The Pirates have some pretty big decisions to make this off-season, as they try to get back to the playoffs again in 2017 after a year off in 2016. The biggest focus this off-season should be on pitching, especially the starting rotation. They could also use a late inning reliever to pair with the lefties Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero, and right-hander Juan Nicasio.

But before all of that happens, they will need to make some roster decisions when it comes to arbitration eligible players, players who are out of options, and non-tender candidates. There are also the Rule 5 eligible players, although most of the top options from that mid-season article have either been added to the 40-man (Steven Brault, Trevor Williams) or traded away (Tito Polo, Stephen Tarpley). So the Rule 5 part of the off-season won’t have as many big decisions as usual.

Here is a rundown of the players who have key roster decisions, along with some analysis on what I think the Pirates will do in each section.

Arbitration Eligible

Tony Watson – 3rd Year

Juan Nicasio – 3rd Year

Jared Hughes – 3rd Year*

Jeff Locke – 2nd Year

Jordy Mercer – 2nd Year

Drew Hutchison – 2nd Year*

Gerrit Cole – 1st Year

Wade LeBlanc – 1st Year

*Has four years of arbitration

The Pirates don’t have many high-profile arbitration cases this off-season, at least compared to last year when they had guys like Neil Walker and Mark Melancon set to make around $10 M, and Pedro Alvarez due a raise that would have taken him above $6 M. This time around, the biggest case would be Gerrit Cole’s. I think the lack of work as a closer will keep Tony Watson’s price somewhat low for a late inning reliever, and Jordy Mercer probably sees a bit of a bump, but nothing serious.

I’ll mention the non-tender candidates in more detail below, but right now I see them as Jeff Locke and Jared Hughes. You could put Wade LeBlanc on that list, but I don’t see him making a lot in arbitration ($1 M at most) and I think he did enough in his short time with the Pirates to get a look as a relief option next year. (UPDATE: MLBTR released their arbitration estimates and had LeBlanc at $1.6 M, which is higher than I expected, although still low enough that he could be an option to stick around, especially if he agrees to a pre-arb deal).

Out of Options

Jason Rogers

Alen Hanson

Eric Fryer

Pedro Florimon

Zach Phillips

The Pirates have a few fringe guys who are out of options, along with two guys who need to make the roster, or be designated for assignment. Jason Rogers and Alen Hanson are the higher profile guys here. I don’t see the Pirates designating them for assignment. I think Hanson will make the team next year as a super utility player, which is the direction the Pirates were heading at the end of the 2016 Indianapolis season. If the NL adds the DH in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, then I could see Rogers making the team. Otherwise, he really doesn’t have a spot on a roster with Josh Bell, John Jaso, and David Freese all serving as first base options. I could see the Pirates trading Rogers if that’s the case.

Guys like Florimon and Phillips are easier to find as minor league free agents, and the Pirates might try to bring both of those guys back under that type of deal if they end up releasing them. Fryer is in the same boat, although the injury to Chris Stewart at the end of the year could lead the Pirates to keep Fryer for depth until Spring Training, when they see how Stewart is performing. If Stewart is healthy, Fryer has no spot on the team.

Non-Tender Candidates

Jared Hughes

Jeff Locke

Eric Fryer

Pedro Florimon

Zach Phillips

Willy Garcia

Gift Ngoepe

Brady Dragmire

I just can’t see Locke and Hughes going through arbitration again. Locke would be due a raise over his $3.025 M salary, and the same goes for Hughes and his $2.175 M deal last year. Locke also loses value since he’s no longer a rotation option, while Hughes is easier to replace for his skill set and upside. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates tried bringing both guys back under minor league deals, hoping to see the old versions return and add to their depth. But tendering them MLB contracts and paying at least $5 M combined for the two of them, after the seasons they had, would be a mistake.

I mentioned Fryer/Florimon/Phillips above. I could see the Pirates keeping one or a few of these guys beyond the non-tender deadline in December, and removing them from the 40-man roster later in the off-season if they need a spot.

I threw in a few other players in Dragmire, Garcia, and Ngoepe for similar reasons. I don’t think they’ll be non-tendered, but could see one or all of them getting DFAd or traded at some point this off-season. It really doesn’t look good for Garcia, who hasn’t received a call to the majors after two years in Triple-A. There is still talent there, but it’s getting less likely that it will eventually translate to the majors in a meaningful role. Ngoepe has a better shot at the majors with his speed and defense, but those two skills can also be filled by a guy like Pedro Florimon. I can only see the Pirates keeping one of those two on the 40-man. Dragmire is a hard throwing sinkerballer with options, and while he could stick on the roster all off-season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pirates churn through a lot of options, trying to get a few of these cheaper additions through waivers and onto their Triple-A squad as depth.

**Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman Among Top 20 Prospects in Eastern League. The second list for Newman, and probably the only one for Meadows, since he likely won’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the International League list.

**Instructs Report: Nice Day for Hughston at the Plate; Valerio Plays Second Base. John Dreker has the latest report from instructs, with notes on several players in the lower levels, and a few of this year’s draft picks.

