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Sunday, December 4, 2022

First Pitch: Time For the Pirates to Make a Big Move and Go For the Division Title

There’s a narrative that has existed in Pittsburgh for the last few years that I used to think only existed in Pittsburgh. That narrative is that the Wild Card game is not the playoffs.

The Pirates hosted the NL Wild Card game from 2013-2015, which means they hosted it three of the first four years the one game playoff was in existence. They won it once, and lost the second two years when they had the misfortune of going up against the hottest pitchers in baseball at the time. That’s just the downside of a one game playoff. And yet, there are a lot of people in Pittsburgh who don’t even acknowledge that they made the playoffs, saying that the Wild Card game is a play-in game.

This playoff truther movement is pretty ridiculous, since MLB officially considers the Wild Card game to be part of the playoffs. The Wild Card game does not count toward regular season stats. When you buy a playoff package, you get the Wild Card game. There are so many other things I could mention that show the Wild Card game is the playoffs, and saying otherwise is just stretching to try and avoid giving credit to how good the Pirates were from 2013-15. But I’d rather focus instead on understanding why people feel this way.

I talked about this on Twitter a few weeks ago, and in the process, Doug Gray, who runs Reds Minor Leagues, said the same narrative exists in Cincinnati. The Reds made the Wild Card game once under the new format, while also winning the NL Central in 2012. They lost the NLDS in five games in 2012, and as we all know, they lost the Wild Card game in 2013. They haven’t had a winning season since.

The trend here is that fan bases that lose the Wild Card game don’t consider that the playoffs. Fans who win the Wild Card game don’t care, because they advance further in the playoffs. You can see why fans don’t think their team really made the playoffs if they made the Wild Card game. It sucks when you lose. You win 98 games, which is the second best total in baseball, but the team with the most wins is in your division, so you play a one game playoff. That one game playoff puts you against the hottest pitcher in baseball, who continues his amazing stretch and eliminates you. One night, and your playoff run is over.

The Wild Card game can be enormously frustrating, to the point where you don’t even want to acknowledge that it’s the playoffs. Teams should try to avoid it and win the division, because there’s nothing worse in the game of baseball than having your entire season boil down to one game. You want the “real” playoffs, where you get a best of five series and where every starter in your playoff rotation gets a chance to go, with your best guy going twice if needed. The thing is, the Wild Card game is also the “real” playoffs. It’s just that winning the division leads to a much better version of those same playoffs.

But there’s a problem with winning the division. The complaint in Pittsburgh has been that the Pirates just settle for the Wild Card game, and don’t try to win the division. They don’t do enough in the offseason to try and go for the division, or they don’t make the right moves at the trade deadline to make that run. We’ll ignore that they won 98 games in 2015, and losing their division was just the bad luck of having the best team in baseball in the same division. We’ll also ignore that they tried to win the division the final series in 2014, which led to Edinson Volquez as the Wild Card game starter, and not Francisco Liriano or Gerrit Cole.

But the problem with this line of thinking that they don’t do enough to compete for the division ignores their exact situation. It can best be summed up in the following way:

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Winning the NL Central isn’t an easy task. First of all, you now have the Chicago Cubs, a team with the capability to spend among the top ten in baseball, with a smart General Manager who combines all of the best tactics that were formerly reserved for small market teams, and combines that with the ability to add impact players through free agency. The Cubs have built up a power house through the combination of drafting and trading for young talent, and then supplementing that talent with high-priced free agents to fill their final needs.

Then there’s the Cardinals, who are guaranteed for 3.5 million in attendance each year, giving them more revenue than most teams in their market size receive. The Cardinals are also incredibly smart to the point where they have plenty of home-grown players on their roster, which combined with the added revenue from attendance, allows them to splurge from time to time on the open market to fill their needs. If the Cardinals had the budget of the Cubs, things might get extremely scary in the NL Central.

So that’s your competition. A team that is the instant favorite to win the World Series a year after they already won the World Series, and a team that is always in contention, to the point where they have won the most games in MLB since 2010 (I went back until that statement wasn’t true, and if you include 2009, the Cardinals only finish two wins shy of the Yankees, and still 16 ahead of the Dodgers). When you’re a team like the Pirates, with a smaller budget, then winning the division isn’t something simple, and winning the Wild Card isn’t settling.

But I’m not here to say the Pirates have no shot at the division. Because in the past few days, there has emerged a path for them to be a serious contender.

Wednesday morning started out with the rumor that the Pirates were trying hard for Jose Quintana. Thursday morning opened with the news that they agreed to a three-year deal with Ivan Nova. That was followed by the news that they were still going after Quintana. All offseason, the talk has been that the Pirates need rotation help, and not even the addition of one starter would have made things look optimistic, considering the division they’re in. But if you add Quintana to the mix? With a rotation that also includes Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and now Ivan Nova? Suddenly, that’s a rotation that could contend.

I wrote the other day that I think the Pirates could add Quintana. They’ve got the prospects, and if they trade the right combo of those prospects, they could add Quintana without really losing anything in the short or long-term. My suggestion was a package around Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. With Cole, Quintana, Taillon, and Nova all under control for at least the next three years, you don’t really have an immediate need for Glasnow. I also don’t think that he’s a guy who will have an easy transition into the majors. Could he still reach the upside of a top of the rotation starter in the long-term? I think he could. But if the Pirates keep him, I don’t see him being a guy who would provide top of the rotation production for all six years of control. I think they’d be lucky to get four years of number three starter production or better, unless they kept him in the minors a few years. He just seems like a guy who is going to take some extra time to develop, and when you have a shot to win now, and a shot at a rotation that doesn’t need him, that’s the type of guy you trade.

