Williams: The Pirates Probably Have to Subtract Before They Can Add This Offseason

I’ve equated the upcoming offseason for the Pirates to the 2012-2013 offseason for several reasons. One big reason is that the Pirates don’t seem to have a lot of money in their budget, and might have to get creative in order to add to the team.

I put their payroll at just under $100 M earlier this week. There have been calls for the Pirates to spend more. Some believe that Bob Nutting is holding the payroll down, and has the capability to spend more. Some believe that MLB’s structure prevents the team from spending more. I’m not going to get into that.

What I will do is look at the reality. The Pirates have gotten up around the $100 M mark, and their cap seems to be a bit over that figure. Their highest payroll was in 2016, when they ended the season with a $109 M payroll. That included some in-season spending, so I wouldn’t expect them to start a year with a $109 M payroll, especially following a season where attendance was the lowest since 2010.

Realistically, you shouldn’t expect the payroll budget to be much higher than $100 M. And since it is already near that mark, they will need to figure out a way to get creative to add to this team.

That’s where the 2012-13 comparisons come into play.

The Pirates had a limited budget that offseason. They still managed to upgrade the team, making three key moves when they added Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and Mark Melancon. They added Martin and didn’t have to dump much salary, only opting to non-tender Jeff Karstens. But when it came time to add Liriano, they traded Joel Hanrahan to dump his salary, getting Melancon in return.

They will have to make similar deals this offseason in order to contend next year. Those moves aren’t easy. The Pirates traded an expensive reliever away and got a better, younger, and cheaper reliever, while using the savings on a guy who was one of the best starters in baseball for a few years. That’s not a process that is easily replicated. However, it’s the most likely path they need to take in order to contend in 2018.

Fortunately, they have some options if they want to shed salary in an area. I’m going to go over the offensive options today, and I’ll take a look at the pitching staff later, since that has some different challenges.

Catcher

Francisco Cervelli is set to make $10.5 M in 2018. He has seen his normal injuries creep up the last two years, and has been worth about1-1.6 fWAR. The Pirates could keep Cervelli as their starter and get fair value for him, as the cost of one win on the open market is about $8-9 M, and he could probably be counted on for at least one win, even with the injuries.

The problem is that they need to find a lot of value with their payroll. The combination of Elias Diaz and Chris Stewart is not a strong option to start behind the plate. You’re talking about two backup catchers right now who will probably yield replacement level production. It’s probably the same situation with any catcher you could add on the open market or via trade, since that is a tough position to fill.

Since it is a tough position to fill, Cervelli could have enough trade value to at least dump his salary with a small return. And while the Pirates would be worse off behind the plate, they might be better off overall. They’d lose at least 1.0 WAR of production, but might be able to regain that and more by using the $10.5 M elsewhere.

Of course, they could also gamble that Cervelli stays healthy and puts up a season similar to 2015, while getting small savings by cutting Chris Stewart. And with Elias Diaz as a backup, they might be able to reduce Cervelli’s playing time a bit, in an attempt to keep him healthy the entire year.

Second Base

Josh Harrison will be making $10 M in 2018, while Sean Rodriguez will be making $5 M. Last offseason, the Pirates tried to sign Rodriguez, with the rumor that they would then flip Harrison and use Rodriguez as a starter. Instead, Rodriguez signed with Atlanta.

At the least, Harrison is worth his contract. He was worth 1.2 fWAR in 2015 and 1.4 in 2016. And he also has a strong chance to provide some surplus value. He was worth 2.6 fWAR this year, and while he’s probably never going to come close to those numbers again, he had a 5.0 fWAR in 2014. So he’s shown the floor of a guy who can put up over a 1.0 WAR — valued at $8-9 M a year — with some upside to go more than a win beyond that.

Rodriguez had his big breakout season in 2016, with a 1.8 fWAR. He’s been a mix of replacement level and productive in the past. I don’t put much stock in his numbers in 2017. He was expected to miss the entire season, but returned after limited rehab work and struggled at the end of the year. The struggles make sense if you assume he wasn’t ready to come back, and was still finding his timing upon his return. I think he’ll be better next year.

