First Pitch: Looking at the Pirates’ Off-Season Needs After the Freese Extension

The day after David Freese signed with the Pirates, he joined his new teammates in Spring Training for a round of batting practice at McKechnie Field, while the rest of the team was on the road for that afternoon’s game. I decided to stick around at McKechnie, getting some photos of Freese, and watching his batting practice session, before heading over to Pirate City.

At one point, they asked Freese how many more rounds he wanted to go. Freese asked the group — which included Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and Jung Ho Kang — how many rounds of batting practice they usually took.

“As many as you need,” McCutchen replied. “Today is all about you.”

Freese hadn’t even been a member of the organization for 24 hours and was in his first day of practice, and the best players on the team had not only already opened up, but made sure that he got in the work he needed, due to his late start. He was instantly welcomed, and it was like he was always a member of the team. So when he made this comment to reporters this afternoon after signing his extension, I knew he meant it:

“I feel valued here,” Freese said. “I feel like these guys want me here. That’s huge. I’ve heard it before, but there’s something different about the way Neal [Huntington], Clint [Hurdle] and all the guy went about bringing me back. They want me here. I know that. It’s a good feeling.”

Alan Saunders wrote more today about how Freese wanted to remain in Pittsburgh, and why he was a fit for the Pirates for an extension. Tonight, I wanted to focus a little more on what the future of the Pirates’ roster looks like after Freese’s extension, with a specific look at the 2017 bench.

There’s not really much that the Pirates need for 2017. A lot of their current players will be under contract for next season, and Freese just adds to that group.

“It’s all part of our organizational plan,” Hurdle said. “Neal has really strong vision in what he looks to do with our roster. You look at the players that have been added — just within this season — to multi-year contracts for stability, for continuity and for consistency.”

The Pirates have extended Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco, and now Freese just this year. If you consider Josh Bell the starting first baseman going forward, then all of their position players are under team control through at least 2018. They’ve got three young starters under team control through at least 2019 in Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl. They also have a lot of younger pitching prospects who are MLB ready, or close to it. You could also throw Drew Hutchison in that mix, as he will be under control through 2019, and the Pirates are planning on him being in their rotation next year. The big need next year would be another top starting pitcher, but that’s about it from the offense and rotation.

With the Freese extension, the bench is now looking solid for the next few years as well. Neal Huntington discussed today about how the lack of third base options on the trade and free agent market, plus the lack of internal MLB-ready options at the position, led to the signing of Freese. He said the potential legal issues for Jung Ho Kang didn’t play a role here. While there’s nothing known on Kang’s status, Freese puts the Pirates in a good situation. They either have a guy who can start at third base if needed, or they have a great option off the bench who can back up the corner spots.

Freese joins Chris Stewart, Adam Frazier, and John Jaso as guys who currently have the inside track for bench spots in 2017. I could see Jaso getting moved this off-season, as the Pirates wouldn’t have as much need for him, especially with an additional first base option in Jason Rogers. The other realistic candidates for the bench would be Alen Hanson and Max Moroff, with Hanson seemingly being groomed already for a super utility role.

With the exception of Jaso, if he sticks around, the rest of those guys are under team control through at least the 2018 season. And only Stewart is under control through 2018, with Elias Diaz ready to take over after that. So with the extension of Freese, the Pirates now have a solid bench to go with their strong group of position players and strong core of young pitchers, with that entire group under control through the next two years, and many of them under control beyond that.

After the deadline, I estimated that the Pirates would be at around $80 M heading into next off-season, with anticipated arbitration moves and raises. The Freese move takes that up to around $86-87 M, and also locks up another hole on the team. From here, the Pirates don’t have many more needs, with an additional starting pitcher being the biggest one with the remaining money they have to spend.

When Neal Huntington originally signed Freese, he said that it was like adding at the trade deadline, but much earlier. In this case, the Pirates just made an off-season move, but well before the off-season begins. And because they also did that with Francisco Cervelli, and at the trade deadline with Felipe Rivero and Drew Hutchison, we could be in line for a very quiet, but also a very specific off-season plan for the Pirates, with so few needs remaining.