Then there’s Josh Bell. I don’t think we’ve come close to seeing his full offensive upside. At the same time, I don’t know how much his defense can improve going forward. I’m not as down on Bell as some who predict a 1.0 WAR upside with his defense. I think he could eventually get to a 2-3 WAR player, through a combination of improved offense and slightly improved defense. But that would require a lot of improving on both sides of the ball.

The Pirates now have David Freese under control for the next three years, and he’s been pretty consistent as a 2 WAR player the last few years. He doesn’t do it in a flashy way. He doesn’t hit for a lot of homers, and doesn’t have the highest average. He gets on base, has some power, and plays solid defense. Bell is the type of guy who could be flashy on offense, and frightening on defense. Freese gives up the flash on offense and greatly improves the defense. The end result is that Freese could give you about the same production as Bell for the next three years, albeit in a different way. And then, the Pirates have prospects waiting in the minors who could take over, with the top long-term option being Will Craig.

I think you could lose Glasnow and Bell, and not really feel the impact in the short-term or long-term. It will probably eventually hurt to see them playing so well with another team. But it would also feel really good watching Jose Quintana on the mound at PNC Park over the next four years.

So a rotation of Cole, Quintana, Taillon, Nova, and Chad Kuhl, with Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, Trevor Williams, and many others trying to take the final spot from Kuhl, or adding depth (add Nick Kingham to that mix by mid-season). That’s a rotation that can contend, not only during the season, but during the playoffs.

But what about the rest of the team? If we’re being realistic, this is a team that is already projected for $102.6 M, and their budget is probably around $100 M. We could say it should be higher, but the facts show that a good amount of teams in baseball max out at around $100 M in payroll, and half the league doesn’t go above $115 M. I don’t think the Pirates would add Quintana without cutting salary elsewhere. That would most easily come from trading Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo. You add Quintana and remove those two, and the payroll drops down to $96 M. That leaves just enough room to add a cheap bullpen or bench piece, and maybe two if they go a few million over $100 M.

But here’s the problem with that: I don’t think the Pirates would have enough depth in this scenario. Sure, the rotation looks great. The offense returns most of the starters from last year in this scenario. But the bullpen is weakened, and the bench depth is thin. I think an addition of Quintana would also require a trade of Andrew McCutchen, to go with the trade of one or two of the lefty relievers.

That wouldn’t be popular, but I think the Pirates could be better in the aggregate without McCutchen. As I wrote this week, the market is shaping up for some discounts on the free agent outfielders. None of them would be as good as McCutchen, which is why he’d still have value. But you could still get a good player. You could also add a good bench player or two, trying to get the next Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, or David Freese. And you could boost the bullpen.

If McCutchen is traded, along with Watson and Bastardo, that gives the Pirates $18 M to spend to get to $100 M. Last year they got Freese, Joyce, Rodriguez, Neftali Feliz, and Juan Nicasio for a combined $13.4 M. You could probably get four similar players for the bench and bullpen, plus a starter for the outfield until Austin Meadows is ready, and spend around $18 M. And you’d have a much stronger overall team. This is all without a dream scenario where the Pirates add another young starter to the rotation in a McCutchen trade, or another young reliever in a Watson trade, or any other trade additions they could make.

In summary, the Pirates have a path to a team that could look like this:

C – Francisco Cervelli

1B – David Freese

2B – Josh Harrison

SS – Jordy Mercer

3B – Jung Ho Kang

LF – Gregory Polanco

CF – Starling Marte

RF – Free Agent (Eventually Austin Meadows)

Bench – Chris Stewart, Adam Frazier, Jaso, Alen Hanson, Free Agent

Rotation – Gerrit Cole, Jose Quintana, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl

Bullpen – Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Free Agent, Free Agent, Jared Hughes, Wade LeBlanc or Tyler Webb

This is getting into fantasy/Out of the Park Baseball territory, but I don’t feel this scenario is out of the question. The biggest hurdle here would be adding Quintana. The Pirates have the prospects needed to add him, and could add him without hurting the team in the short-term or the long-term. From there, it gets harder to project, since it dives into a lot of theories about who could be available and for what price.

But the key thing here is that the Pirates actually have a path to forming a team that could contend with the Cubs and Cardinals. And that’s not just for the 2017 season, but for 2018, 2019, and maybe even beyond if the remaining prospects in the system worked out as expected. It won’t be easy to accomplish.

Then again, it’s never easy in the NL Central.

**Order a Last Minute Pirates Prospects Gift Subscription. Get a gift subscription for a friend or family member, and help expand the site’s content in the process.

**Pirates Reportedly Still Trying to Acquire Jose Quintana After the Ivan Nova Deal. Analysis on the latest Quintana rumor, after the Nova signing.

**Pirates Signing Ivan Nova to a Three-Year Deal. Analysis on the Nova deal.

**Dean Treanor Joins the Miami Marlins as a Bullpen Coach. This news kind of flew under the radar, but Dean Treanor has moved on to accept a big league job with the Marlins.

**Pirates Release Nine Minor League Players. News from last night about the Pirates releasing nine minor leaguers, with one other retiring.

**Pirates Announce Daniel Hudson Deal; DFA Brady Dragmire. They’ll probably announce the Nova deal when they figure out how they can DFA Dragmire again.

**Pirates Reportedly Working Hard to Acquire LHP Jose Quintana. The original Quintana rumor, and my thoughts on what the price could be.

+ posts

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Chris M

You definitely would be in games with that huge upgrade in the rotation, but the lineup may not be able to score any runs in that scenario. You can’t assume you can get anywhere near the bench production from last year let alone losing the only true power option left in cutch, a possible Kang suspension, and bells potential. To compete you and really try to keep up.with the Jones you need to somehow get quintana and keep cutch, or at least find a package where Bell isn’t involved.