I don’t think Rodriguez can match Harrison’s upside, but I do think his ceiling can match Harrison’s floor of a 1.0 WAR player. Just like Cervelli, the Pirates might be better off going with the lesser option here, and using the savings elsewhere for a bigger return. Also like the catching situation, Harrison provides the most upside, so there could be a benefit to keeping him around, and hoping for another big season.

One key difference here is that the Pirates have a prospect who could show potential as a starter. Max Moroff shows strong defense at second base, and had an .816 OPS in 69 plate appearances from the middle of August through the end of the season. I wouldn’t trust him as the starter on Opening Day, but I think he’d provide a nice gamble as a backup splitting time with Rodriguez, and with the chance to take the starting job completely if he stays productive.

Shortstop

I’m including Jordy Mercer here because I have him projected at $6 M and that would make him the seventh highest paid player on the team. I don’t think it would make sense to deal Mercer, since shortstops are extremely difficult to come by. Unless the Pirates could get a young shortstop in a trade, they’re not going to find a guy who is as productive or better than Mercer, and for the same or less money.

Third Base

David Freese signed an extension last year, and part of that deal front-loaded his contract. As a result, he will make $4.25 M this year, which isn’t bad. The problem is that he isn’t an everyday option at third base. The Pirates also don’t have an internal young option who can split time with him.

They do have Josh Harrison capable of playing third, and Sean Rodriguez could split time with Freese. But I can’t see them keeping all three players. They could opt to deal Freese, move Harrison to third, and have Rodriguez and Moroff play second base. Or, third base could be an area they target for an upgrade with savings from another position. That could allow them to keep Freese as a bench player and occasional starter.

Outfield

Andrew McCutchen is going to be the key to this offseason. If the Pirates keep him for his final year, they will almost certainly have to beef up the 2018 team, as it would signal they are going for it. If they trade McCutchen, then things could go one of two ways. Either they will rebuild, leading to a lot of other trades (and removing the idea that they’ll dump salary in one area to add in another area), or they will try to do the quick reload and use McCutchen’s money to contend.

If they trade McCutchen, then I don’t think the second option would be a good one. They have been stuck in No-Man’s Land for the last two years, trying to toe the line between being contenders and reloading when they have a player close to free agency.

They could trade McCutchen and use his money to reload the team elsewhere. I just don’t think that is as easy as it sounds with other positions and players on this list. It’s one thing to discuss trading a $10 M player who is worth 1 WAR. It’s another thing to discuss a $14.75 M player who can put up a 3.7 WAR after struggling for several months. They’re less likely to replace McCutchen’s production with his money than they are to replace Harrison or Cervelli’s production with the money saved by trading those two.

As for the other outfielders, I feel the same argument can be made for Starling Marte, as I expect him to bounce back next year to something closer to his normal production. I also think Gregory Polanco’s $3.5 M is worth keeping him around as a gamble. Let’s not forget that he’s a year removed from a 2.4 WAR, and just turned 26 years old. He might not end up with the star upside that was predicted, but he could put up numbers that would be well worth the $3.5 M.

Columns

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    October 8, 2017 9:52 pm

    I do realize SRod had a tremendous year in 2016, but that was an aberration – given his age and his entire career numbers, there is nothing to suggest he will ever come remotely close to duplicating that. Yet, the Pirates traded for him and now are saddled with $5m for a mediocre veteran player – who would be hard pressed to make the roster of any team in the post season this year.

    This team would be well served to jettison as much salary as possible and go young in 2018 – they have a lot of players at AA and AAA level who they need to determine if they have any future in Pittsburgh or not. Get rid of Stewart, Jaso, SRod – cut them outright. Guys like Cervelli, Nova, and Freese may have some trade value, get what you can for them. We’re stuck with Hudson. No one will want him – just hope he doesn’t cost the team a bunch of games again like he did in 2017.

    They may just need to bottom out and rebuild – because I don’t see a team anywhere close to contending – not in the NL Central.

