First Pitch: If/Then

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.


  • If the Cubs keep signing all-stars, the Cards remain the Cards, LA finds one bullpen guy, the Mets continue to pitch, the DBacks actually get value from their acquisitions and the Giants play in an odd numbered year, then the Bucs are missing the playoffs.

  • Pirates won 98 games with a first baseman who could not catch or throw. Now u dump him and have no one to replace him. Not too smart. Is the money that scarce in the Burg that they could not sign and then possibly trade Pedro midseason? Moreland is not worth much for a half year rental player, so I would not trade for him, unless Texas wants Sanchez and some other low level prospect for him. I said it last year, if the Pirates had signed Volquez they might have won last year”s world series and in hindsight he was cheap. Kazimer is out of their price range and another nobody to fix the starting 5 looks like the solution until the kids arrive. Very sad state of affairs when you have to trade your starting second baseman and closer and hope to get something for them. Other teams value their players too high while the Pirates value their assets way to low. Why shouldn’t they get someone of quality in return for their players. Trade the closer for a starter and that solves both problems, dumping salary and getting something in exchange. If Walker goes so be it, Harrision can play second and possibly Hansen too. Lets stop this craziness of trading every prospect for a mediocre return. It is fun to speculate but this team has to be in it for the long term and that means holding onto prospects to do so.

    • Texas wants Charlies Morton. Apparently they need a 3rd team to facilitate a trade. I would do that trade straight up.

  • Idk if anyone already made fun of CIN for the Chapman thing, but a large “LOL” to the Reds for trying to keep the Chapman incident hushed until they moved him. Really helping your credibility there Jocketty.

    • Anyone remember that sketchy situation in Pittsburgh a few years back where his “girlfriend” was found tied up in a hotel room or something like that? One shady dude.

      • Vaguely, but he does seem like a rather wild guy. Which isnt to say that potentially hitting a woman is wild, that’d be deplorable. But he does have a track record of seemingly reckless behavior.

        Rumor has it BOS was doing its due diligence on Chapman and once they uncovered this in a background check they focused on Kimbrel. Congrats Jocketty, you suck ass.

        • Old white guys thinking they can actually keep anything hidden in this era is pretty hilarious; except, of course, when it leads to kids getting molested and woman beaters going free. Time and time again.

      • There was also a report that he helped lead to someone going to jail in Cuba over his defection, and another case where he was pulled over for driving 93 MPH after a game on a suspended license. Then I saw one report yesterday about how he made no attempt in his first few years to bring his wife and daughter from Cuba, and this was from back in 2013, before yesterday’s stuff.

        Horrible human being.

      • I remember that – did not know that was Chapman. What a POS!

  • I know the Rangers want a back-of-the-rotation starter and a catcher. Any chance they would give us Moreland in exchange for Locke and Tony Sanchez? I know we wouldn’t be sending much talent their way, but the duo is younger, and you can’t expect a huge haul for a guy with only one year left before hitting free agency.

    • Aaaaa yeah!! Rangers make thar deal in a heartbeat. Now we need 2 starting pitchers I’m fine w Moreland but you don’t break a straight to make a flush

  • Cardinals are acquiring Jedd Gyorko. Jedd Gyorko for Jon Jay. It’s a done deal. Interesting transaction.

    • I know Gyorko has been disappointing, but cost aside, I think I’d much rather have that end of the deal. At least he has some pedigree as a top prospect and could still develop into a special player. By now, we pretty much know what Jay’s ceiling is (a 4th OF), and he will hit free agency after next season. Just looks like a salary dump for the Padres.

      • If they are willing to dump salary on this deal, what would the Padres give up to unload Shields?

      • That means about two dozen more Cards fans per game at PNC.

        Yes, I’ve had the privilege of sitting next to the WV Gyorko fan club and family when the Pads visited. Nice people. For West Virginians.

    • Wow.

      Soooo the Cardinals don’t have a center fielder. And I’m admittedly more scared by that than enthused.

      • I think Piscotty will be the CF next year.

