The MLB Winter Meetings start tomorrow and run through Thursday. This is the biggest event of the off-season in terms of potential moves, and in terms of kicking off the action around the league. That already started this past week with the signings of some of the top pitchers on the market, and the action should continue from there.
The Pirates have plenty of moves to make this off-season, from adding a starting pitcher, to upgrading first base, and then potentially trading Mark Melancon and Neil Walker and finding replacements for those guys. They currently have an estimated payroll of $93 M, so it’s going to end up a balancing act to see how they can add upgrades while still maintaining a manageable payroll.
Here is the rundown of all of the stories to watch for the Pirates this week, with their biggest needs and the rumors we know about so far. We will be keeping track of every credible rumor out there all week, along with analysis of each move or rumor.
The Potential For Trades
The Pirates have two players who could be traded during the meetings, with Mark Melancon looking like the biggest candidate, and Neil Walker also a possibility. Both are projected to make $10 M or more in their final years of arbitration, and the Pirates might opt to spend that in a better way.
Trades don’t always go down during the winter meetings. A few years ago the Pirates traded Joel Hanrahan after Christmas, even though it was apparent they were set on moving him that off-season. There were rumors last year that the Pirates were engaging in trade talks with the Orioles about Travis Snider, but that didn’t get resolved until the end of January, when Snider was traded for Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley.
It’s not a guarantee that Melancon and/or Walker will be dealt this week. But if they are, it could lead to a very busy week, with a chain reaction of moves set off.
Trades Work Both Ways
The Pirates will need an upgrade at first base, and if they trade Neil Walker, they will need a replacement at second. There aren’t many good options in free agency, which means they will need to find an option via trade at either position in order to see an upgrade.
We don’t always hear about who the Pirates are going after, especially since they’re so secretive with their moves. Last year they added Francisco Cervelli to replace Russell Martin, and the move came out of nowhere. There has been one rumor this year, which came this weekend when Mitch Moreland was linked to the Pirates.
Moreland is an interesting case. He was a 2.1 WAR player in 2015, but has never been higher than 0.8 WAR in previous years, even as a starter. He has good defense, and the bat is decent for first base, but it hasn’t quite been consistent. The Pirates could use better defense at first than they received from Pedro Alvarez last year, and if they get the 2015 version of Moreland, they would get a huge upgrade at the position.
The trade value here is hard to peg. If you go with his 2015 WAR, and his projected $5.6 M arbitration salary, you get a value just over $7 M. That would be a Grade B hitting prospect and a Grade C pitching prospect. But if you factor in his struggles in previous years, and give him a 1.5 WAR, he drops down to the $4 M range, which is below a Grade B hitter, but about two Grade C pitchers. Based on the lack of talent on the first base market, I’d say it’s likely Moreland gets closer to the high-end of his value, with teams paying for the career year, and hoping it’s not a one time deal.
The free agent market has Ike Davis and Chris Carter, although neither would be a big upgrade. Moreland would represent the biggest known chance at an upgrade right now.
As for second base, that’s largely unknown, similar to the catching situation last year. I’ve pointed out that it makes sense to keep Walker, since he’s going to be fairly cheap for his level of production, compared to what similar players could receive on the open market.
Starting Pitching Needed
One area where the Pirates probably won’t pursue a trade is in the rotation. So far they have been connected to Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson, who both fit the reclamation project checklist perfectly.
The Pirates need at least one starter, and it wouldn’t be bad if they could find a second guy who could double as a strong bullpen option if he doesn’t beat out Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton for the final rotation spot.
Most of the success the Pirates have found in the off-season with starters has come via free agency. There’s a chance they could go the trade route, but that really doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider the amount of options available on the market, and their track record.
Last year they signed Francisco Liriano during the meetings. The year before they signed Edinson Volquez at the end of the meetings. So you might be able to expect a move this week, or at least a lot of discussion about arguably their biggest need of the off-season.
Bench and Bullpen
Last year the Pirates made some minor trades to upgrade their bench and bullpen. They acquired Sean Rodriguez before the meetings for Buddy Borden. During the meetings they added Antonio Bastardo for Joely Rodriguez.
They’ll need bench and bullpen help this year, and if they go beyond waiver claims, minor league free agents, and a Rule 5 pick, then I think a trade like Rodriguez or Bastardo would be the extent of it. In each case, they traded from their mid-level pitching depth, getting a guy in his final year of arbitration.
They would need some bullpen and bench help, especially in the bullpen if they end up dealing Melancon. But don’t expect this to yield a lot of big moves like the other categories could.