  • Is there any chance that the Pirates hardly make any moves this offseason? To me, as far as the position players go, the best route would be to part ways with Jaso and Stewart. I think Frazier can handle the left-handed bat off the bench role that Jaso occupied and the super-utility role, giving everyone a spell. To me, the ideal situation would be keep Marte, McCutchen and Polanco in the outfield. Move Harrison to 3B with Freese becoming a bench guy spelling both Harrison at 3B and Bell at 1B. That is unless by some miracle, Kang comes back to the Pirates. From there I think you start Rodriguez at 2B with Moroff as the backup at both 2B and SS. Both Mercer and Bell remain at SS and 1B respectively. They could take the money they saved with Kang missing this past season and potentially the upcoming 2018 season and apply it to upgrade elsewhere, presumably at 3B and leaving Harrison at 2B. But then that makes the Rodriguez acquisition look like a bad move for the Pirates. Diaz becomes the backup to Cervelli with Stallings becoming depth in the minors. If the Pirates decide to go with a fourth guy off the bench, that could be Osuna. The rotation should be Cole, Taillon, Nova, Williams and Kuhl with Brault and Glasnow as either depth in the minors or long relievers. The closer role is set with Rivero. I think Kontos has a spot locked up in the bullpen for next season. I wouldn’t mind seeing them go with a few of the younger guys such as Edgar Santana and Neverauskas.

  • Tim, your contentions above are based on an ‘average MLB owner’ who would definitely re-invest that money in the major league club…as interest in the Pirates continues to dwindle, Nutting will continue to invest less and less in the major league payroll (look at the past two seasons of salary dumps)…I remember peeps thinking about how the pirates had all this extra money with not having to pay Kang or Marte and when did that money get spent again?

  • Why in god’s name should S Rod be ‘splitting time’ with anyone? He stinks! A bunch of bench players splitting time doesn’t equal a competent 2nd baseman. This organization is a joke.

  • Where does Kang fit in?

  • Just the title of this article makes me lose hope that they will ever be anything more than a wildcard team. Usually when you subtract and add you end up in the same spot. Pony up and build a damn team!

    • Need to draft/develop cheap young talent with our financial constraints.

      Give it time, nh has only had a decade

      • I’m so sick of the financial talk and that we’re at 100mil and blah blah blah. Any team that would possibly think trading J Hay to save money and start S Rod clearly doesn’t have winning as the top priority. If you are an owner that’s afraid to spend money in basball then you’re probably an owner of the wrong kind of sports team.

  • I’m going to go off the reservation here with a different set of suggestions that I think can net an 88-ish win team for 2018 (if it stays healthy):

    TRADE: Cole, Mercer, Freese, Stewart, Schugel
    DUMP: Kang

    Cole should net at least one near MLB-ready prospect to add to 40-man, plus a couple lottery tix. Kingham/Glasnow steps into Cole’s slot, if not a potential FA signing.

    Mercer should go to SD for a AA catcher (Rivas or McGee) to add to Bucs depth.

    Freese/Stewart won’t net much of anything, but will add to war chest.

    Schugel is a mirage, but one that might net a surprise value from a dumb GM.

    Those moves net $18 million in savings. I’m going to guess Cozart can be had for something like 3/$36, or $12 AAV. I add him. His HR #s will go down, but he’ll still have gap power and better defense than Mercer. Gut feel is IF can produce 9-10 WAR in 2018, with upgrade at SS, more power by adding Moroff and continued improvement from Bell. (Cozart can also be traded in 2019 when Tucker is ready and should retain decent value).

    That puts payroll around $92 million, which, IMO leaves room to consider adding someone like Alex Cobb, which would be a boost to the rotation.

    Tl;dr: Cole is the most valuable asset, so trade him. Mercer is a liability at a premium position, so trading him and upgrading may be the most positive move available. Net gain in wins.

  • Since we had almost the same issues going into the 2016 off-season, maybe the extra year of thoughtful consideration could help. But, we started this off-season by taking two steps back by handing our Manager a retirement gift, and bringing back a player (SRod) whose very presence impedes prospect progress.

    59 games of scoring 2 runs or less in 2017 after having 47 games of two runs or less in 2016. Is that roughly 25% worse? Is it time to make some changes in our hitting coaches?

  • two questions: 1. What are the key factors that determine the Kang case for a visa
    2. Are any of the free agent catchers on the market better defenders than Stewart and Diaz and Cervelli

  • People are assuming that replacement players are going to play at 0 WAR. I remember when the “Fort” came in and played reasonably well after a succession of replacement catchers could not play at replacement level. Can Diaz play at replacement level for a whole season? Can Moroff? Can Frazier? Mercer or Cervelli may play at only 1 or 2 WAR, but they each may be 3 or 4 wins above anyone we can obtain or insert. Remember the caveat, “March and September are the two worst months to use when evaluating a player”.

