It would be nice if the off-season was simple. You look at a team’s needs, who the team might trade, how much money they have to spend, and then make clean predictions on what choices they have for each decision. Then the rumors come out, and it’s clear-cut what a team is doing.
It would be nice if the off-season was simple. But the off-season isn’t simple. It’s complex. It’s a massive series of moves contingent on other moves, and when the real rumors start coming out, it feels like a house of cards that could come tumbling down at any moment.
Part of this is due to the fact that we don’t have all of the information. We can only rely on what we hear, and most of the time what we hear isn’t what the team ends up doing. That’s especially true with the Pirates, who have a tendency to surprise with their moves, having most of them come out of nowhere. But even if we had information, it would still be a complex process to piece all of the moves together.
As an example, let’s take a look at the rumors today, and give them all credit that they’re moves the Pirates would make. Obviously we go beyond rumor status with this process, and dive into the “what if” range. Don’t read this as the actual Pirates plan, but just an example of how complex the off-season can be, and how no one move can be viewed in isolation.
We’ll start with the Mitch Moreland rumor, and the speculation that the Pirates would have to trade a back of the rotation starter to get the first baseman. Let’s go with the assumption that this starter is Charlie Morton. If the Pirates trade Morton for Moreland, then they save about $2.5 M in payroll, but create another opening in the rotation. So now they’ve got the need for another starting pitcher.
Then there was the rumor that they were meeting with Scott Kazmir, but also a rumor that they were in on Justin Masterson. Those are two very different pitchers, with one being a big option this year, and the other being a reclamation project. I’m guessing the two would cost close to $20 M total for the 2016 season, plus future commitments for Kazmir. That means you’re adding $17.5 M total to the payroll when you consider the Moreland trade, putting the estimated payroll around $110 M.
If the payroll reached that figure with these moves, then you could expect a trade of Mark Melancon and/or Neil Walker. This is mostly because the Pirates would have other needs to fill, and would need some payroll space to make those moves. If they traded Melancon and/or Walker, then they’d also be creating needs at those positions, although there’s the chance that these trades could fill those new needs, or fill one of the old needs.
None of this even considers the individual strategies of how each player fits on the team, whether it’s a defensive upgrade, a groundball pitcher, or other factors that go beyond the individual move.
Then we step back from today’s rumors and think about how any single change could make this all collapse. What if the Pirates decide they would rather just sign Ike Davis, for example? Then you still have Morton and only need one starting pitcher. You could still sign Kazmir, although you might have to cut more salary in this case, impacting the other needs that the Pirates would have. Maybe they go for a reclamation project instead of a guy like Kazmir, and that allows them to keep Walker.
The easier way to explain things would be to look back at previous off-seasons. I’ve compared this one to the 2012-13 off-season many times, and that was a perfect example of a complex plan where you couldn’t focus on just one move. The Pirates spent money on Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano. They paid for that by shedding salary with the Joel Hanrahan trade, which brought back his replacement in Melancon. They also non-tendered Jeff Karstens that year to cut some salary, then brought him back at a reduced rate later in the off-season after the Hanrahan deal.
Each individual move was part of an overall plan that year, both in terms of payroll and in terms of the overall team building strategy. The same thing could happen this year, and at this point it seems like we’re just waiting for the first domino to tip over.
**Pirates One of Five Teams in on Justin Masterson. A second report that connects Masterson to the Pirates. He would make sense as a reclamation project.
**Pirates to Meet With Scott Kazmir’s Representatives. This wouldn’t be too much bigger than the Francisco Liriano deal from last year, but if the Pirates did end up signing Kazmir, it would be huge and unlike anything they’ve done in the past. Kazmir’s people did meet with other teams, so this could have just been to gather interest and asking prices, rather than something which indicates a potential deal.
**The Pirates Are Quickly Picking Up Spots in the 2016 Draft. As qualified free agents go off the board, the 2016 draft position goes up. John Dreker breaks that down with where we are at right now.
**Pirates Are Reportedly Discussing Mitch Moreland With the Rangers. Also in this, the Rangers have looked at Elias Diaz, which seems like it’s unrelated to Moreland, but related to the Rangers needing catching.
**Pirates Sign Six Minor League Free Agents, Including Guerra and Boscan. Actual transactions, with two new players, two returning players, and two guys we previously heard about.
**Winter Leagues: Tito Polo Homers Twice, Ramirez Stays Hot. Two minor league outfielders had a big weekend.