I hope everyone had a safe and Happy New Year! I’m finding that the older you get, the less eventful it becomes. Last year, I was out drinking until 3 AM. This year my brother was in town, so we went out for sushi at 8, played some Mario Kart 64 until 11, and then struggled to stay up past midnight, calling it a night shortly after the ball dropped.
I guess you could say the night was kind of like the offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates so far. It hasn’t been overly exciting, but so far they’ve achieved their biggest goals. Those goals were adding to their rotation and bullpen, as opposed to eating a lot of sushi and playing a lot of video games. But in this case, the New Year rolled around, and it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to just go to bed, waking up when Spring Training rolls around.
The offseason has been pretty slow across baseball, so the Pirates aren’t alone in their approach of making a few moves, but still having a lot left to do after the New Year. I could see them making a few more moves, whether it be small trades and depth additions, or possibly some big moves that make this offseason seem very exciting.
With the calendar flipping over to January, let’s take a look at what we can expect from the Pirates as far as future moves over the next two months.
We’ll start here, because this is where the biggest move could possibly happen. I wrote last week about how the Pirates needed at least one starter heading into the offseason. They added that starter in Ivan Nova. It would be great if they added a second starter, and it would be even better if that starter was Jose Quintana. But if they don’t make that move, they still have the makings of a good rotation, just with different types of question marks at every spot.
If they did add another starter, whether it was a trade for Quintana or another move, you could probably expect a chain reaction where they made some moves in other areas to balance the payroll.
I’m not entirely sure that the Pirates will add another starting pitcher, but I think it’s a guarantee that they will make some moves in the bullpen. I’ve written before that the first place to look will be the left-handed relief group. Currently, there are five lefty relievers who need to be in the majors. They could probably outright Wade LeBlanc to Indianapolis and keep him as depth. They also don’t necessarily have to keep Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb, although it would have just been a waste of $50,000 to draft him if they didn’t intend to make room for him. Felipe Rivero has his spot locked down due to his performance last year, and the fact that he’s a big part of the long-term bullpen plans.
That leaves Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo, with rumors that the Pirates have been shopping both this offseason. I’d say Bastardo has the best chance of being moved. The Pirates added him last year in a trade with the Mets. They sent Jon Niese the other way, saving about $3.6 M in his future salary. They took on Bastardo’s remaining $1.8 M in 2016, plus his $6.5 M in 2017, with the Mets sending an undisclosed amount of cash in the deal.
Without knowing the details on the cash received, the Pirates could pay $1.8 M to another team and still break even on the deal, essentially just eating the salary they would have owed Niese. When you add in the money received, they might end up ahead in the deal. And you could make an argument that they’d be better off using Bastardo’s money elsewhere on the team, since they have so many left-handed options who can provide similar value to Bastardo.
The big question is whether they would trade Watson. I think they could get a nice return, similar to the return they saw last year with Mark Melancon. That trade saw them land Rivero for 5+ years, plus lefty pitching prospect Taylor Hearn. If they did trade Watson, they would probably need an additional reliever to pair with Daniel Hudson, Rivero, and Juan Nicasio in the late innings.
The lineup is pretty much set. The Pirates did try to bring back Sean Rodriguez with the hope of trading Josh Harrison and using Rodriguez as the replacement at second base. But with no replacement options (Adam Frazier and Alen Hanson don’t look to be options to start right now), I don’t see Harrison moving anywhere.
There are some potential moves that could take place if some trades go down. The obvious one would be Andrew McCutchen being moved. Teams are still asking about him, although nothing has come as close as the rumored talks with the Washington Nationals. If the Pirates traded McCutchen, they would need a stopgap outfielder until Austin Meadows was ready to arrive this summer. Fortunately, this seems to be a really good year to need a one-year outfielder, since there are still a lot of good options on the market, which could lead to some nice one-year values.
The only other player I could see moving would be Josh Bell, and only if he would be required in a deal for someone like Jose Quintana. But I think the Pirates would have their replacements ready in David Freese and John Jaso.
I should also mention Jung Ho Kang, since I know it’s inevitable that someone will ask about his legal issues. In this case, I’d rather just wait and see what happens, and react to actual news when/if it comes out, rather than speculating on scenarios that we don’t even know will happen.
The Pirates are always looking to add depth, and that approach worked well for them last year with David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, and Matt Joyce. With the way the market is shaping up, they could be in line to find more value this year. The bench currently has Frazier, Jaso, Freese, and Chris Stewart in the backup catcher’s spot. Alen Hanson has the inside track for the final spot, considering he’s out of options.
For that reason, any bench additions will probably be of the Matt Joyce variety, where the Pirates add a previously productive player as a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal. That said, if Freese moves into a starting role for some reason, I could see the Pirates going the Freese/Rodriguez route and adding a guy on a guaranteed MLB contract. Either way, I see the Pirates adding to their bench. I just think the level of addition depends on what they do in other areas, specifically the starting pitching market.
Site Update: I won’t be posting any “First Pitch” articles this week, unless a major move happens. I’m moving this week, while also working to complete the Prospect Guide. We will also have daily articles, and full coverage on any news that comes out. Mini-camp starts a week from today, so I need to take a bit of a break so I can work on those other two things before next week’s coverage.