Brian DeLeo

Great article Tim
I like the lineup you drafted stopping after Quintana. Keep Tony and Cutch, hate selling low on Cutch – his bat speed is too good and 30 is not too old. He will be back. I also don’t like overstating importance of bench. It’s still the bench. We had 25 less wins last year with a fantastic bench. Let’s have great every day guys first
Why wouldn’t we move Kang to SS and play Freese at 3B? I know range had been issue for Kang after injury but pirates have openly discussed giving him some time there

Harry S

Quintana has pitched a lot of innings the last 3 years. I’m not sold on trading any 2 of the top 4 prospects for someone who could wake up one morning unable to lift his arm to brush his teeth. And we’ve just been down the road of these certain trades 2 weeks ago with with Cutch.

johnnycee

I can’t believe with continued hard work, that Bell can’t become adequate at first base, and if his bat is as good as we think it might be, I’m not dealing him.

rsestric

I don’t know how reliable it is but on site I found, 12up.com, I saw a rumor that said the Bucs would send Cutch to the Yanks for OF Rutherford and 3B Andujar and then send Glasnow and some combo of possibly these 2 and other pieces it the Sox for Quintana.

Marty W

All this talk of trading Cutch and also trading Glasnow AND Bell in a deal for Quintana is absurd, IMO. The guy is good, but what we`re proposing to give up just to get him in the rotation one would think he`s frickin` Koufax. Would love to have him, but not at the expense of tearing the entire team up.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

Off topic, but….even the low budget Oakland A’s scout, pursue, and sign Cuban players – unlike the Pirates, who seemingly totally ignore this source of many great baseball talents….

Athletics Sign Cuban Right-Hander Norge Ruiz

The Athletics announced on Friday that they’ve signed international free agent Norge Ruiz to a minor league contract. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports (on Twitter) that Ruiz will receive a $2MM signing bonus. The 22-year-old Cuban right-hander has long been considered one of the more appealing arms in Cuba. Ruiz is subject to international spending limitations due to his age, so he’ll count against Oakland’s bonus pool.

Ruiz’s numbers in three professional seasons in the Cuban National Series are impressive, as he worked to a collective 2.55 ERA in 374 1/3 innings. He averaged just six strikeouts against 3.1 walks per nine innings pitched in that time, though scouting reports on Ruiz indicate that he has the potential to make a significant impact on Oakland’s farm system.

Sanchez ranks Ruiz as the No. 3 prospect on this winter’s international market, and while he didn’t make Baseball America’s list of top international prospects this summer, that was due to the fact that he’d yet to technically be cleared as a free agent. (Ruiz was declared a free agent by MLB back in early September.) Per Sanchez’s above-linked report, Ruiz has a fastball that reaches 94 mph and has plenty of movement on it, and he’s also worked with a slider, changeup, cutter and splitter that are deployed from various arm angles.

– By Steve Adams | December 23, 2016 at 11:42am CDT – mlbtraderumors.com

Bobby L

It is a little puzzling to me why the Pirates at least don’t dip into the Cuban market. I thought Rene Gayo could walk on water years ago. Now, I don’t know.

This is an organization that once relied on swooping in and paying top dollar for prospects. International signing’s poster child has to be Luis Heredia. On the domestic side, Josh Bell is obviously the poster boy. He can hit, but even with the $5M that bought into the org, he has no where to play. BTW, he deserves lot of credit for trying to learn how to play 1B, something Pedro did not care to improve on.

PikeBishop65

That bullpen in your scenario just frightened me like Jacob Marley chained to the money boxes visiting Scrooge!

nmagera07

why do we still have hughes? he’s not good

mitch t

He was actually quite good down the stretch but he had a real rough mid season were he coughed up a lot of inherited runs. He has been very good for a long time and odds are he will be good in 2017. Cut him and 10 teams will be calling his agent.

nmagera07

career 4.09 FIP. career -0.7 WAR. sorry but he’s not good, let alone very good.

joe s

Looks like, due to reading this site, that we value these prospects more then they may be worth.

Y2JGQ2

“If McCutchen is traded, along with Watson and Bastardo, that gives the Pirates $18 M to spend to get to $100 M” well that’s great, can they replace the production for what they lose from having no closer and having cutch gone? and remember, we aren’t talking about replacing 2016 production because that leaves us screwed anyways……we need to replace 2015’s production for both of them with 18 million dollars, and I don’t think that’s a reasonable goal, especially not at the WAR value per million in the current marketplace. You are looking at replacing at least 5 WAR with 18 million……good luck.

Y2JGQ2

“We’ll ignore that they won 98 games in 2015, and losing their division was just the bad luck of having the best team in baseball in the same division. We’ll also ignore that they tried to win the division the final series in 2014, which led to Edinson Volquez as the Wild Card game starter, and not Francisco Liriano or Gerrit Cole.” – Tim I think you are misunderstanding what fans mean and the overall point. I don’t think ANYONE thinks that the “team” isn’t trying to win the division, we are talking about the front office making the moves necessary to give us a good CHANCE of winning the division. We didn’t win 98 games due to our actual talent, and we didn’t come close to winning the division the year before by making aggressive moves either.

John W

This cracked me up Tim:

“if McCutchen is traded, along with Watson and Bastardo, that gives the Pirates $18 M to spend to get to $100 M. Last year they got Freese, Joyce, Rodriguez, Neftali Feliz, and Juan Nicasio for a combined $13.4 M. You could probably get four similar players for the bench and bullpen, plus a starter for the outfield until Austin Meadows is ready, ”

If we are going to use 2016 as a reference we should use projections on these players instead of actual results. IN aggregate it was probably projected for 2.5 WAR with the bulk of that coming from Freese(1.4 WAR projections) and Nicasio(.7 projection). Freese was a rather unique case in 2016. But I doubt 18M buys the Pirates 2.5 WAR in 2017, let alone the actual production those guys had in 2016.

