The Pirates agreed to a three-year, $26 M deal with Ivan Nova today, filling their need for a starting pitcher. This comes one day after rumors that the Pirates were trying hard to trade for White Sox left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana. After the Nova signing, one question was whether this meant the Pirates were out on Quentin. Apparently, the answer is no.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 22, 2016
After confirming the Nova signing, Ken Rosenthal immediately reported that the Pirates were still going after Quintana. If the Pirates could pull that off, it would give them a great rotation, with Gerrit Cole, Jose Quintana, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and one of the starters from the young Indianapolis group (Chad Kuhl would be the likely leader). That would be a rotation that could contend during the season, and in any playoff series.
The current projected payroll, assuming that Nova’s deal is evenly split at $8.67 M per year, is $102.6 M. Quintana would add $6 M this year, and I’ve been working with the assumption all offseason that they’ve got a budget around $100 M. They could go over that a few million, like they did last year with the addition of David Freese (which put them starting a little north of $103 M). But adding Quintana would put them just below $109 M, and I’d think something else would have to give.
The easy solution there would be trading Antonio Bastardo and maybe Tony Watson as well. If you could unload both of those salaries, that would be $12.4 M off the books, leaving them around $97 M. But the Pirates would also need to boost their depth in the bullpen and on the bench, especially in the bullpen after trading Watson.
I honestly can’t see a trade happening for Quintana unless there’s also a trade of Andrew McCutchen. Buster Olney has written a few times (including this morning) that trading for Quintana would give the Pirates cover to deal McCutchen, since it would remove the “they’re not trying to win in 2017” line of thinking.
I would think that a McCutchen trade would be necessary for two reasons. One is that it would allow the Pirates to build up their depth across the board. The rotation and lineup would look good if they just acquired Quintana and made room for him by getting rid of the lefty relievers. But a few key injuries or poor performances from the offense or the bullpen makes this a team with a great rotation and problems elsewhere. We saw last year how depth really helped the Pirates overcome injuries and poor performance on offense, while a lack of depth killed them in the pitching department.
The other reason would be that this team could be affordable in 2017 with McCutchen, but I don’t see it being affordable beyond that point. The immediate depth is more important, but when factoring in future years, it might be best to deal McCutchen at a higher value, especially in a year where the free agent outfield market is so loaded. McCutchen would be more desired than the free agents, just because of who he is, and he might be an upgrade one-on-one versus most of the guys on the free agent list. But when you factor in the ability to add depth, plus the addition of a cheaper outfield, then the Pirates could end up with a lot more production in the aggregate, rather than just sticking with McCutchen alone.
Of course, all of this is jumping the gun a bit, since we don’t know if they would even be able to land Quintana. But if they do add him, I can’t see that being their only move.