**Pirates Announce Contract Extension For David Freese. All of the details on the extension.

**David Freese: “My priority was to play for a team that could compete to win”. Alan Saunders talked with Freese, Hurdle, and Huntington about the move, with some very encouraging comments from Freese on why he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.

**Tyler Glasnow Goes Three Innings in Rehab Start for Altoona. Sean McCool with live coverage of Glasnow’s latest rehab start.

**A Look at the Pirates’ Flat Offense After a 3-1 Loss to Houston. Alan Saunders looks at the struggling offense after tonight’s loss.

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Rehabs for Altoona; Hanson Leaves Game Early. Brian Peloza has a live report from Indianapolis, where Alen Hanson left the game early with an injury.

**The Twenty: Barrett Barnes and Mitch Keller Continue With Strong Numbers. Our weekly feature, with reports on the best players in the system from the last week.

PROSPECT WATCH

DAILY VIDEO RUNDOWN

PIRATES DISCUSSION

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toddtjenks

Tim, any early thoughts on free agent starting pitchers available this offseason? Specifically those the Pirates may go after.

cmat0829

Doesn’t it seem that Meadows is on the path to be brought up to start full time in June 2017? If that is the case who goes from the current outfield? The only time for the bucs to seriously trade cutch is THIS offseason. Otherwise you hang onto him through 2018. Or is there a surprise move of polanco or marte in a deal for a big starter possible?

As to the offseason priorities it is clearly a good starter and some bullpen adds. Where that starter comes from is anyone’s guess. Taillon appears to be the ace and Cole a solid 2. Appears that Hutchinson is penciled into a spot. And Kuhl can pitch his way to a spot as well. Glasnow isn’t ready. So a starter is super important.

Guatefan

I think we should sell High on Marte, and trade for a TOR arm. Freese at 1B and Bell in RF. By having Kang, Freese, Cutch, Polanco and Bell at the same time, you’re getting a more powerful line-up. Marte’s value is never going to be higher than this, and if other teams see him as a CF, his value increases!

rjgrinde

Could you imagine how good Cole could be if he took his off-season training as seriously as say Arrieta does? Instead of slurping tall boys of beer he should be training.

Bruce Humbert

And you know he is not training how?

DigitalDan

You think that Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl, Drew Hutchison will be in the rotation next year and that The big need next year would be another top starting pitcher. Don’t you think that Glasnow will be that pitcher?

rlucia99

Agreed. I think an Glasnow comparison may be a Dellin Betances. He ends up in the pen throwing two pitches. Like Glasnow, he’s tall 6’8″ with a history of control issues until he finally simplified with using just the two pitches. It could be worse.

leefoo

Hutchison? No way.

chethejet

Cutch has to find a off season workout that stresses better approach to hitting. He and Marte either hit to Rf and RCF or both will not be the offensive contributors that is necessary to compete. Pitching could be very good next year if the Pirates can sign/trade for a good 3 starter. Still have faith in Cole and his compete level. Tallion will drive him as well. Bell is what he is at first. His bat plays as Hurdle said. Jaso trade him. Sign S Rod two year deal. He is your fourth OF guy and back up SS if needed. Cervelli needs to get his wrist and hand healthy. Can’t pay 33 million for a 250 hitter with no power. Premature move by NH, Cervelli was not going to command big bucks on the market with limited offense production. If blue Jays don’t win the division or make the wild card, I see them dumping payroll. A couple bats and arms I would like to bid for. In any event Cutch will make the decision easy for the brass. Either he is sliding into a 2017 exit or bucs trigger the option for 2018. I think the former is the case.

RobForsyth

I’ve only read a few of the comments but we all agree that we’re completely baffled by McCutchen’s off year. Extending Freeze is very good because no one knows about Kang for next year. How many rape kit tests are ahead of his in Chicago before they get to it? No one knows. If the test comes back positive you have to let the justice system go forward.
I agree the Pirates learned a very hard lesson this year by not signing another quality arm for the top of the rotation. It’s been said a million and one times. You can never have too much pitching.

