that causes him to go on the 60 day DL.

          • It’s more that he barely even has numbers out of the pen to judge. He has 10 relief appearances in his pro career, and half of those were in rookie ball 2006.

  17. I’m a little nervous about the Pirates transitioning to prospects in June and having stopgaps. Now they could start fast out of the gate and my concerns would be all for naught but the last 2 years they’ve started slow. They dug themselves a huge hole the first quarter. It’s amazing that they won 98 games after starting 18-22. They really need to start winning the division and with the Cards and Cubs that’s not going to be easy. I wonder how much Ian Desmond will command. He started slow last year but was back to his old self in the second half. I’d almost rather the Bucs go after a cheaper reclamation project pitcher and offer Desmond $15MM per on a 4 or 5 year deal. He’s solid defensive shortstop with a much better bat than Mercer. That would put Kang at 3rd. I also liked the idea of trying to acquire Jurickson Profar from Texas. If they do splurge on a pitcher though, I would love to see them sign Samardzija.

    • Not sure its clear at this point Desmond is still “solid” at SS. Maybe his horrid first half was a fluke, but if not he’s far more average/error prone that any GB team would want.

      They’d have to really trust his defense going forward to make that investment worth it.

      • Yeah, I just checked fangraphs. His defense is a little worse than I thought. I guess he’s overrated by the homerun power. I really feel like shortstop is one the area in the lineup that could use a good upgrade.

  18. Hate to say it but when you really look at the numbers and our team makeup, there just doesn’t seem to be a way that Melancon stays. He’s a sell high candidate who makes a ton for us based on how we value relievers and has the opportunity to bring back a nice return on top of the salary relief. I just see no way he’s still a Pirate in 2016.

    I would like to see us add Park, who I know you didn’t mention because he wasn’t part of the fangraphs article. I also would like to see us add Samardzija but I know it’s unlikely. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Doug Fister because he seems perfect for the Pirates.

    • But what position do we ask for in return? We on paper have young players at every position except 3rd, and Kang will be there for the next 3 years. Maybe a middle of the rotation starter for a year until the young guns are ready. Maybe Shellby Miller from ATL or Therean (sp) also from ATL

      • Well, first, I think the trade would have to be to a team that actually needed/wanted a closer. Washington could make sense. Houston could make sense. Texas would make sense.

        • Add Boston to that list, Dombrowski all but admitted closer is a top priority and he isnt looking to add much to the starting position players. Boston appears heading to FA looking at SP and closer.

          • I dont know how great of a fit Boston is for us, though. What do they have that we want? They aren’t moving Bogaerts. They dont have a 1B prospect that I am interested in (although Sam Travis might end up pretty decent). They have PLENTY of top 100 prospects…but I dont know who they would be willing to give up for Melancon, when they trade him to us in the first place…maybe Henry Owens who is a 60 grade, B+ grade lefty starter. Slightly lower grade than Glasnow…maybe Deven Marrero or Javier Guerra at SS. Rafael Devers is really, really good but I doubt that he would be up for discussion.

            • I put this elsewhere, but Melancon for Javier Guerra and Pat Light. That seems relatively fair on both ends. They get the closer they need, we get quality back. We dont get a ML proven talent back, but idk if that would ever work 1-1 for Melancon.

              Guerra is a top 100 prospect at SS with power and plus defense. Pat Light is, in my view, a guy who could step in right now and be solid in the bullpen. Mid to upper 90s, with control issues. Control issues are something i trust Searage to help with.

              Its not a sexy trade, and the big chip for us is 1-2 years away, but its a spot of need and a potential big time back end bullpen arm. And we get salary relief to use in the rotation.

              • I’ll be surprised if Javy Guerra isn’t one of the top three shortstop prospects in all of baseball heading into the 2018 season. If they were silly enough to give that up for one year of a non-elite closer I would say that’s sexy enough for me!