      • Yeah, the Cardinals never get phased by injuries or a lack of players. There’s always the “next man up” who seems to join the roster and succeed. They’ve lost players like Bourjos and Jay this week, but guys like Piscotty, Grichuk and even Tommy Pham provide plenty of depth.

  • If the Bucs come out w extensions for Cervelli and Polanco I could care less if they brought in Moreland or a SP. this needs to be a Program. Give the kids a chance. Morse is fine till Bells ready. Someone will step up for rotation in SP. sign “backfill” project starter for depth option in case of injury.

  • Kewl:

    I replied to Mitch T’s dumpster diving comment: any comment with the words ‘dumpster diving’ should be automatically removed, like in a spam folder in Outlook.” and voila, it got removed….lol.

  • More dumpster diving!!

  • Tim or John,
    Of the “old guys”, who do you like best to be our short term
    left handed (likely) first baseman?
    Morneau, Davis, Jones, someone else?
    There was just something about Morneau when he was here.
    Was he or his family just unhappy? Was he hurt?
    HIs production just was so out of character for him.

  • For those people looking for a trade precedent set on this date, Pirates acquired Claude Ritchey, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Marquard, Tommy Leach, Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner on this date in 1899

    • More dumpster diving!!!

    • Is that GM still available as an advisor????

    • was that the Louisville trade, that got them the name pirates.

      • No, I believe that occurred around 1893 having to do with a free agent second baseman by the name of Louis Bierbauer who had been playing for Philadelphia before he jumped to another league. I guess that Philadelphia was ticked.

    • That was for all practical purposes the merger of two teams, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Pittsbugh’s new owner who had been in Louisville went on to be the best owner Pittsburgh has ever had. The team record of the Pirates from 1900 until the day that Barney Dreyfus died is unmatched in Pittsburgh professional sports history.

      So, let’s merge with the Cardinals, move their best players to Pittsburgh, and close down the Cardinals or use them as a feeder team as teams could do in the late 1800s. There was some really odd player movement at a time when it was legal for a person to operate more than one team

  • “Backfilling”. Today NH said the Pirates have no intent on extending Neil Walker. He used the term backfill as it would relate to the hole left by Walker with his imminent departure. Please let me clarify that I have always been lukewarm with Walker but he has been very positive within the Pirate Community. NH basically has turned into an excavator. I think that what irritates me is basically telling a decent player you can be replaced with a pile of dirt laying around. I know baseball is a business and Walker will in all likelihood be overpaid but the person and the player deserve at least a different type of metaphor to describe his future. At times NH and his Amherst pedigree comes across as arrogant and effete. Walker deserved better that is all I’m saying.

    • I did not take it that way…I took it as NH saying that he had options. As for the ‘extension’, that was a foregone conclusion.

      If PRNW takes it personally, just tell him that “It is a business, Mr Walker”.

      Btw, don’t forget that NH also said that it would be unkind to ask PRNW to move to 1b as it would hurt his FA status.

    • Pretty big stereotyping going on there. Backfill certainly doesnt directly mean what you took it to mean, and then you kinda went off the rails by acting like this is further proof of some elitist arrogance from the fancy college graduate.

      NH is being rather honest, and hell thats refreshing. They can fill Walker’s spot from within rather than extend him, and thats been obvious for years. He aint excavating, he’s pruning.

      • Let’s use the nursery metaphor: We will prune Neil Walker from the PBC tree and hope that new buds will sprout in the spring and bear fruit for the multitude.

      • You’re young, but you’ll quickly realize that one man’s honest and refreshing is another man’s elitist and arrogant.

        I’ve long taken Huntington’s side on the Walker issue, but I personally believe he’s mishandled control of the narrative this winter. Walker does deserve better.

        • I think its been uneven but far from anything Walker should feel bad about. Walker should be really happy the FO, for whatever reason, is acting like moving him to 1B is forbidden. Thats a big positive gesture from the FO that i dont even think NW really would fight if they asked him to move spots.

          He clearly could feel poorly about how NH easily admits they will move on from him, but hell thats clear. NH could easily GM speak out of it, but its really not a shock that NH is over the extension question about NW.