Matthew R

The timing of this was a bit out of the ordinary, a late-August extension. How often do the Bucs approach a player with an offer six weeks before their contract is up? You don’t normally hear a lot about negotiations like this, particularly for a team in the hunt for a playoff bid.

leefoo

Our starting rotation next year, as of right now.

Kuhl
Cole
Taillon
???
???

I think we need TWO SPs. I believe Kingham could be ready in June? But TG continues to look too far away unless they want to make him their #4 or #5 guy?

BigB2323

Better Pirate Brian Giles or Andrew McCutchen? I think Giles. If he just played on a team like these during his prime years, the way he could hit, Pirates might have won a World Series.

Catch22

Giles, but he was playing medicated.

terrygordon30

Giles put up great numbers during a time when lots of players were putting up great numbers.

rodcobrakeith

The PED factor at work here. Giles was a cheat. As far as we know Cutch isn’t. Who you want?

leefoo

I think Giles, too. I heard that on the broadcast last night and I couldn’t have agreed more.

leefoo

I was always a Nutting apologist, but here’s the part that scares me, and it all started with the Liriano giveaway.

(from an Asylum post)

The Freese signing:

“This is a direct example of having some flexibility, of having some breathing room,” Huntington said, “maybe to stretch beyond what we normally would be boxed into. It did help a little bit.”

*They are they “boxed in”? So signing a guy for $11 million over two seasons is now a “stretch” for this club? I’m sorry I am getting even more frustrated and angry with their never ending, likely fabricated payroll challenges. Does Nutting and NH get embarrassed by anything?

John W

Different issue but just want to mention David Freese equals LIKELY CANDIDATE FOR REGRESSION based on K%, BABIP and GB%.

John W

Honestly Foo you read my mind. Anyone who thinks selling off 2 prospects to free up cash in a salary dump to enable them to sign an infielder closing in on his mid 30’s validates the “financial flexibility” is out of their mind.

cskomsky

After about 12 of those losing season in the 90’s and 2000’s I had enough of the Pirates and baseball, but I started to drink the kool aid the last few years listening to NH and thinking the pirate FO was the best thing in all of sports. But sadly after the moves since last off season, I hate to say this but the dumb fat a** MM is right, the Pirate front office is not concerned about winning championships, only staying competitive within in their budget. That budget is estimated at 38% of revenue which is third lowest in baseball. The
tigers spent 69% of revenue on Payroll last year. Look at the cubs, they too were low percentage spenders last year but saw a chance to win and spent heavily in the off season. Im not advocating spending 173 million, but I cant imagine that the pirates couldn’t increase that percentage to closer to 50% which would add about 25 million to payroll. But doing that would cut into Nutting’s 49 million profit.

stuartash@yahoo.com

It doesn’t matter who they sign until they find a LEADER we will have 5 more years of so so.

John W

Please tell me that Drew Hutchison isn’t a reason to assume they will be “quiet” in offseason as far as looking for pitching help.

John W

Assuming Hutch gets a spot in 2017 rotation is reason enough to be queasy right now. Unless we start to see a lot of improvements by next Spring.

jedeweese

A couple of SS prospects are out there, Barnes is coming on, Osuna has some value, even a Craig would be enticing to an AL team- that doesn’t even touch the wealth of pitching on the farm.
I agree they trade for a SP.
Now, if they can only identify the right piece….

leefoo

I couldn’t agree more….a 5.40 ERA at AAA is hardly reason to be excited.

Darkstone42

That’s only 21.2 IP, though. The 102 IP with a 3.26 ERA in the Jays’ system right before coming over tells a different story.

His peripherals since coming over are all out of whack right now. His HR/FB% jumped from 12.7% to 28.6%, and his LOB% plummeted to 56.8%, which is ridiculously, unsustainably low. His K% is also down, but so is his BB%.

I don’t think it’s fair to judge him entirely by a bad four-start stretch and ignore a really good 18-start stretch before it. Especially since there’s some chance the Pirates are making some adjustments with him right now, which can produce some growing pains. Maybe nothing mechanical, but getting him to pitch to the Pirates’ philosophy would be enough to produce bad numbers if he’s not comfortable with it yet.

Let’s be at least a little patient here.