NMR

By the way, kudos to Tim for spending time in the comments with us. Merry Christmas!

PikeBishop65

Thank you Tim and I was just wondering, is it difficult with remembering the time difference from your new home in Australia? 😉

michael t

Agreed. There is a perception and a new excitement in this town across all media that the two FA signings signal that the organization wants to contend this year AND that some other moves that could help are in the works.

Hank

I really don’t think any long term fans have changed their thoughts at this point. Forcing a $100m payroll on any team is a disadvantage which is almost impossible to overcome….

michael t

I assure you without rattling off the dates and teams I am a long term fan. There is excitement over the two signings and the rumors.
If you read my other posts I despise the concept of a self imposed $100M payroll that mandates trades that detract from the team.
This owner has made a killing on the purchase of this team…his net worth has gone up $800M.

Darrell Jones

I live in Chicago. There are rumblings from local Sox people that there is a 3-team thing brewing between the Bucs, Sox, and Yankees. Cutch would be going to NY. No idea if there is any truth to this stuff though.

Darrell Jones

I guess it might make sense if the Yankees were supplying the prospects.

Darrell Jones

I’m not even sure what the Pirates would be getting in return.

Darrell Jones

besides Quintana, that is.

mbrannagan

Who knows what will end up, but I hope that if they are going all in to contend this year they keep Cutch. It is a huge risk, but IF he bounces back and they’ve improved their rotation then they can really compete.

My hope is that they can deal watson and harrison, getting something the Sox might like, build from Glasnow, hopefully keep Bell in the fold and make a nice package.

Hank

Freese stunk the last half of the season, so I think counting on him as a starter is a mistake. There is also the chance that Glasnow becomes a better starter than Quintana quickly, making the deal look stupid. Glasnow has yet to get hit in his pro career, and a gradual improvement in command for this young man could make him a top flight starter soon. And Bell is young power hitter with awesome strike zone awareness. Giving up both those guys is too much for me.

Hank

I don’t either, but he still has the stuff to make this a possibility. I am just a big fan of “stuff”, as a young pitcher can always improve command and his knowledge of the game, but his God given talent is not going to get better.

NMR

I think trading Cutch for the “financial flexibility” to sign bench players and middle relievers would be the absolute epitome of cutting off your nose in spite of your face.

These are the *exact* type of role players smart teams *don’t* spend eighteen million dollars acquiring. The bullpen could be filled with AJ Schugel, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, Dovydas Neverauskus, or Edgar Santana. The bench could be filled with a free agent outfielder for little money, or a minor trade.

They can build a true Division contender, but they’ll only be able to do that by taking two steps forward without taking one back. Trade Cutch next winter if you don’t want to let him walk for nothing, but for the love of all that’s holy in baseball, have the guts to take one last shot at winning with him. He deserves that, and so do the fans.

leowalter

“He deserves that, and so do the fans.” Good one ! So did the fans in Toronto.

Hank

Can we just say how stupid it is for a MLB team to try to win consistently with a $100m payroll? MLB owes more to its fans to allow this nonsense to continue.

NMR

Not sure I see the point in using Opening Day payroll.

In terms of actual, league-verified final payroll, the only two non-rebuilding teams to spend less than the Pirates are Tampa and Oakland.

Hank

I think Nutting owes us an explanation on his management philosophy from the financial angle, We have heard NH talk about his payroll limitations, but we don’t know what is behind this limitation. Does Nutting budget profit at break even, or does he need to make $20m a year? The Pirates don’t survive without us fans and the people of Pittsburgh providing support and the stadium. Nutting doesn’t have to show us his financials, just let us understand the method and madness behind that payroll figure.

NMR

Young starter? Where? Which current starter is being improved upon?

I mean, you at least disqualified your plan by saying it’s essentially fantasy baseball. So there’s that.

Hank

I don’t trust NH to get all the moving parts done correctly. He lost my trust with some of the dumb moves he made last year. I also don’t want to trade Cutch right now when his value is low. His value could be much much higher come June

John W

Remember when he traded Morton for Whitehead and then used that money to upgrade… oh wait.

NMR

I don’t trust *any* General Manager to get all the moving parts correctly.

Baseball is too damn hard. Last year was only the latest example.

rich

I agree with this plan of attack “if” they are locked into a budget – which is a very reasonable and logical conclusion. But from my perspective, this could very well be that moment where they have an opportunity to win – even more so than 2015 season when Burnett retired, Walker and Alvarez were becoming too expensive, and we were losing a bunch of free agents.

It’s not my money but if they are consistently making 8-figure profits (which is their right), they certainly could suck it up this year and go $10 million over budget. Note they woulddn’t lose money just not gain any. They could even have their revenues increase by increased fan attendance and “playoff” money

Hank

You mean run the team like the Nationals, who put winning ahead of short term profits? Teams who care about short term profits to the degree that the Pirates do either have money issues, or simply have no vision.

leowalter

Yeah, the Nationals have won the WS a couple of times now in the past 3-4 seasons. Those big predictions with little payoff must get tiresome.