                • Id really love to see what BOS says to that. Maybe they are tight with him and see him as longterm down the road, but i just cant help thinking Dombrowski thinks he’s got a chance to win for a sustained timeframe with this core and has excess IF depth. Bogaerts until 2020 at least, Pedrioa basically until retirement of lack of production, with Moncada and Devers as the top 1-2 prospects at 2B/3B.

                  I cant imagine Dombrowski is suddenly going to hoard his prospects if a legit chance to upgrade was plopped in his play. Im sure a move like that would be followed by BOS trying to extend Melancon. I’d “settle” for just Melancon for Guerra straight up, but i want that throw in of Pat Light.

                  • Boston has always enjoyed overpaying for closers- bailey, hanrahan…..so if they want to give us a top prospect shortstop for melancon, i couldn’t sign that deal fast enough

            • New GM, very much cool with big moves, already stated a closer is top priority. Dombrowski absolutely thinks his team can compete next year (might not be wrong) and closer is a gaping hole.

              I think BOS will ask about Chapman and if they see the price as too steep, they’ll be willing to listen on Melancon. They dont have holes at a position other than SP and closer. They can go buy a SP, leaving a need for closer without a real quality option in house.

              • Well, everyone outside of Boston believes they’re going to have a huge hole at 1B…but they’re just going to have to deal with it because of that contract.

                • “Everyone” must be really ignoring Hanley’s offensive numbers then.

                  Boston does have a problem on defense at that spot. They appear wanting to move Shaw to 3B, meaning either Hanley or Pablo is at 1B and the other is traded. Hanley has clear 120 wRC+ talent, barring another huge underperformance thats no black hole. Bad defense, not a useless bat.

                  Even if it was a black hole, there isnt a clear other hole. They have talent at all spots and no clear needs since they have options for 1B. They need SP and a closer, and closer is tougher to find.

                  • How many starting shortstops end up being firstbaseman later in their careers. Hanley Ramirez is one of the biggest waists of natural talent i’ve ever seen

                    • Thats a pretty large statement since he’s still a solid ML hitter. His defense has absolutely regressed, but its not all that insane for him to move to a different spot. Plenty of players have degraded enough on defense to need moved to a much easier spot.

                      Im also somewhat curious as to where his IF defense is actually at. He had a bad 2014, but thats one year where people suddenly decided he cant play any IF spot. He’s not a SS anymore, but im not convinced him at 2B is suddenly way worse than Walker.

                      Hanley’s issue has been health, because when healthy he’s not wasting any talent on offense.

                    • On offense he has been maddening inconsistent as well, just ask Los Angeles and Florida……. you can literally count on nothing from him. He starts off being a big sb guy and hitting 20-30 homers…….then suddenly he can’t run anymore, then has focus issues and then he can’t play short stop anymore…..then his power goes away, then it comes back but his average goes away, then his average comes back but he gets hurt, then he can’t play 3rd base, or outfield……. I mean, give me a break. His problem has always been a crappy attitude and crappy preparation. How many “easier” spots can he go to? It’s like the same thing the tigers have done with Cabrera, except Cabrera actually does the best he can with his size and natural lack of speed…..what’s hanley’s excuse?

                    • Hanley doesnt need an excuse, for all the stuff you just said (some of which is rumors and falsehoods like he has a crappy attitude and doesnt prepare) he’s consistently an over 100 wRC+ guy.

                      In his first 6 years (not a short time frame) he was a legit all star guy every year. He’s hurt in 2011, only just above average 2012, and then returns to all star form.

                      10 years in the majors, 7 years of wRC+ 115 or above. Thats an offensive profile that’ll get you plenty of rope and have teams finding wherever to play you. Not a guy you think will age great, but his bat still has the makings of more than ho hum. He’s flawed on defense and not worth market value of 20 million on offense, but that guy can still throw out 2+ WAR on natural talent.

                      One thing he cant do, is play the infield for his entire career and then suddenly be an okay OFer. Nor can anyone. OF all the places Boston could have moved him to, what they chose was the one most likely to have him fail. You take any player who played SS only for his entire career and throw him in the OF and he’s gonna suck at it.