  • I’m old and sometimes my memory isn’t so good. I forget – how many wins did this hypothetical WAR nonsense project the Pirates would have this year?

  • Payroll, payroll! Is that all we are going to talk about the whole off season? There are not many hitters on this team worth seeing on a daily basis. Obviously Cutch, Bell, Harrison and Marte have their moments. Every other hitter on this team could not make most other teams. This will be a faceless team if Cutch leaves and we wait for Bell to grow into a leadership role. This team is in deep trouble, very little star power.

  • rickmontgomery
    October 5, 2017 9:00 pm

    It seems so bleak. We trade Mercer, Harrison, Cole, Cutch, Cervelli and hope we can buy a couple guys who will outperform expectations. If they do we maybe have a shot at contending, but more likely we wind up being only slightly less mediocre. I think we have just as good a shot if we keep our core and hope Meadows can stay healthy and that Glasnow somehow gets a grip. My one trade might be Nova and either Brault or Kingham for a 3rd baseman with a bit of pop in his bat. Then, as the trading deadline approaches, if that isn’t working, tear it down and do a total rebuild.

  • My newness, makes all of this overwhelming.

    I just know we have too many infielders
    and many of them are just above average
    and some of them are expensive.

    We have two big unanswered questions that
    are big factors (1) Do Rodriguez have anything’
    left (2) Will Kang ever return.

    My 25 man roster has 3 catchers one of whom
    will also be a key PH: Cervelli, Diaz and Stallings.
    (I know this is weird but I’m new to this.)

    I just don’t know if Polonco will reach his potential.

    Frazier can hit.

    Pitching is just a mystery to me.

    Finally, in the rest of the Nutting corporation there
    is accountability for those who do not produce
    to expectation. Why not the Pirates?

    • The active roster is 25 players:

      5 – SP’s
      8 – RP’s – Need the extra RP at the beginning of the year
      8 – Starting Position Players
      1 – Backup Catcher
      1 – Utility OF
      1 – Utility IF

      That is 24. A third Catcher is an unnecessary luxury, and 2 Utility IF aged 33 (Rodriguez) and 35 (Freese) is just more overkill than any team should have to endure. Not much room for guys who are trying to establish themselves like Moroff, Luplow, Osuna, Frazier, etc.

      I think Freese had one of his best years in 2017 playing close to 75% of the full schedule. Hard not to like him and the fact he is only going to make $4.5 mil in 2018. Rodriguez, *God Bless his heart, was NH reaching for a miracle life preserver and getting taken to the cleaners by the Braves. If he is on the 25 come April, stick a fork in this team!

      *In the South, the saying of “God bless his heart” usually precedes really ripping somebody.

  • My pipe dream:
    Trade Cutch, Cervelli, Mercer, Nova, Freese to save ~$46M, sign Moustakas & Darvish, & Otani. Otani pitches and plays LF on the other days. Moroff at SS, Frazier as super sub, go all in with Diaz at C.

    Wise man once said “you gotta risk losing the girl in order to get the girl.”

  • Baseball America had a good article this week on the Royals and what can be learned from their run, especially the take on prospect waves being rare.

    • Now, they’re in a hell of a spot with all those expiring contracts that Moore didn’t trade. He thought they had a chance this year with that pitching staff and all those bad contracts he handed out. It was a nice run they had, but it ended terribly.

      • Unlike the Pirates run which ended gracefully.

        • I would say thy’re in a much better spot than KC moving forward.

          • I don’t know. I guess a 79-80 win team is in better shape than a 72-73 team(guessing on royals) but in big picture does it matter much.

            Both teams are in trouble- the difference is the royals recognized windows are real and acted accordingly

            • If they would’ve acted accordingly they would’ve unloaded free agents to be and loaded up the farm. Now, they just have a bunch of bad contracts, a weak farm and Jorge Solar.

              • I bet there fans know they will go for it if they have a chance. i dont believe we will go all out if we have a chance.

                • Nh convinced himself and his minions they could contend year in, year out and that windows only exist if you create them by being shortsighted.

              • And a banner but who cares!