          • Come back and make me say I’m wrong if this doesn’t turn out to be the case, because it’s purely speculative on my part and speculation deserves to be ridiculed, but I don’t think NH is being any part altruistic with the 2B-only talk. Not when he’s trying to trade a guy who’s clearly more valuable at that position.

            • I don think he is either, but if we are discussing how NH played this in the media, its valid.

              Its all for not, DK will surely come out the day after we dont bring Walker back and talk about how Walker secretly was pissed with the team and didnt like NH much.

        • Not only NH but Melancon too. Both deserve better. As did Pedro.

    • After the 1962 season Joe L Brown traded hometown hero Dick Groat for Pitcher Don Cardwell. Groat was 32 at the time. He went on to have a terrific year in 1963 I believe that he was second in the MVP voting that year. He then helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series and a seven game win over the Yankees in 1964.

      Cardwell did OK for us until he was traded for Denny Ribant after the 1966 season.

      Dick Groat was extremely hurt by the trade and had a lot of trouble getting over it.

      • ’17 QOs will probably approach $18MM. IMO if you don’t want him at $10 why risk him accepting a QO at $18.

        • terrygordon30
          December 8, 2015 3:02 pm

          I would think that the Pirates might consider it since it would only be a one year commitment. Other considerations would be his health his productivity, and whether Hansen or someone else is ready to take over.
          You bring up a good question. I am not sure how badly the Pirates do not want to pay Walker 10 million this year.

    • NH has never said publicly that there is no chance at an extension though it is most certainly true. Walker being from Pittsburgh means nothing. The first time a player actually takes a hometown discount then this crap can actually mean something. Until then it’s hot air. Walker will bolt for the highest bid regardless of where it comes from just like almost all of us would. It’s a small world. Fact is the Pirates can make better investments certainly starting next year than paying walker to play poor defense at 2b for for more years.

  • I tried to put this on here earlier but it didn’t work. So here is a shorter version of my thoughts on 2 moves I would make if I were the buccos and would like ppl feed back. Trade Walker and Mark Melancon(MM) seems evident with Watson ready to be the closer and Alen Hanson probably getting called up in June.

    Move one w Texas Mitch Moreland and Cole Hamels. Get these two so Bell doesn’t get rushed and could get till August to work on his D at 1st. Hamels would replace AJ/ Happ the 3rd starter. Would give us a big 3 of Cole, FL and Hamels with 2 young guns Taillon and Glasnow coming up this year. I would assume other than Walker and MM we would have to give up Morton, Meadows, Kingman and Max M. Hamels has 3 years left on his deal fairly cheap now, especially w 2 other teams paying part of his salary.

    Move 2, w the ATL. They are blowing that team up. Julio Teheran has 5 years left on his deal and the high point is 12 mil for the 5th yr. again rising cost of starting pitching, he could be much better than Locke and or Morton. A solid #3/4 guy in the rotation. Again with Glasnow and Taillon coming up this makes a lot of senses to me anyway. I would assume we offer up Walker, Morton, Meadows and Kingman. Let’s go bucs

    • No way Rangers trade hamels plus you don’t factor in his huge salary. Plus pretty sure Glasnow or Taillon would have to be part of the trades so you can’t have both.

      • The topic was what if. MM, Walker 2 proven major leaguer and 2 top prospects are a good return for Hamels IMO.

        • Not even close. Mm and nw are in their last years. Hamels has years remaining.

          • How much value do you think MM and NW hold? I would say MM is worth a lot. If we traded MM to say the blue jays or pick any team what would get back? I would think it have to be what the Cubs got for Jeff S, Adisen Russell (sp) from the A’s top prospect ready for the big leagues. Maybe the ATL trade was a little closer to true, don’t really understand how some of these trades are made. But I have faith in this front office they know what they are doing.