David Rosenberg

I would look for a couple reliable bullpen arms. Felix, Nicasio, Hughes will be gone and Watson will be in his last year. They should look for a Feliz type with closer experience on a two year deal. Watson looks shaky as a closer and will be dealt next year.

wtm1613

Nicasio has more arb year left so he’ll will still be here. Hughes is terrible and should be DFA’d after the season, so that’s an upgrade. But agreed they need to resign Feliz or target someone similar.

leefoo

Feliz’ propensity to give up HRs is starting to worry me.

He has given up 9 in 49 IP.

gosteelers69

I believe in the future, I do, and I’m still very thankful to be a fan and to finally see a team that is a winner. I waited so long for this, as we all have, and it feels great! But now I have the right to look at this franchise with a whole new lense, and that being of an expected winner. And right now I have my concerns.

First and foremost, the starting pitching. I’m actually excited about our young guys, don’t get me wrong, but I feel to truly have an elite staff … or a dominant staff that we all envision … Cole needs to right the ship and Glasnow needs to take the next step. These are big question marks right now. We could make excuses for Cole all we want, but he isn’t cerebral at all. Let’s face it. This dude just strikes me as a guy that never truly reaches his potential. Of course I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see it. He doesn’t have the brains to reach his his ultimate potential. I think he’s already hit his ceiling in what we can expect, and I’m convinced we should trade him before becomes a FA. But he’s still a quality pitcher that is extremely valuable before he becomes a FA … just not a star and a pitcher worth throwing mega millions at long term.

As for Glasnow, if he reaches his potential, this rotation could be special. However, his lack of control leads me to believe he’s going to be a future closer and not a stud SP. I truly hope I’m wrong, I do, but that’s what I feel.

Switching gears, the offense worries me. This team basically has no power. I can’t process to understand the metrics and the associated stats that keep being brought up for each respective category. I do love trying to interpret them, so a big thanks to all of you for the knowledge. But I see a team that seems to be fading offensively and an outfield that did not even come close to producing enough runs collectively. Granted, Polanco has produced, even though his BA is dropping (he’s a good one, so no worries there). But this offense seems to have been saved by an excellent bench. Those guys have been fantastic all season long. Our regulars seem to be fading fast and have not driven in enough runs when looking at the bigger picture (or am I totally wrong?).

Again, what do I know. I’m just expressing my overall concerns this morning. I just feel that this franchise still has a lot to do before we really get over that hump. A lot! Maybe a little more than what I initially thought.

Regardless, I’m still grateful to finally complain the way I am right now as opposed to the misery I experienced over that dreadful 20+ years of losing. Right or wrong in my opinions, I’m locked in and truly engaged for my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates! I want that championship so badly!

Chris M

good stuff!!!

Bobby L

Maybe a little harsh towards Cole?

Nuke Laloosh

Nope!

Scott K

The key to next season is productivity of SP and Cutch hitting like he has in the past.

Pirates need Glasnow to be a front line SP next season. We’ve all been dreaming of Cole, Taillon and Glasnow top of the rotation for some time now. Next year will hopefully be the year we see them for an entire year together.

These 3 performing to their capabilities alone could make the Pirates into a championship contending pitching staff.

As for the offense, Cutch is the match that lights the flame. Without him leading the way, this offense doesn’t scare anyone. It’s been very mediocre for a while now. And very bad the last few games.

rich

Lineup: Cervelli, Bell, Harrison, Kang, Mercer, Marte, Cutch, and Polanco
Bench: Stewart, Freese, Jaso, Frazier, and Hanson (I believe he needs to make the team in 2017)

SPs: Cole, Taillon, Kuhl, Hutchison, and Glasnow
RPs: Watson, Nicasio, Rivera, Hughes, Bastardo, Locke, and Schugel

Moves :
– Missing a real back up SS and OF. Replace Jaso with someone like a Joyce
– A veteran SP to settle down the rookies (Note: this would block Kuhl or Glasnow and there are many back up options still in AAA like Brault, Williams, Kingham, Duncan, and likely Holmes)
– Resign an 8th inning set up guy (and possible replacement for Watson) like Feliz and release Locke

rodcobrakeith

Locke and his salary need to “get”. A bit more financial flexibility to bring back SRod. smh.

leefoo

Hutchison???