                    • I’m sorry that I still believe that to be a good “baseball player” you have to be able to do more than swing a baseball bat

                    • Thats more of a philosophical debate that a talent or value debate. I agree he’s not a great all around player. But he does have value and talent, enough that he’ll be around awhile.

      • Ideally one guy included will be a unheralded pitcher who profiles as a potential late inning reliever. High velo with erratic control or okay periphs with poor ERA. Couple that with a legit top 100 prospect type.

        PGH could look SS, but that’d seem to require more than just Melancon. Fans wouldnt love it, but a deal where we dont really bring back a sure fire current ML talent makes sense. With a good market for SP in FA, they could just use Melancon to free up space for multiple FA SP and find a quality SS prospect.

  19. numbers the last few years that put them as legitimate strong number four starters.

    I’m not sure I am buying the ‘strong’ part of that sentence. They may be ‘strong’ #5’s but that is about it.

  20. Great article but in my opinion the team payroll will begin around 105 million. I agree I think walker will be back but Pedro and mark m will be traded. A less expensive reliever who they might sign as a free agent is Justin defratus. He fits the bucs style about 6 feet 4 inches and only 28 years old.

    • The Phillies outrighted De Fratus off their 40-man roster on Wednesday. The righty was originally drafted by the Phils in the 11th round of the 2007 draft and he’d posted solid career numbers out of Philadelphia’s bullpen (3.08 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.27 K/BB rate over 114 IP) prior to this season. Over 80 innings in 2015, De Fratus posted a 5.51 ERA, 7.7 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Indicators such as xFIP and SIERA suggest that De Fratus was a bit unlucky to post that 5.51 ERA as he was hurt by a .335 BABIP and 66.2% strand rate.

      • A 4.41 xFip still isn’t very good. 4.21 career. And the 44% gb rate – I’m not sure he’s Neal’s type.

  21. What about Doug Pfister? I read he is looking for a one year deal to re-establish himself. If healthy, he could be a nice affordable option to bridge the gap to the guys in the minors.

    • Fister…no “P”…his velocity loss scares me.

      However, as you suggest, he’d be a nice 1 yr option or brought in on a minor league contract, but I bet some team gives him 2 years.

    • Fister is definitely a guy I would look at. He was down this year, but he’s been so steady for his career, he could be a nice #3 still, but with the risk, he’s a buy-low guy.

        • No way im offering him 3 years without him offering a big reason why his velo is totally gone.

          He’s throwing far too soft to trust with that long of a deal. IF he wants to build value on a 1 year deal im fine with it, but he’s throwing high 80s now. Thats a bad sign.

    • I’d take him- velocity comes and goes, ask Melancon, bastardo, and Volquez…..Fister is known for pinpoint control, if you have that, and movement, who cares about his velocity

  22. 2016 looks to be a transitional season with core players leaving and mostly prospects taking their place. Unfortunately, the talented prospects waiting for a promotion come with questions attached.

    Hanson can play second, but he seems unable to turn his hit tool into consistent production. He doesn’t slump, he craters.

    Diaz will be blocked unless one of the two ML catchers are part of a trade. His hitting might need another year at AAA to mature.

    Bell needs to become a better first baseman. Adding HRs would also be nice.

    Taillon, despite his injuries and lost seasons, is the player I least worry about. Video of his mechanical improvements were very encouraging and suggest that Taillon is ready to have a breakout season.

    Glashow’s AAA troubles indicate a need for him to work on his mechanics and his changeup. I expect him to spend most of the season in AAA.

    Even if a baseball God were to tell Coonington that each of these players would arrive in June and excel right from the start, the Pirates must field a team for two or three months. The transition will be rough even if the players perform exceptionally well. Thus the one step back, two steps forward idea. But that’s if the players perform. If any of them struggle in AAA, they will not be promoted. If they struggle after their promotions, they may find themselves on the Polanco track. This would have not have caused much of a problem five years ago, but the Pirates now average over 90 wins per season, and the belief exists that that pace should continue and produce a WS victory. Yet, Melancon, Walker and Alvarez are now expensive and close to their expiration dates. Any of the three could be traded this off season or in season. Kang’s injury may rob the Pirates of significant value. And the prospects may not provide immediate help.