    • I would like to trade for Teheran…but your scenarios are just way off. Texas would have 0 interest in that deal…

    • The Rangers aren’t trading Cole Hamels. They gave up 4 top prospects to get him and pair him with Darvish for next year. The only way we’re getting Moreland AND Hamels is if Bell AND Glasnow are part of the return.

    • Whaaat are you even talking about ?

      • Topic was what if, other point was the Pirates have to make a big push. They have to get the pay roll up to or over 120 mil. They have to make a splash that makes sense. Yes they have a bunch of young guys, but they need a guy like Hamels who is proven, or Teheran who is young and cheaper and under control for 5 years. Just thoughts

        • Similar thoughts: unicorns candy fountains unlimited gold to everyone and trump for president.

        • “They have to, they have to, they have to”

          Agree with them or not, they clearly dont have to do anything. They arent gonna make moves with that logic, and “we gotta do this” isnt really a great way to build a roster.

  • Why can’t the payroll be around 110 million? With room to add a little more?

    • It can be $110M or higher. Before they were winning, ownership asked fans to support the team and if that happened they would increase payroll. The fans have done their part the last 3 years. In addition to increased attendance, there is also a new national TV contract providing new revenue as well. It is now time for ownership to keep their promise and increase payroll. Paying $10M for a closer when your team is projected to win 75 is nuts. Increasing payroll by $10M to keep your closer when your team can win 90 games is the right thing to do. If you aren’t in contention, you can trade him in July or get a comp pick in the 2017 draft if you keep him.

    • It can be. But at that point in the article, I was pointing out that it was $110 M and they still would have had needs to fill.

  • With Josh Bell doing very well at AA and then tearing up AAA offensively, I think he is ready. Why we would want to pay Texas too much for a short-term rental in Moreland is stupid. What are the splits on Morse? Can he hit RHP? I think the numbers would indicate he can hit both RHP’s and LHP’s, therefore Moreland would be overkill. Find somebody willing to take less who needs to try to re-establish himself (Ike Davis), and get on with promoting Josh Bell to the majors.

    Morton is not somebody I would get rid of at this time. Injured physically in 2014 and then the best I can say about his rehab and start of 2015 was that he was unsure of what he wanted to do. Months of work to change his delivery went on the scrap heap just as ST was finishing and he never did get himself situated in 2015. All that means is that I expect he will come out strong and pitch well to start 2016. And, Jeff Locke is not spectacular in any way, but he has been very consistent for the Pirates as a #4/5.

    Anybody getting cold feet about pitching just needs to go look at a few Giants pitchers with large contracts – Matt Cain and Jake Peavy. Cain has made $41 mil the last 2 years with a WAR of -0.6, and only 26 starts in 2 years. I think the Giants have him for $21 mil for each of the next 3 years! Peavy will make $16 mil this year. The Pirates have drafted well and do not need to gamble like that.

    • Tim,
      What is the contract/availability status of Clayton Richard and Radhames Liz?
      Can you provide any insight on why Liz was not considered as a starting candidate option for 2016 and was cut loose despite a modest option cost?

    • I think you are pretty much right emjay, but I do think Kazmir would be good for Pirates if price and years aren’t too outrageous.

      • If we can order the Oakland version of Kazmir and not he knockoff version that pitched in Houston, I’d be happy. Is the market $15 mil/yr for him or higher? He has HR problems, and that showed up in Houston last year – at PNC he could be solid. BTW, Houston may offer a trade for MM – they have some interesting possibilities – prospects mostly.

    • I think he is ready

      Offensively maybe, but defensively, he is barely above Pedro-level.

      • lee, that was the case when I was watching Bell in Altoona. That has been put out there many times, here and on other Pirate fan sites, but when it doesn’t fit an individual’s narrative, it gets ignored.

      • Sorry I could not respond sooner. If you are watching the meetings, and hear about the 60+ degrees and sunny skies, well I live about 2.5 hrs East and it is the same here. I saw your post and had two options – respond to you or continue walking out the door to the golf course – you finished 2nd.