      • I would take that terrible 2 WS years over anything I have seen with our Bucs the last 25 yrs

  • I think you got it exactly right, Tim. The key is McCutchen. If they’re going to be competitive next year, he has to have a good year and has be part of it. Polonco and Marte too. There are very few 3 to 5 war type players on the team, if any. To me, the Pirates are like the island of misfit toys. It’s like every player is a legitimate major leaguer but every player has significant downside. They might be best off blowing the team up and trading most of their veterans. We will see soon enough.

  • One aspect not explicitly discussed in this conversation, and something that will become readily apparent watching actual playoff teams, is how much improvement the 2018 club could see from actually putting together a good bullpen.

    If you’re looking for more bang for your buck, trying to squeeze out situational wins with an elite pen is where to go.

  • Paul Newmeyer
    October 5, 2017 3:22 pm

    I think the 4 year extensions hint to what path they will follow this offseason. No way they do a rebuild without that length of extension. With four years to work I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big overhaul of the roster this winter. I see the merits of both options, but when I first saw that deal for 4 years the first thing I thought was a rebuild.

    • I’ve been thinking the extensions indicate the opposite: that very little will happen this offseason, but I see your point.

  • A typical full healthy season from Marte is worth at least 4 WAR. A full healthy season from El Coffee should be about 3.5 WAR. A full healthy season Kang should be about 3.5 WAR. Cole and Taillon are both easily good enough to put up at least 4 WAR. If those things happen then that Bucs, that’s 11.3 WAR more than what those 5 put up this year with Kang obviously not putting up any WAR. That right there gets the Bucs to 86 wins. Cervelli put up a 3.7 WAR season in 2015. They more WAR from relievers and the back of the rotation, they need Josh Bell’s defense to improve. There doesn’t seem to be alot of hope for Kang coming back so the Bucs need to prioritize 3rd base. I’m mentioned before that I’d love to see the Bucs dump Nova and maybe Cervelli or Jay-Hay and go after Moose Tacos. If we get a 3B and Kang does come back, put him at short or 2B. He’s far enough removed from that knee injury to handle the position and his bat makes up for any defensive shortcomings.

  • If they can land a very good 3b everything just might work out.

    • We need full seasons of at ceiling performances from Marte and Polanco too. If the Bucs had healthy seasons of Marte, Polanco, and Kang last year, they win at least 85 games. I believe a full good season of those 3 would’ve accounted for at least 12 WAR instead of the 2 WAR that Marte and Polanco were worth combined with Marte’s suspension and Polanco never really being healthy.

      • Agree. This team doesn’t need to be torn apart to compete next year. Cutch need to be more consistent, Marte needs to play all year, Polanco needs to be healthy and not suck, the starters need to mature another year, and Rivero needs to continue locking down the 9th. Cervelli staying relatively healthy and performing at 2015 levels and a Kang return would be a bonus, but not counting on it. If they are out of contention at the all star break, then you reset and go into rebuilding mode.

  • I have an interesting approach here:
    1. We need about 50 WAR to compete
    2. We should be able to get about 16WAR at the lowest cost possible from the 12 pre-arb players (Bell, Frazier, Diaz, Moroff, Luplow, Taillon, Kuhl, Williams, Brault, Schugel, Neverauskas & Santana): Cost=$7 million
    3. That means we need 34WAR from the remaining budget – $93 million
    4. So the remaining 13 players (currently Cutch, Marte, Polanco, S-Rod, Freese, Mercer, Harrison, Cervelli, Nova, Cole, Rivera, Kontos & Hudson) need to produce at the rate of 1WAR for every ~$2.75 million
    5. So in theory, every player that is making more than say $3 million per WAR should be on the block – but that would mean you need to find a replacement who could produce at $2.75/WAR.

    • That would point towards:
      – Cutch: wasting about $7 million of his $14+ salary
      – Cervelli: $6 million
      – Hudson: $5 million
      – Nova: $3 million
      If we traded all four, we would need to get about 13WAR for the $40 million in savings though

  • NH thinks this team can contend next season. That’s a quote! So does any
    one actually think he will be active during the winter? When they are 10 games
    out in early July that’s when moves will happen.

    • well, in order for them to contend, they need to move money around.

      It’d be shocking if he just left things how they are. No reasonable person could think that this same exact team would make the playoffs next year. It needs resources moved around.