Why????

Nuke Laloosh

Exactly. He is not good. Period!

scrappy2499

I would like Hanson starting at 2nd and Harrison back to super utility. Until Hutchison and Glasnow show something they should not be starting in the Burgh. Glasnow has shown that his “walks” issue can and will be exploited. Hutchison has not really stood out since he came over. See what the coaches can do with him over the off season. Maybe his stuff shows up next year.

rich

I like the Hanson/Harrison swap.

As for Hutchison, I thought he needed to make the 25-man roster. But it looks he has two more option years left. So I would now say getting one veteran is critical, and then let Hutchison, Glasnow, whoever battle for the 5th spot

Roberrto21

Yep the definition of insanity! Planning on having Drew Hutchison in the rotation when he’s flopped in Toronto? Am I missing something here? Does Hutchison throw mid-90s with strong secondary pitches? Do they really think they can compete with a weak link – if so maybe they should look at this year’s record with Niese-Liriano-Locke starting. Their infield isn’t even close to what the Cubs have in Bryant-Russell-Zobrist-Rizzo. So the answer is stand pat with what they have, assume that this year’s record was a mirage and not look to get stronger? My vote is at least to get the young talent up – do they really want to wait until Diaz is 28? Maybe they’re happy with 3rd or 4th place and out of the playoffs. Smart thinking!!!!

leowalter

Yeah, you are missing something alright. You ought to try and get a job in MLB since you seem to think you know more than people who do this sort of thing as a profession.

John W

My man Leo! Weren’t you a big Mcguire fan?? You like Reese shuttled off to eat some salary and help bring back Hutch?

rich

I would look at it as we are capable of not doing anything and yet still competing with the guys we’ve got.

That allows the GM to make trades/signings to improve the club no to fill gaping holes

Roberrto21

Just glanced at the headline of this post but if the Pirates truly intend to proceed with the status quo, that is the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Does this season not show them that they weren’t in the same competitive league with the Cubs? Are they not drawing any lessons from their current lethargic non-competitive performance even now that they have revamped their rotation? Will have to read this but the obvious starting point is to bring up Hanson-Diaz – Kingham – Glasnow and Bell early enough so they are not hopelessly out of the race again. Do theey really expect the other NL teams to sit on their hands and do nothing to improve? How about a quality rotation option (not back end?)

AttyMike

This is a good point. The Bucs’ plans for next year should be viewed with the perspective of other teams. You must assume the Cubs will also attempt to improve. If the Bucs stand pat with the rotation, they’ll be repeating the mistake of this year, even if their rotation is somewhat improved and stabilized. Barring a collapse, NH will put Hutchison in the rotation to try and justify the wildly unpopular trade and #5 will be the next reclamation project. Team has little power. I’m not sold on JayHay at 2B. They need a leadoff hitter.

piraddict

Exchanging Adam Frazier and JHAY makes sense.

Ken

They will hardly have the same team next year. That is obvious. Only one of the five rotation starters from the first 10 weeks will be back. Also Bell will likely be starting. And hopefully better health from Cervelli, Kang, etc.

William R. Maloni Sr

Yay, Roberto21, I agree.

Bobby L

Agree about bringing Diaz up. He should get a long look when the rosters expand. What are they saving him for?

Kingham and Glasnow aren’t MLB ready IMO.

chuck conner

They’re waiting for him to turn 30 yrs old. He’s already 25-26, and two years before Cervielli is gone. Then, who replaces Dias? Maybe they can trade for the catcher in Toronto’s farm system.

Jonah Simon

Who, the one batting .259 with 1 HR and currently finds himself on the DL? I’ll take Diaz. More power/hitting potential with an electric arm. He will be just fine.

Jonah Simon

Who, the one batting .259 with 1 HR and currently finds himself on the DL? I’ll take Diaz. More power/hitting potential with an electric arm.

