The winter meetings have been quiet for the Pirates, with most of their week dedicated to the Andrew McCutchen talks, which have since ended with the Nationals moving on to Adam Eaton, and the Pirates deciding to keep McCutchen. It seemed that the McCutchen talks were holding things up, as the Pirates couldn’t really determine the direction of their off-season until those talks were finalized.
Now that the Pirates are keeping McCutchen, they have a set direction for the off-season, and the biggest goal for them would be to add starting pitching. We might start to hear more rumors on that front, especially with more names entering the trade market this week, and the free agent market opening up at the top after the signing of Rich Hill.
Before all of that happens, the Pirates will have one chance at a move during the winter meetings, and that will take place today at 9 AM during the Rule 5 draft.
The Pirates haven’t been active in the MLB portion of the draft since they’ve been contenders. They were guaranteed to take a player each year during their rebuild, and most of those players amounted to nothing, with the best pick, Evan Meek, being a serviceable reliever for a year or two. They haven’t made a pick since the 2011 draft, skipping out on every year they’ve been contenders. They’ve lost some players, seeing Wei-Chung Wang getting picked and protected in 2013, and then seeing Andy Oliver picked and letting him walk to the Phillies in 2014. They also lost Deolis Guerra last year, days after signing him to a minor league deal.
It’s hard to say whether they will pick someone this year, since they’re picking higher, and needing cheaper depth and talent a bit more than they did in previous years. The big thing to focus on would be whether they lose Eric Wood.
The Pirates left Wood unprotected, despite watching him hit for power in Altoona this year, and then watching him put up some of the best numbers in the Arizona Fall League. The decision to leave him off the 40-man roster makes sense when you consider that third basemen rarely get drafted and protected. Also, while the 2016 season was good in terms of establishing Wood as a fringe prospect, and maybe more, I don’t think he’s to the point yet where he could be stashed on an MLB roster all year.
We’ll see if that gamble pays off. A team buying into his 2016 season, and especially the AFL results, might take the gamble, hoping that he does become more than a future bench player. That would look bad right now with two open spots on the 40-man roster, although I’d expect those spots to be filled by the end of the off-season, along with plenty of other moves that will displace guys currently on the roster. Plus, Wood getting drafted means nothing. It’s the ability to keep him on the active roster all year that is the challenge.
The price of Rule 5 picks has gone up under the new CBA. It used to cost $50,000 to make a pick, with the drafting team paying the former team. If they couldn’t keep the player, he would be offered back for $25,000. Now, the price is $100,000, with $50,000 back for a returned player. It will be tough to tell how that impacts the decisions tomorrow.
JJ Cooper of Baseball America does the best job of covering the Rule 5 draft of anyone, and has a list of players generating the most buzz. Wood isn’t on the list, although he did make their list of the top 80-some prospects for the draft. No other Pirate made the list, which means Wood is going to be the big focus tomorrow.
The draft also has a Triple-A phase, where teams can draft minor league depth to fill out the upper level rosters. The Pirates have gone this route in the past, usually acquiring non-prospects to fill areas where they are short on players. They did this last year, adding Alfredo Reyes to fill their shortstop position in West Virginia before Cole Tucker arrived at the level, and after he left for Bradenton.
Following the draft, we might see some minor trades and minor league free agent signings. Teams tend to hold off on these, so that the minor league free agents and the newly acquired prospects aren’t at risk of being selected in the draft. Once the draft is complete, there would be nothing holding those deals back.
We will have full coverage of the draft in the morning at 9 AM, giving analysis on any players the Pirates take, or any players they lose. And then hopefully not long after that, the Pirates will move forward with their off-season and work to add the pitching they need.
**Pirates Expected to Keep Andrew McCutchen After Missed Deal With Nationals. My thoughts on how this situation ended up, with some concerns about McCutchen’s trends.
**Pirates Are Still Going After Ivan Nova. Nova wouldn’t be a bad addition right now if they’re going to keep McCutchen, and they can afford him.
**Nationals Move on From Andrew McCutchen, Trade For Adam Eaton. All of the day’s rumors, with the Nationals ending up going for Eaton.
**Pirates Receive Comp B Draft Pick, Larger International Bonus Pool. John Dreker breaks down what the Pirates have to spend on the international side next year, and where they are picking in the draft.
**Winter Leagues: Elias Diaz Leaves Game with Back Injury. It hasn’t been a good year for Diaz.