Hank

The ownership though has given the GM basically free rein to try to win…unlike our situation where Nutting gives NH a $100m budget

NMR

Your comment does not refute Rich’s point.

rich

Tim … Agreed from the fans’ perspective but Watson, Jaso, Nicasio, and Bastardo would be gone in 2018 (~$18 mil), and they could trade Cutch ($13 mil). That pushes down to $79 mil before Arb and contracts escalations. With the starters set (rotation, Meadows, Freese, Newman/Mercer), they should have enough to replenish any holes on the bench and pen and lower payroll down to $100 again.

bucsws2014

Which they could do if they a) won – thereby filling more seats, and b) upped ticket prices – they’re currently 3rd or 4th cheapest, they have plenty of room before they enter middle tier of mlb tix pricing. They can continue dynamic pricing and cash in on weekends/Cubs/Cards/interleague.

GreenWeenie

So? Fans have been calling for ownership to spend more every year. They do what they want regardless.

michael t

nonsense…….They have a window of control and cost on bounceback candidate McCutchen, and we don’t know what their operating income or net profits are. I contend that this team can keep McCutchen, move one of the excess lefties, deal for Quintana, AND make a profit in 2017. A contender contributes to increased revenue in all areas.
That last paragraph comes off like a rant…not a response.

NMR

Rich’s numbers are no less unproven than your own, Tim. That’s fact.

EWS34

All I want for Christmas is to talk about baseball without mentioning $. 🙂

bucsws2014

How much do we believe in Nick Kingham? Because if we believe he can be a solid #3 /4 going forward, and we’ve still got Cole/Taillon/Nova/Kuhl for another 2 years, then are there other options besides Quintana out there – even if it’s a one-year guy to bridge to Kingham and the possibility that Glasnow learns how to pitch?

I’ve mentioned Danny Duffy here a couple of times. I really think Bucs should explore that option as it’ll cost far less that 2-3 top 5 prospects and give Bucs rotation the arm that would satisfy fans who’ve been complaining Nutting won’t go all in. With a Cole/Taillon/Duffy/Nova/Kuhl rotation, adding Kingham in June/July, that rotation could surpass the Cards and challenge the Cubs.

And if for some reason they’re still falling short come the trade deadline due to offensive underperforance, they can flip Duffy to a contender and get back at least what they got for Melancon. Meantime, they keep Cutch, probably Watson and Bell, and Meadows and Keller. They might lose Glasnow or Hanson or Tucker or Hayes or similar to get Duffy, but I think it’s worth the risk to make a run.

jimmyz

I suggest this as an alternative to trading cutch as a fait accompli to being able to acquire quintana. Why not trade Harrison (7.5 MM salary) and Watson (~6MM arb estimate) to LA who has a major need at second and could slot Watson in front of Jansen. The money between Harrison and Watson is very close to Cutch’s salary. Theres Hansen and Frazier to have an open competition for second in spring training to earn the job. And it seems highly likely Watson is getting traded at some point anyway with the Hudson signing and currently having five lefties in the pen.

EWS34

Why would the Dodgers want Harrison? The Dodgers need a middle of the line up bat who hits RH and fills a position of need. They are going after Dozier who hit 40+ HRs last year. He would hit between Gonzalez and Seager. Harrison is not hitting in the middle of a line up.

John W

Tim do you no longer sell the Prospect Guide in PDF format? Thanks.

Tom Brenholts

IDK, I don’t see why you would have to move McCutchen. I’m one of the fans who thinks he will rebound to close to his best offensive years, I’d rather have those years plus the guys we would have given up instead of Quintana. Keep McCutchen, keep Bell, keep Watson, keep Glasnow. IMO the lineup Tim presents and this lineup are at least a push:

C – Francisco Cervelli

1B – Josh Bell

2B – Josh Harrison

SS – Jordy Mercer

3B – Jung Ho Kang

LF – Gregory Polanco

CF – Starling Marte

RF – Andrew McCutchen

Bench – Chris Stewart, Adam Frazier, Jaso, Alen Hanson, David Freese, (Austin Meadows later)

Rotation – Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, (any one of Glasnow, Hutchinson, Brault, maybe Kingham later)

Bullpen – Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Tony Watson, Free Agent, Jared Hughes, Wade LeBlanc or Tyler Webb

leowalter

A self quote : “Roll the dice” with McCutchen, and if he plays like he did through a good part of the 2015 and ’16 seasons, or is injured then what is he worth ? I can tell you : Zero.”

Tom Brenholts

Oh, I’m just playing with the house money. Because I feel Cutch will be good again doesn’t mean squat, I know.

James

I think Cutch will be good next year. They need to put him back in the 3rd spot and leave him there, and stop dicking around with dreamy line-up theories. Protect him with Polanco in the clean-up spot. Put J-hay back in the lead-off spot. Forget about Jaso leading off & Cutch hitting 2nd – that was ridiculous.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

This team, if they trade Bell and Glasnow in the process, are not a Quintana away from winning the division. The infield defense is still sub par, the catchers can’t throw anyone out, Freese/Jaso is not a winning first base platoon, and the bullpen is a huge uncertainty.

leowalter

Thanks for more ridiculous comments here at Christmas time.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

None of their infielders have plus range or are plus defenders….at best, they are average. Kang and Jaso are below average…and Jaso may not be any better than Bell defensively, while he’s a huge down grade offensively. Mercer and Harrison are average defensively. Assuming they dump Watson as you suggest, suddenly the bullpen has potential but lacks certainty. In my opinion, Cole is a big question mark..will he be the 2015 version? Quintano doesn’t make this team better or even equal to the Cubs. Their best hope is trust their prospects, like the Cubs do, and hope they perform as projected.

Sports70

I don’t understand the seemingly extreme willingness to part with Bell, a guy the Pirates paid $5 million dollars to before ever playing a game as a professional, and a prospect who was untouchable in trade talks as recently as 5 months ago. Looking at the potential infield lineup listed above makes me cringe:

C – Cervelli is still injury prone and is a light-hitting catcher

1B – Having to rely on a platoon of Freese (who really struggled in the second half) and Jaso should not be viewed as ideal

2B – Harrison should be a super-utility player again, not viewed as a “value-priced” starter

3B – Will Kang ever be the same player he was as a rookie/stay healthy?

