Last week I recapped the 2016 season for the pitching staff, along with a look ahead to 2017 and beyond. The Pirates could use upgrades in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. There are some free agent options available for the starters, but not many, and no standout options. There could be some trade options if the free agents aren’t realistic. I didn’t look into the potential relievers, since there are always a big number of options available.
There’s one issue the Pirates have this off-season, and that is the issue of limited funds. I’ve written that they have money to spend — they could spend $14 M to get from their current payroll projection to $100 M, and I believe they could go over that number. So their payroll shouldn’t limit them from getting a guy like Ivan Nova and another reliever, plus maybe a reclamation type starter. But I don’t think they can go on a spending spree and find big upgrades for the rotation and bullpen.
More accurately, I think they’re going to have to go for value upgrades in the bullpen, and focus on getting the sure thing for the rotation. And that’s how it should be.
Ever since the Pirates traded Mark Melancon, there have been questions about bringing him back. I believe he would cost at least $10 M a year and would require a two or three-year commitment. That’s not a price the Pirates should be paying for a reliever, even if it’s an elite reliever like Melancon. They’d be better off putting those funds towards a starter, and I don’t think they can get the starter they need, while also getting a guy like Melancon for the bullpen.
Then there’s the idea of trading for a reliever. This would likely also cost a lot, but in terms of prospects. I think the prospects should be saved for additional rotation upgrades. If the Pirates do have prospects to trade, they should go towards adding a starter. And if they’ve got the capability to sign a free agent starter, and trade prospects for a pitcher, that pitcher should be an additional starter.
Now maybe if there’s a lower key reliever, or a bounce back candidate, then a trade would make sense. Likewise, I think the type of free agent they should go after would be a bounce back guy. The Pirates have had a lot of success over the years getting relievers who are bounce back candidates, and then watching them turn it around in Pittsburgh. You only need to go back to Melancon to see one of the most successful recent cases. A lot of Pirates fans hated the addition of Melancon when that trade happened. And yet just four years later trading him was panned, and Pirates fans want the Proven Closer™ for the 2017 bullpen and beyond. It’s that kind of irony that will probably lead to another one of these types of tweets when the Pirates eventually add a reliever this off-season:
There are only two outcomes for Melancon's career with PIT. "He was a bust" or "Can't trade him. Relievers like him are too hard to find!"
— Tim Williams (@timwilliamsP2) December 28, 2012
Maybe that tweet already exists about Felipe Rivero. Or maybe Tony Watson’s down year will be a distant memory next year, and he returns to pre-2016 form. But even with those guys, and Juan Nicasio, on the roster, I think the Pirates should add someone this off-season, and I think it should be another low-key addition, just like the Melancon, Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, and other moves of the past that led to bounce back relievers.
This isn’t a guarantee to work, as we’ve seen with examples like Ernesto Frieri. It’s never a guarantee with reclamation projects, whether it’s a starter or a reliever. It’s also not a guarantee to go after the “sure thing” on either side. But if the Pirates are going to go for the “sure thing”, they’d be better off investing resources in a starter. Relievers are too volatile, which is why you often see established guys having down years, and guys coming off a down year immediately turning things around. That’s why the best approach with relievers is to buy low and sell high. The Pirates sold on Melancon when he had high value. Now their task should be to find the next Melancon.
**AFL: Edgar Santana Picks Up Save in Saguaros Victory. The latest AFL report from John Dreker, with some velocity info on Edgar Santana.
**Baseball America Names Stephen Alemais Among Best Defensive Players in 2016 Draft. No surprise here, as we’ve written a lot about Alemais’ defense this year.
**2016 Bullpen Recap: Tony Watson Was a Microcosm of the Pirates’ Struggles. My recap of the bullpen from this weekend.
**Winter Leagues: Jose Osuna Hits His First Homer; Heredia Struggles Again. The latest winter league recap from John Dreker.
**Adrian Valerio Stands Out in the 2016 Bristol Pirates Top 10 Prospects. My Bristol recap from this weekend, with the top ten prospects.