        The key wording is “above Pedro-level”. First time in the infield as a professional and while maintaining an excellent bat he still managed to learn about playing 1B. I thought I read where one of the coaches said he was very rough at the beginning, but that he had gotten better as the season progressed. I can live with that. Do we keep that bat at AAA? Do we trade Marte, Polanco, or ‘Cutch to make room in the OF for him? No to both of those options. The only options left are to play him at 1B and see if he can continue to get better, or trade him. I choose the former.

    • Says the guy who has very clearly never seen Josh Bell play first base on a baseball field.

    • Bell is clearly not ready for mlb in the slightest.

  • The more success the Pirates have at drafting and developing thier own players the tougher it is going to be for them to keep the with thier self imposed salary cap. In 2018 Cutch, Cole, Polanco, Marte and Harrison will account for 50 to 60m of payroll space. If the Pirates sign a pitcher to a 3 year contract at 15 to 18m you then have 6 players taking up over half your payroll in 2018. Will the Pirates be able to compete and pick up Cutch’s option?

    • Payroll has been increasing by about 15%/year. So that means $115mm in ’16; $132mm in ’17; and over $150mm in ’18.

      So yes, they can afford all these guys quite comfortably.

      • Since they started winning, the Value of the Franchise as listed by Forbes has increased from $336 mil in 2012 to $900 mil in 2015 – an increase of 167.8%. I realize that is not “real” money, but the Pirates have the value horsepower to afford as much as they want to afford. I just do not think this is the year for over-spending – the market is way out of control and 2016 will be a transition year.

      • I hope you are right. I was thinking the payroll would be around 130m in 2018.

    • Well, first, we would have to actually be good at drafting and developing our own talent. That has yet to be proven yet.

  • Tim could you see the Pirates offering one of the young arms (Taillon) a contract like they tried with Polanco before promoting him letting them bring him up in the spring and if so do you think he is ready?

    With the Greinke deal and the fallout, pitching is starting to look like it is going to become a even more expensive component of a roster, one the Pirates will not be able to pay.

    The Royals winning the series is probably the worst thing that could have happened for fans of low revenue teams. It will be at least 10 years before MLB will even consider balancing revenues and payrolls like EVERY other league does.

    • I could see it happening, but the truth is you need two sides to complete a deal. The reason most players don’t sign contracts this early isn’t because teams never offer them. It’s because the players can get so much more guaranteed by waiting a year or two.

      Just look at Polanco. He could still get the $20-25 M guaranteed from his last offer when he first came up, and he hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential. If he breaks out this year, then he’s looking at $50-60 M or more guaranteed, this time next year, and over a shorter time span.

      Some players do sign early, but most wait a few years to try and up their values.

      • I would think someone like Taillon with his recent injury history might consider it. He would be in a position to secure his future and insure he would never need to work a day in his life before he ever threw a pitch in the MLB. If he turns into the stud we hope he is he would still be able to get at least one monster contract later.

        The Pirates would be taking a big chance but given what pitchers are going for and everyone they are associated with comes with baggage and questions, if they still believe in the kid, it might still make sense to throw $20-40 mil his way before gambling on another rehabilitation project.

        Do you think he will be ready to come north in the spring if money wasn’t an issue?

        • The MLBPA bitches at them guys for doing that too. I remember even the players complaining when Singleton signed that deal with Houston.

        • Tough to see a guy who was drafted high feeling pressured to sign a deal. Those guys shouldnt be pressing for money greatly, and it gives them a chance to take a risk and wait 1-2 years rather than settle for less.

          I see this has already been said, move along.

    • And a guy like Taillon has even less incentive to sign something like that because he got a huge bonus out of High School. You are better off trying to extend someone like a Marte, who got an extremely small bonus and doesn’t yet have any financial stability.

      • J Nader, you nailed exactly why some players sign extensions and some don’t. The Pirates have already paid Cole around $9.5M including his bonus. He won’t need to sign an extension.

      • Less incentive maybe but he has also seen first hand how fragile a career as a MLB pitcher can be. While he is certainly able to enjoy life now his signing bonus doesn’t have him set for life yet, but a $30 mil guaranteed contract would mean he would never need to work another day in his life.