It seemed like the Pirates spent most of the winter meetings stuck in limbo, waiting to see how the Andrew McCutchen situation would play out. According to reports, they thought they were close to a deal with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. That all changed when the Nationals moved on to Adam Eaton on Wednesday. Following that trade, Neal Huntington said they were planning on keeping McCutchen, and wouldn’t be pursuing a trade, although he did leave the door open for other teams to make a deal if they met the Pirates’ price.
The reaction to the McCutchen talks was typical. There was the emotional side of the argument, wanting to keep McCutchen and not wanting to part with him for any return. There was the business side, looking at the logic of how dealing McCutchen could help the Pirates in the short-term and long-term. There were the usual claims of the Pirates trying to dump salary, which is ridiculous, because if that was their intent, McCutchen would be gone right now.
Throughout the entire process, the Pirates insisted that they weren’t shopping McCutchen, but instead listening to offers. They weren’t planning on moving McCutchen unless the right deal came along. And nothing has really shown that to be incorrect, whether it’s from the fact that they didn’t end up settling for a deal, to reports that have come out since the deal. For example, take this tweet from Buster Olney, getting feedback from rival executives.
Huntington's comments about holding McCutchen for PIT echo what rival execs say: PIT's trade talks are exploring value, and not dumping him.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 8, 2016
The Pirates were looking for value. They couldn’t find it. And now we wait for their next move, which is figuring out how to contend in 2017 with McCutchen on the roster.
But while everyone was focusing on the McCutchen situation, there was another situation brewing on another part of the roster. The Pirates kept adding left-handed relievers, and in a market where relief pitching is extremely valuable, they have set themselves up well to deal from their depth, which could allow them to boost their MLB club.
It started at the end of last week, when they extended Wade LeBlanc on a pre-arb deal. This came despite the fact that they already had Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo, and Felipe Rivero on the roster. There was no place to play LeBlanc, and yet they gave him $800,000 guaranteed. Granted, this amount could essentially buy another option for him, allowing the Pirates to outright him to Triple-A next year without another team claiming him, and without LeBlanc turning down the offer. So it didn’t necessarily mean they were preparing for a trade.
Then the Rule 5 draft came along, and the Pirates selected their first player in five years. The pick? Tyler Webb, a left-handed reliever who pitched the 2016 season in Triple-A. Under the terms of the Rule 5 draft, Webb has to be on the major league roster all season in 2017, or be offered back to the Yankees for half of the $100,000 that the Pirates paid to draft him. Granted, the Pirates could try to work out a deal, making sure they can keep Webb in Triple-A. But that’s not a guarantee.
You can make an argument that the Pirates could try to keep all four lefties after the LeBlanc move by just moving LeBlanc to the minors. But with the addition of Webb, they’d need four lefties in the MLB bullpen. I just don’t see that happening.
We’ve already heard rumors that teams are asking about Tony Watson, and that the Pirates are willing to eat some of Antonio Bastardo’s salary to move him. It seemed likely that they would make a trade from their bullpen at some point. Now, it feels like a guarantee, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they deal more than one reliever.
This is different than the McCutchen situation. There have been rumors that the Pirates have been looking at the free agent outfield market, but nothing serious, and it seemed that was only in the event of a McCutchen trade. In this case, they’ve actually added a player, and retained another. They’re being proactive here, and getting to the point where they’re going to have to make a move to fit everyone on the roster.
So now we wait for the other shoe to drop. We wait to see how they move on from the McCutchen talks, and how they plan to add to the team to make a run in 2017. And we wait for the other shoe to drop for the left-handed relief situation. Considering that the relief pitching market is a big seller’s market right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if those two things will be connected going forward.
**Rule 5 Draft: Pirates Draft LHP Tyler Webb, Eric Wood Doesn’t Get Drafted. Here is the write-up of the Rule 5 draft, with details on Webb, and all of the guys the Pirates lost in the Triple-A phase.
**Slow news day, so I spent the afternoon adding Webb to the 2017 Prospect Guide, and continuing to work on the book. It will be released in mid-January, and is coming along well. You can pre-order your copy here, with discounts for Annual and Top Prospect subscribers. You can also use that link to purchase gift subscriptions for friends and family, if you’d like to share the site and help the site out at the same time.