SS – Mercer seems to regress offensively a little bit each year

Bell has legit .300/30/100 potential as a guy who walks more than he strikes out and, defensive value not withstanding, has the great Pirate desire of “positional flexibility” to play first base and RF. The Pirates’ and some fans’ obsession with giving away power recently and being okay with it – some justified like Alvarez, some questionable like Walker and McCutchen, some puzzling like Bell – is just mind boggling. The Pirates can have a great OBP all they want, but if they don’t have guys who can hit with RISP or put balls over the wall for some instant offense, it won’t matter.

leowalter

Bell doesn’t “play” 1st base or RF. He is positioned there. Big difference.

piraddict

He can improve Leo. He is a kid.

Sports70

So, you want to make a joke about Bell’s defense to avoid a legitimate point, that’s fine.

rich

Kang was the same player last year that he was as a rookie:
2015 – .287/.355/.467
2016 – .254/.354/.513

Sports70

The average and health is what scare me…a .290 average with 20-25 HR potential over 162 games is significantly different from a .260 average with 15-20 HR potential over 120 games due to injuries and other factors…I still think he’ll be a good player, but still a bit skeptical that things will be completely fine

Silkychubs

Tim, in these payroll numbers are you saying they can’t stay at $106 mil, as them keeping the standard $8-10 for in sesson moves? If they can make a move of this magnitude should they even worry about in season moves? I guess my thought is they won’t get a guy better mid season so just spend the money now and hope you have all the pieces you need and won’t have to make mid season moves.

This is just based on numbers above. I think moving Cutch for pieces that could help now & later would be a smart idea, or moving guys like Bastardo/Watson. Just basing my question based on this money in a vacuum and nothing changing in this scenario.

Silkychubs

I get that, but if they can get Quintana now I feel that they should do that. Hope you have internal pieces for in season moves. They haven’t gotten a guy like Quintana in the offseason either.

Dan Berty

Great stuff Tim, couple questions:

Regarding the payroll, budgetarily, shouldn’t the Bucs expect a natural revenue increase for 2017? I would expect the Revenue Sharing & Root Sports contract to naturally increase, although not by a huge %, maybe 2-3%, but still millions of dollars. When you’re using the ~$100 M benchmark for the MLB team, & not projecting an increase in payroll expenditure, is this because you’re expecting the additional revenues being used on the 17′ Draft & International signings due to the higher picks & additional International pool in 2017?

I’ve always enjoyed your writing skills, and IMO it seems like you’re even getting better & more efficient, do you you have any plans to write any nonbaseball related books/scripts?

Dan Berty

I checked with someone who’s reviewed the Root contract, & you’re correct that it will remain the same as last year, & will stay the same until expiration. There was a big one time step up in 14′ or 15′. I would’ve expected a gradual step up each year for cost of living, inflation, etc. as well as an incentive clause for viewership.

Side topic, but when millions of dollars are involved, I don’t understand why tv ratings are sampled & projected rather than fully quantified – it’s all electronic.

Looking forward to hearing about the side project – I’m guessing that it’s either a new comic book with a journalist as the hero or a beer review website 😉

Michael Zylinski

If they dealt for Jose that would put their payroll at just under 110 million if they kept all that they currently have. Which should be not a problem, however it limits being able to add bench pieces also limits mid season acquisitions. If they move Watson that saves roughly 6m if they move Bastardo we aren’t sure how much but let’s say 4m. Either one of those deals or both puts them closer to that 100m payroll target both gets them their. But if management is indeed going for it then going 10% over budget isn’t something to fret over and might finally quiet the Nutting is Cheap town cryers

Darrell Jones

Seems interest (from other teams) has cooled on McCutchen. I can’t see the Mets giving up Matz or Conforto in a deal for Cutch. The only potential trade partner left might be the Dodgers.

John W

Tim if you are saying that Glasnow is probably unlikely to provide 4 years of #3 starter or better for the Pirates that sounds like you have changed your opinion quite a bit since last year.

Not talking about his ceiling but his risk which you defined as recently as last year as “low-strong chance of reaching ceiling”

John W

I agree with you. I’ve been rather skeptical on Glasnow for awhile now. I just think he has a much lower chance of reaching his ceiling than conventional wisdom seems to believe.

jimmyz

What did Glasnow do to improve his outlook this past year? Everybody who got on base ran on him and he still doesn’t have a changeup.

John W

Nothing. That is basically my point. Most BA analysts had him rated as the 13th to 17th best prospect in MLB going into last year and I have to assume he drops from that level. I also think some people may be overestimating his trade value and not incorporating this probable drop in ranking into his trade value.

Bill W

I would guess something like Bell, Glasnow, and you bring in a third team to trade Cutch to, and send Cutch’s return to the Sox for Quintana. Overpay, but then you have to overpay here. I would prefer not to trade Bell in that scenario, though.

Todd B

I just do not understand the thinking when people talk about trading bell. Is his defense bad, well yes. But his bat will be the best first base bat the Pirates have seen since Stargell and he will be in the uniform for 6 years. There isn’t anyone in the minors that can fill his spot in the lineup and Freese is not the answer. How will this team win games if they can’t drive in any runs?
Help me understand losing an everyday bat for 6 years for a pitcher who throws every 5 days for 4 years…plus the other huge pieces we’d give up.

leowalter

Pitching and defense wins games…lots of them. See Cubs, Chicago.

jimmyz

First, he’d be an everyday bat for 7 innings until taking him out for a defensive sub to close out games. Second, its much easier to win games by run prevention than run production, hence getting a very good pitcher and focusing on d is generally a better winning formula than trying to out-score everybody.

leefoo

If Nutting has to go $5 or $10 million over his precious budget for a couple of years, so be it!