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  1. Oh cool. My man NH on radio earlier intimating the budget will be pretty stringent this year. What a surprise!!

  2. I really disagree on Locke and Hughes. By every metric Locke had his worst season last year but he is a mediocre starter and that description might land Ivan Nova a $60M contract this year. At 29 he has lots of room for a bounce back in 2017. I just don’t want to see him winning 16 games with the Cubs next year. If your going to toss $5M a year for the next reclamation project why not $3M for him? As for Hughes, he actually was statistically in line with his career in 16. We just can’t forget the brutal stretches he went thru. W the fillet of the BP free agents after next season I don’t see them dumping him. We don’t need to worry about saving the PBC money, these guys are bargains.

    Jaso needs to go. Fast.

    • Locke bounce back from horrible to terrible. He had 10 quality starts out of 30 last year. I refuse to turn the game on when he started.

  3. Yeah….yeah…yeah Tim this is all well can good but let me tell you about my take on the Liriano trade………………………………………..kidding……..:-)

    • Then you haven’t paid attention to most MLB teams in the offseason. A lot of teams acquire several guys for that last 40 man spot or two, until they find someone they like better and need the spot for someone else.

      Additionally, if that is someone they think they can sneak through waivers later in the offseason and keep him in the system while not on the 40 man, then that is even better. These aren’t guys they have big plans for, just guys they may see something they like in and don’t mind having around until someone they like better comes along

      • No, I understand all that, believe it or not. It just seems strange to me to compound your decision on who to keep on the 40 man roster. For instance they have to make a decision about Osuna. So they pay for the opportunity to have decide between Osuna and Dragmire. Sounded like Toronto was going to have to DFA Dragmire anyway to open up room on their 40 man. Trading for him avoids the waiver wire. But if you think so little of him as to immediately waive him, why bother? Much ado about nothing.

  4. What a great trade that was for Rogers. They better hope that Supak doesn’t fulfill his potential. Just seeing what Keon B is doing is bad enough.

    • That trade was a head scratcher from the get-go. Rogers was not well-regarded by Brewers fans at the time — they thought they got a steal. And that was before they happened upon Freese. As things turned out, they might’ve done better to let Rodriguez play first all year.

    • Keon Broxton broke his wrist at the end of the season. It is impossible to know what he will be when he returns. The same injury pretty much ended the productive portion of Ricky Weeks’ career.

  5. Just a note that the Survey has reached its limit of 100. I plan on publishing results on Monday, either in a post (or posts) or in the comments. I will also provide a link to the results.

    I’d do it today, but I volunteer at a Mission on Fridays and can’t do it.

    It is always interesting to get the “collectives” results.

  6. They desperately need another righty, quite possibly to close. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Watson traded

      • Rivero needs to be a lot more consistent. A 9:6 shutdown/meltdown won’t cut as an 8th inning guy, let alone a closer.

        Everyone can see he has the stuff. But he can be consistent enough with his command to get consistent results.

          • I love Rivero but he is a man of extremes with the walks and strikeouts. If he can keep the walks to around even 3 or 4 per nine I’d send him out there in the 9th. His stuff is great.

            • Yeah, I don’t question his long term upside, but I’m not sure if he’ll be ready for that closer’s role next year already. I just hope they go with working pure matchups in the late innings. They have no clear closer as of now, and they’re not going to sign someone that’s a “closer,” so why force the issue?

    • I didn’t realize that Tony Watson was going to be 32 next season – he is only 2 months younger than Melancon! I’m all for extracting value, he hits free agency next offseason

    • Would you give Feliz a shot at closing for the right price? I think the 19% HR/FB rate was a bit of an outlier. His groundball and walk rates aren’t anywhere near Melancon’s but I don’t think Mark is walking through that door at a deep discount.

      • I don’t think Feliz has the makeup to close and seemed too hittable the second half of the season.

        • I feel as though you wouldn’t know that unless you tried him out there. But I do believe there is something to a “closer mentality”. Someone is going to call BS on this and I’m fine with that but I think there’s something to it. There were times I looked at Watson and with runners on he looked absolutely panicked. If they can put him back in the 8th I’d be thrilled.

    • The lone bright spot in this offseason’s free agent class is the bullpen options. Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Melancon will probably get most of the rumor headlines but lots of other quality pitchers out there too like K-Rod, sergio romo, santiago casilla, koji uehara, feliz, brad ziegler etc., so theres a very good chance the Bucs get at least one significant bullpen piece this winter. If I’m NH, I’d buy a bullpen and trade for a starting rotation this offseason.

  7. With 5 guys on the 60-day DL and 5 free agents (Nova, Vogelsong, Feliz, Joyce and Sean Rodriguez), they’ll be starting the offseason with a bull roster. Add in the likely Rule 5 guys (Holmes, Barnes, Neverauskas, maaaaybe one or more of Lakind, Eric Wood and Osuna), and some of those excess guys will be dropping right off the bat.

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