      • Shocking? Neal (and Clint) just got four-year extensions for doing exactly what Bob Nutting wants them to do, and without being able to read his mind it appears that Bob wants them to stick to their budget. IMO, not much will happen this off season but after mass contract expirations at the end of 2018, look out! I do, however, agree that no reasonable person could expect that the exact same team will make the playoffs next year.

        • Well yeah, but i’d imagine that if Huntington had to choose between winning for 100 million and losing for 100 million, he’d choose winning.

        • Sometimes unreasonable things happen in MLB ( see 2017 Minnesota Twins).

          • This is akin to banking on hitting the lottery to fund your retirement account.

            Sure, it can happen, but it’s a really shitty plan.

            • It’s still a better plan than resigning oneself to thinking nothing can possibly ever get better.

              Also, this is my current retirement plan…

            • I don’t want to hear that! I’m fairly certain I’m going to be holding one of those overly large checks posing w lottery officials any day now!

  • My offseason:

    Mercer and Harrison and whatever prospects necessary for… Say… Andrelton Simmons. Angels can then parlay prospects into further MLB help if they want to win in 2018. Andrelton gets Harrison’s money.

    Moroff takes over at 2b.

    Mercer’s money spent on an interesting RP or good backup C.

    Hope Kang comes back. if he does, then dump Freese.

    If kang doesnt come back, Deal McCutchen and a prospect and Freese for star 3b on last year of his deal (Machado, Donaldson, or Beltre come to mind). Take a chance on Frazier popping 2+ WAR in LF.

    None of this is unreasonable or more expensive than their current situation.

    Leaves you with

    Marte LF
    Polanco RF
    McCutchen CF
    Kang 3b
    Bell 1b
    Simmons SS
    Cervelli C
    Moroff 2b

    Or

    Frazier LF
    Donaldson 3b
    Marte CF
    Bell 1b
    Polanco RF
    Simmons SS
    Cervelli C
    Moroff 2b

    • The “whatever prospects necessary” part for getting Simmons with Harrison and Mercer probably includes Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller type of prospects. Why on earth would the Angels trade their best defensive player and arguably their second best offensive player this past season when they only have 2 more years of Trout before tearing down and starting over?

      • why would getting Mercer and Harrison, and then prospects that could be parlayed into further present help, be considered starting over?

        if anything, it’s pushing value of Simmons 3rd year of control into the present.

        • The trade you propose isn’t starting over but when Trout leaves in free agency or via trade in 2 years is when they start over. Which begs the question of retooling around Trout now or full scale rebuild and given the Angels being tied down with Pujols’ contract, lots of questions in the rotation and bullpen and a currently sub-par farm system it makes more sense to try and add pieces in free agency and keep Simmons then use Simmons and Trout trades to rebuild in a few years in my opinion from their perspective.

  • Lots of good points made in the article and throughout the comments, but in the end I don’t expect many major moves this offseason. Dealing Harrison is interesting because he might have decent market value, and the combination of the young guys and SRod might fill Harrison’s floor value. I expect few off-season moves, but if we’re not in strong contention at the all star break, then there will be a major reset. The 2018 success will be driven by the performance of the starting rotation and the three outfielders.

    • going into next season with the team as it is now would be bonkers. They need to either get a lot better or a lot worse for anything to make sense.

      • Unless existing players who have played better actually you know play better.

        • i dont know if that’d quite be enough.

          it’s really hard to think that this team couldve produced another *13* wins (what wouldve been necessary to beat the Rockies) just by being their usual selves. another 5-10 wins? sure. 13? that’s a loooot.

          this team needs some help. not a ton of help. but some.

    • I believe management truly believes the last year and a half are not representative of the true talent of the team. As such, I think they wait until next summer, if they’re out of contention, to make trade(s) of teams most valuable assets.

      • The accountability trap.

        Blame player performances for 75-win clubs even though reasonable expectations would’ve only seen them be roughly .500.

        • If they didn’t believe this to be true, then why extend NH & CH?

          • They’re both upstanding men by all public accounts who represent the organization and city well while being perfectly competent at their jobs and delivering an extremely profitable product.

            The only reason you *don’t* keep them is if you want to win, and are willing to risk the rest. I completely understand why from the fan perspective there’s not much difference between 75 wins and 60, so why *not* take the chance on finding better leadership but from the business perspective this was a no-brainer.