Keep Cutch. Trade Bastardo (and Watson, if we get a good return).

We have a bench of:
C- Stewart/Diaz
IF/OF – Hanson/Frazier
1b/OF – Jaso
3b/1b – Freese

And don’t forget about Rogers or Ngoepe.

I think we’ll be fine on the bench.

As for the bullpen, it is time to see what some of these minor league SPs can do in the pen.

Scott K

There’s certainly a lot of uncertainty about the Pirates these days, but one of them shouldn’t be Nutting’s business philosophy. No way do I believe for a second Nutting will put the cart before the horse and spend above payroll budget in hopes to win more games.

leowalter

Nor do I think the minority owners would permit it Scott. Something most of these other people never seem to think about.

GreenWeenie

Which part? Not trading Cutch? Using minor league players in the pen? I’m all for keeping Cutch at least up until the trade deadline. This organization was burned last year banking on pitching prospects to be ready. Would hate to see history repeat itself. Meadows could suffer an injury or maybe he will need more reps in AAA.

michael t

How can you jump to that conclusion without full disclosure of the entire budget, including gross and net revenues and operating expenses. The Pittsburgh Pirates disclose none of that….only actual payroll as required by MLB. People throw around the term “budget” when they are only talking about a target payroll expense.

brilemon

Quintana and Abreau for glasnow, bell, meadows? Trade cutch in another trade for CF prospect (would’ve been great the get Robles)- one can dream

jimmyz

Abreu is expensive, bad defensively and starting to age. Might as well just keep the younger, cheaper version in josh bell.

Scott K

You had me walking side by side with you Tim, and then you tried to sell me on the Pirates being better without Cutch.

If the Pirates want to compete with Cubs and Cards for division title in 2017, they will need their best players playing at the top of their game. And the player on the Pirates with the most talent is clearly Andrew McCutchen!

They can absolutely trade for Quintana and keep Cutch, too. And if they can get the White Sox to make a deal for Glasnow + Bell + lesser prospect(s), than they should absolutely do it!

Scott Kliesen

The way you mapped it out makes sense on paper. Probably does to Pirates brass, too.

leefoo

Scott K….I was with you until he suggested “Salary dumping” Cutch, too.

RAS TN

You got it…..The Pirates do not compete with Cubs for division title without a McCutchen playing closer to his 2013-2015 form, and trading him to provide monies to improve the bench is well not smart…

Scott K

Tim, the primary reasons the Cubs enjoyed success last year was not their bench and bullpen. They rode a great rotation and their best hitters (Bryant/Rizzo) to the title. Pirates can try to duplicate that formula by trading for Quintana, keeping Cutch, and trading away Watson + Bastardo to clear necessary payroll.

Kett

Great stuff as always, Tim. I think I agree with just about everything, but perhaps a single trade of Cutch for Matz and Conforno simplifies the moving parts. I do think Quintana would be a bigger splash though. What I really like about your scenario is that it gets the pirates back to what made them really good before last year: pitching and defense. The cheaper way to build similar value is by getting guys who are solid all around players without much flash in any single area instead of sluggers who don’t play defense. The pitching and defense method also has the added advantage of creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is how this team can compete with Chicago and St Louis.

Joe S

Merry Christmas to all my PP Friends!! May the Lord Bless You and Yours Greatly!!

Scott K

Merry Christmas to you and yours, too, Joe!

David Rosenberg

How is that lineup better than the White Sox of last year who had a pitching staff with Sale, Quintana, Robertson and some other useful pieces? Without Cutch and Bell, and with a unproven bullpen I then it’s not a playoff team. So the reality is that they can’t compete because they are too cheap to expand the budget too $120 or 130m and really go for it. With an expanded budget they trade Glasnow, Craig and another lower minors higher end prospect. Then have lineup with Cutch and Bell and a bench with Freese and Jaso, a bullpen with Watson or Bastardo and a more established righty, and a rotation that is solid. That is how you “go for it”. Not by having a bottom 5 budget and shuffling pieces.

David Rosenberg

Missed that one. Didn’t the Royals run at 130 for their WS win?

Scott K

The Pirates aren’t going to run a deficit, which is what you are suggesting they do. Many teams, including Pirates, have shown it is not necessary to spend in the top half of MLB teams on payroll to be a championship contender.

NorCal Buc

I can’t help but realize the Chi-Sox FO sees the lack of defense w/Bell and the uncertainty of Glasnow as a #1 . And I do not see Bell’s value as a DH in return for a staff ace, like we’re talking about here.

So, the only players I see ’near can’t miss potential’ are Meadows, Newman and Keller.

I would not trade any of them.

leowalter

Keller has made one start at A+

wtm1613

Lots of uncertainty surrounding Giolito (overrated) and Lopez (likely bullpen piece), but CWS just traded 5 years of Adam for those 2 (plus Dunning).

NorCal Buc

Andrew McCutchen had a very good last two months of 2016, did he not? That is the player I expect in 2017.

Then, were Austin Meadows ready for a June call-up, he begins to settle in as a fourth outfielder. Should he appear ready for a full time OF spot, the FO could take offers for McCutchen up to the trading deadline.

Were this to play out, and this is a logical scenario, then the Bucs are in a much stronger position for 1) playing 2017 with a tremendous OF, and 2) strengthening the value of Andrew for a potential trade next off-season

leowalter

To quote myself in an earlier reply : “Roll the dice” with McCutchen, and if he plays like he did through a good part of the 2015 and ’16 seasons, or is injured, then what is he worth ? I can tell you : Zero.”