    This may and likely will become an important off season, one that will set the course of the franchise for the next decade.

    I’d bet a GM lives for moments like this!

    • Not sure if I would categorise this post under realistic expectation or doom and gloom? Probably some of both.

      I’m in agreement on Taillon. His mechanics looked solid last season. If he can stay healthy, I could see him coming in strong. I also think Glasnow will be more up and down like you suggest.

      Where I disagree with you is on Bell. I can see him coming up in June and providing an offensive spark. There’s no question he has elite hand eye coordination and a solid swing as a lefty.

    • I don’t see 2016 as a transition or a rebuild. Too many core players still in their prime and Cutch coming off a slightly off season and Polanco just going over 1000 AB. Also, considering the quality of the 4 top incoming players expecting to contribute (Glasnow, Bell, Diaz, and Taillon) I think thePirates are still a 90+ win team…especially if they add a decent starter and possibly a solid Corner type player. Throw in if Kang comes back and looks like a 20+ HR player and I think you have a team that is still a mid 90 win team. I have been saying for 3-4 years that I thought 2016 would be the year…little did I know the playoff system would torture them for two years. I still think they are a top team and the bitterness of losing the way they did last year is gonna have a lot of guys fired up and ready to go early in 2016. Slow starts cost them a lot of playoff games played the last 2 years.

  23. The more I read about this, the more convinced I am Walker will be returning and Melancon will be dealt. I just don’t see any way Pirates sign a legit #3 SP to replace AJ and keep payroll flexibility to add to the team in-season without dealing Melancon and his 8 figure salary.

    As for Walker, I think they ride out this season with him and let him leave in FA after he turns down the QO.

    • The fact of the matter is, is that we really have no idea what the Pirates’ “payroll flexibility” actually is. For all we know, they have the ability to take on $30 or $40MM in additional payroll and be fine. Of course, they may not. I’d like to think that trade Melancon now would be a value move to add piece rather than just to give them “payroll flexibility”.

      • We have a pretty good idea based on past years. They seem to be growing payroll about 20%/year, so to think they will grow 30-40% seems unlikely at best.

        • It is unlikely but there is a method to their madness. The Pirates have officially arrived. Now might be a good time to get a little more aggressive with the roster.

          • Pirates arrived a couple years ago. I believe NH did mention something to the effect of getting aggressive with roster, but GM’s can’t be taken at their word.

      • Getting rid of Melancon at peak value would be a great move if we not only get peak value, but also an “over-value” from someone who is desperate for the help. You obviously can’t trade him mid-season, if we’re competing for the playoffs, so between now and February will be interesting.

  24. My reclamation pitcher recommendation is Cliff Lee. I don’t know just how bad his shoulder is and it could be he is done. I do hope that whoever they choose for this annual role will be convinced to include a team friendly option should Ray work his magic.

  25. It would be interesting to see what possible returns might be available if Mark Melancon and Pedro were offered as a package? I am assuming that Pedro has worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh and he’s really best suited at this point to be a DH. Maybe a team like the Angels would want him? I wouldn’t prefer to see Melancon go because he can still be very effective but perhaps we’re at the point where his trade value is as high as it will ever be. I wonder if any organisation would offer a SS in trade who has strong defence & speed? In any event watching KC play makes you want to see the Pirates have Hanson at the top of the lineup, and letting JHyy, Starling and El Coffee join him in running wild on the basepaths….Maybe?

    • Package deal? Really? Melancon has value for sure and would fetch a solid return. That said, the Bucs may be nervous about being able to replace his production in the back end of games. As to Pedro, he either has value or he doesn’t. Packaging him just reduces the return for the asset that is worth something, and teams, unless they are like the Braves or Dbacks who trade prospects to also dump contracts, don’t go for ‘packages’.

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