  • They should go for a 1-year mini re-build. Sigh.
    1) Trade Cole for a Quintana-like return.
    2) Trade Cutch…assuming he isn’t interested in a below market extension.
    3) Let the young arms work all year and fight for starts…Glansow, Brault, Kingham.
    4) Go with Cervelli and Diaz and Stallings. Thanks for your service Stew.
    5) Focus on nearly-MLB -ready SS and 3B in the above trades.
    6) Listen to offers for Cervelli, Mercer, and Harrison but no urgency to move them.

    • Really surprises me how this isn’t seen as the most reasonable strategy.

      • I would have to agree. Right now we are in no-man’s land. Not good enough to compete for titles and not bad enough to get a real high draft pick. This team is not bad, so a couple astute trades that complement the core of young players might do the trick. Cole and Cutch (no matter how much I love him in black and gold) are great chips that should be in play for trades.

      • Because it would be thoroughly unpopular. I agree with you though. I think Cole and Cutch will play better on a contender it seems like they’ve been distracted by the FOs 2yr hiatus or they’re trying to overcompensate and it’s backfiring. The other option is for the Pirates to make some real moves and pony up $20m above comfort. I’m skeptical that Cole and Cutch will be much better with the current construction – big ticket item trades would make more sense.

        • As someone who actually lives in Pittsburgh and talks to real people in this area, not just radio callers and internet commenters, I really disagree that trading Cutch would be appreciably worse.

          I mean, attendance has already tanked and this is a fanbase accustomed to trading stars already. It’s expected.

          Keeping Cutch *without* significantly investing around him would buy them no more good will, I promise you that.

          • Its hard to watch him hop from way below league average to career best in any given month. He has it but its easy to read between the lines of his comments he’s not happy with his employers. I can accept the cheapness if they’re prepared to take a more aggressive strategy.

            • I agree. That’s not to say there won’t be people upset about trading him, but those same exact people will also be upset by keeping Cutch and surrounding him with a $90-$100m payroll, particularly when that may require trading Harrison or Cervelli.

              This club isn’t really good enough to go all-in on trading prospects, but that’s probably the one way to really gain fan favor with the budget we’re realistically getting.

              • Maybe trade one of the two, but ridding team of two biggest stars simultaneously would be a financial and public relations disaster.

                • Please explain to me how Gerrit Cole is a star? He has had 1 season where he pitched like a #1/2 starter and the rest he has pitched like a #3/4.

                  • He’s the undisputed star of the staff. #1 SP, former #1 pick. I’m not comparing him to Kershaw or Kluber, but compared to Taillon, Nova, Kuhn and Williams, he’s a star!

      • You think Pirates have a butts in seats problem now, just picture what PNC will look like w/out Cutch and Cole, arguably the two faces of the franchise, both dealt in same off-season.

        • How many games did you make it to this year, Scott?

          Not asking to be argumentative, just curious about your experiences. We did 13 this year, and I can tell you the mood and general feeling in the ballpark was as bad as I’ve seen it since PNC opened.

          I genuinely don’t think they have much left to lose. If 2018 doesn’t produce a winning team, Cutch and Cole won’t make a shred of difference in PR or ticket sales.

          • I live in Atlanta. Not fair to compare me to you.

            From outside looking in, Pittsburgh sports fans are similar to most other cities, love to support a winner. Not so much when team is meh. At least w Cutch and Cole, fans can reasonably believe team has a chance to contend. Without them, it starts to look like 1993 again.

            • Ah, didn’t realize you weren’t local!

              But yeah, I know I personally wasn’t terribly encouraged going into the season but was genuinely surprised at the general environment even early on. People are pissed.

              I lean toward using the rebuilding years as evidence that they could probably put about 1.8m in the seats if it’s a short turnaround helped by the prospects they’d get in return for Cutch/Cole. Just my take, but continued mediocrity is the killer where you’d see that number drop towards 1.6m for an extended period of years.

    • This is actually one of the most sensible suggestions I have read.

    • That wouldn’t be a bad plan. However, I don’t think it would fly in this town right now. Granted, they shouldn’t be making moves based on fan reaction. But right now the fan reaction is worse than I’ve ever seen it, and I covered the 2009-2012 seasons.