Bobby L

Playing the devil’s advocate but there are so many fans who insist that McCutchen bounced back in the last months of the season. Just asking, but if he had started with a solid 2 months and then slumped for 2/3 of the season would people be so adamant about forecasting a 4-5 WAR?

beaverjp

That’s only at the plate, he gives up 1-2 in the outfield.

andrew.oneill88

Great analysis Tim, you convinced me that we can part with Bell in a trade for Quintana and I think we need to hold onto Keller and Meadows to fill holes down the stretch. Gladnow is a given to make this trade possible. It certainly would be a Pirates offseason for the ages!

SSGJD9595

That is a great break down, I would add that they should not trade Cutch now. I would bet on him bouncing back. Might not be .300/25/90 but .280/25/80 is very realistic

Biagio

Leave it to the Italians to clean up Germany’s mess!!

BallHeadWonder

You absolutely have to make this trade!! I completely agree Tim!! We are right here at the door and we have goods to get a proven 200 innings pitcher!! He is in his prime now where he would be our Number 1 RIGHT NOW!! A package of Glassnow, Bell and I would give them Clay Holmes!! That is MORE THAN FAIR VALUE!! Trade Bastardo and keep Tony. Warm that bullpen spot up for Edgar Santana. We have more than enough bullpen help!! I believe McCutchen will see his value moving from CF and see we would have a REAL SHOT AT THE WS!! Bring Meadows up in June/July and trust me, there will be a team out there that will give us the moon at the trade deadline for McCutchen!! Especially if he has bounced back!! Then it would be a decision to trade Cutch if we were doing well or not!!

Scott K

You’re suggesting they make the deal to acquire Quintana to compete for division and/or WS title, but then trade Cutch at deadline if he’s doing well? Something doesn’t add up.

The decision to trade Cutch in this scenario would occur next off-season.

jimmyz

If the bucs get quintana absolutely wait til next offseason to trade cutch in my opinion.

Jeff

Why can’t they expand the payroll a season or 2……
Don’t worry about Nutting maybe breaking even a few years….

Scott K

Spoken like a man who has never owned/operated a business.

How about your neighbors suggesting you go spend 5k for a couple years on Christmas lights so they can enjoy looking at your house as they drive by this time of year. You ok with that, too?

Bill W

Why do all your scenarios reflect a trade of Andrew McCutchen? The guy can flat out play. The goal is to win a World Series not to replenish the farm system with every trade made. What is wrong with having a $110 to $115 payroll? Granted you could trade a reliever but why would you jettison Cutch for payroll relief or a few prospects? Adding Nova helps and adding Jose Q assures that we can compete with the Cubs but keep Andrew McCutchen!

Bill W

I understand but the farm system at times get overplayed in terms of what the goal should be.

Jeff

Agree

Dave

When talking about the play off package, the play in game was one of the tickets the pirates made you buy. It was only the one year, but I have a play in game ticket amung my tickets

Arik Florimonte

Pretty good, but I’d have to see the math to explain why you think they could be better without McCutchen. You could reasonably expect a 4-win player this year, and those aren’t easy to come by. The same teams that might trade for him can get those same discounts on those OF free agents.

Once you get to 102.6M in the above scenario, all that’s really missing is a bench OF and maybe another righty for the pen (although I don’t think having 5 lefties is a problem since 3 of them can get righties out reliabily too. You’ve got guys like Williams, Brault, Kingham, Sadler, Duncan who could fill a spot in the pen. If you deal Watson or Bastardo to get back under $100M (assuming that a team that’s going for it won’t go to $105), you just have to find a 4th OF.

GreenWeenie

If they get Quintana, I’d keep Cutch for now, trade Watson and Bastardo, round out the bench and bullpen via free agents. the argument against this is the higher payroll and the fact that Meadows is waiting in AAA. However, Meadows like our young pitching prospects from last year, is no guarantee. The Pirates have shown a willingness to add payroll at the trade deadline. Why not do the sort of the opposite this season? Start the season with a a payroll that is a bit higher. If the team is not contending or if Meadows is ready, trade Cutch at the deadline. Keeping Cutch would send a message to the average fan outside of this website, that the bucs are trying to win…. may sell more season tickets.

beaverjp

If Cutch has any value at the deadline and Quintana is on the roster there’s slim chance they’re not contending.

ron j

How would this look trade cutch for matz and confardo and trade confrdo to the Sox and more for Jose

beaverjp

Matz and Conforto sounds a little much 1 of those guys straight and some sort of prospect would be huge progress

opieterp

We’ve seen Bell hit the ball with power to both fields. Would much prefer a Glasnow, Meadows package, or pray there is a third team involved like the Mets. The first thing I thought about when I saw the “trying hard” verbiage from Olney; was maybe the pirates are trying to bring in a third team. Can’t help but wonder If it’s someone like Toronto.

Tim: What if we tossed Glasnow to ChiSox and Mccutchen to Toronto, receive Quintana, and just send the prospect value from Toronto for mccutchen to the ChiSox along with Glasnow. Of course, the ChiSox would need to want the prospects from Toronto, which is a difficult and seemingly long process to work out. But couldn’t that potential framework be interesting?

taylor26554

I think the more logical 3rd team would be LA. With the Pirates sending Cutch, Glasgow and Frazier to LA, LA would send Glasnow, DeLeon and a couple more prospects to the White Sox and we would get Quintana and another player. We then would have to trade Watson or Bastardo for the bench.

NC_Bob

You misspelled Harrison as Frazier

leowalter

I see what you did there Bob. I don’t blame you either.

Darrell Jones

Hahahaha

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