Chris C

I can no longer assume he bounces back. This age 29 year is historically unprecedented and nobody has really provided a reason it has occurred.He is the biggest story of the year and is the main reason the Pirates are not in a stronger position. Still waiting for someone to give a plausible explanation for this horrendous year…Before this season I thought he might be on HOF track, now there is no way that is true…

Koloacat

I think it is a mental problem rather than a physical problem.

Mike U

He may very well be in his decline but there certainly is precedence for prime year struggles from elite players. Jay Bruce age 27 and 28 seasons saw his ops drop 150 points before he recovered the last two years. Russel Martin bottomed out during his age 27 season. I have no idea if cutch has struggled from a hidden injury, lost timing, personal issue or maybe some combination but the odds of him rebounding can’t be much worse than a coin flip.

rlucia99

Tim, do you expect McCutchen to be here next year?

scrappy2499

Obviously I’m not Tim but yes he will be here if for no other reason they are not going to try and move him after this seasons issues…No way they sell low on him.

Bobby L

Playing devil’s advocate, but what if he doesn’t improve.

William R. Maloni Sr

Then they waste a year of Meadows and/or Osuna–the PBC is good at this–and stick with a player whose skills seem to be declining.

Ken

Osuna at his best won’t be nearly as good as Cutch is now. As for Meadows, having him up early and having a mediocre first year isnt’ a good strategy for a small market team that may only have him for 6+ years.

scrappy2499

always a possibility and I guess he has declined just a bit over the past couple years but this year he fell off a cliff at least for his standards…Hope he was just trying way to hard to be the leader. Wonder if he sees all the young talent springing up and he is pressing to show he is still top dog…don’t know.

Bobby L

You have to wonder if his injuries, considered to be minor, were a big factor in his decline. With the season now 3/4 complete, he can no longer be considered in a slump.

It would be highly unpopular but maybe it’s time to see if he can bring a TOR arm in a trade.

BTW, you have a good point about him pressing, for whatever reason.

scrappy2499

Thanks, yeah he was always a pretty smart hitter taking the walks and not striking out much but he really just seems to have thrown his usual approach out the window this season. with Meadows knocking on the door if they could send Cutch out for a true TOR then I think that would be a great move on their part.

emjayinTN

I share your feelings. I know it is about the players, but this team needs another Hitting Coach right now. Last night was the 36th game the Pirates have played in 2016 where they have scored 2 runs or less and the record in those 36 games is 4-32.

Ken

The Pirates have the same hitting coach as they did the past two years, when they hit well. Were you calling for him to be fired last year? Did he suddenly forget how to coach?

emjayinTN

Yes, I called for it last year also – so much that Tim got tired of seeing it.

Situational hitting was what it was called which I defined as putting the ball in play (more contact/less K’s), better pitch recognition, hitting behind the runners, and using the whole field. The Pirates have many “natural” hitters who, IMHO, are in need of refinement. Ever see such talented hitters who are unable to recognize a breaking pitch, or who are constantly pitched outside because they have a tendency to try to pull the ball. Loved watching Bell and Polanco use the whole field last night and with authority.

When you see the number of games where this team has scored 2 runs or less (36 of 122), does that not make you think a change is needed?

Bobby L

That’s a 30% rate. Really ugly. The Slumber Company continues at it’s maddening pace.

The patience that was preached preseason has been abandoned.

If you don’t have shutdown pitching, solid defense and smart baserunning, you can’t win many games with an offense scoring once or twice.

The PBC has also been limited by a blackhole at 1B for much of the season, a CF who may be past his prime, a catching position which has combined for 1 HR more than I have and Marte’s power drain.

emjayinTN

Let’s not forget a leadoff batter for most of the season (Jaso) without one Stolen base – OBP is minimized by having to play station-to-station when he does get on. JHay had good early months, but went into the tank in Jun and Jul and Aug is not much better.

We always hear the average number of runs scored, but if you cannot hit when you need to hit, an average is useless.

piraddict

Jaso did well in April, then disappeared. JHAY has had a disappointing year. Far to few drives to the right field corner.

emjayinTN

Right now, in the Pirates System, Altoona and Bradenton are close to the top of their leagues in hitting. Kevin Riggs, 47 and Keoni De Renne, 37.

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