      A reload that includes trading McCutchen might tank the attendance and fan interest, and right when they’re due to negotiate a new TV deal. That might not be the best time to make such a move.

      • I dunno I think it might buy them 2 months of morale and if they’re mediocre or worse the reaction might be even more negative

      • Damn irrational, unappreciative fans!

        But seriously I do think they are hemmed in because of the TV contract and falling attendance. This is all started with some of the stupid moves going into the 2016 season. Niese trade, Vogelsong signing, not being realistic about Glasnow’s timetable.

        And then you follow up that with a true talent 76-78 win team in 2017.

      • The first thing I appreciated about Huntington was his willingness to make unpopular trades to improve the club. Nate McLouth was in the middle of an All-Star season. What happened to that Huntington? He treats Cutch with kid gloves.

      • Weren’t teams to receive an additional $25 million with the TV contract in the near future (or the last year or two)? I recall reading that thinking that could be a tremendous infusion for the Pirates payroll and help the budget.

    • I don’t think Cole is as beloved by the city and the fan base though. And I think if you do care about butts in the seats and fan uproar…if you trade Cutch, you unload Cole in the same offseason and if will just kind of “happen” and that’s it. ESPECIALLY if it’s a good to great return. The Cutch situation, NH is just screwed no matter what he does.

    • 1.) I would try to trade Cole. I think he may need a change of scenery. He should bring a nice return from a major market team that thinks they can get him back to where he was a few years ago.

      2.) I am hoping the Pirates try to extend Cutch with a hometown friendly deal. He was the best, or at least one of the best offensive players on the team. It appears he’s fixed his hitting mechanics that had him slumping last year and the first couple months this year. He also did a nice job in the OF overall. He’s been durable his entire career, unlike the other two OFers. I’d see if teams would be interested in Marte or Polanco.

      3.) Agree. Let’s hope another year of maturity helps Glasnow. Kingham seems like a wildcard. Perhaps Holmes will step in.

      4.) I would also check if there’s a market for Cervelli. Pirates are spending a lot for his time on the DL.

      5.) Also look for a 2B. Slide JH over to 3B if you find a good option at 2B. I’m not as down on Mercer as others on here, but starting to get concerned about his age and range. He’s been steady.

      6.) Agree – maybe someone would be interested in Hudson also.

  • That 2012-2013 offseason was absolutely insane. Insane!

    Good luck trying to figure such a thing out, but has a GM *ever* added a net 10.3 WAR for a net $1m?

    Unbelievable performance!

    • It was incredible. But what are the chances of that happening again in 2018(or even something similar) ?

      1 in 50?
      1 in 100?
      1in 250?
      1 in 500?
      1 in 1000

      More? Less? I don’t know. But the fact it happened in 2013 doesn’t make me very optimistic it happens again in 2018.

      • Sometimes it’s OK to just appreciate something, man.

        • Thank you for saying what needed to be said.

        • John can’t bring himself to compliment NH. In fairness, I have a hard time criticizing him.

          • Now cmon Scott. Nh did some wonderful things that allowed the 2013-15 run to happen. I’ve never said otherwise.

            But I’m dealing with 2017 and looking at 2018 and that is a completely different story.

    • I won hundred percent agree. Every decision Neil Huntington made to set up the 2013 season went right. Since then, however, he seems to have been more bad than good. Which makes me wonder, how much of that was luck and how much of it skill.

      • Please give examples to back your claim.

      • I’ll split the difference with my take…baseball is really, really f*cking hard!

        I think the individual decisions made that year were far better than many made since 2016, absolutely, but he also probably benefited from a bit of good fortune to go along with it.

        By his winter 2012 hit rate Cervelli would still be healthy and a steal, as would Francisco Liriano. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

        And then sometimes you acquire Jon Niese, on purpose. 😉

      • But you could then also ask how many of the BAD moves were (bad) luck, right?

        I don’t think I’m a defender, but at the same time I don’t like the idea that every time something good happens it’s because we’re lucky and every time something bad happens it’s because we suck. Sounds like having it both ways.

  • Until the Pirates have either resources, ownership or both, the payroll is simply not enough to win.

    • It can happen but you need an exceptional GM as far as drafting/development and making great trades. And we don’t have one of those.

      • in other words, IT Can’t Happen! Show me a team with 100M payroll that EVER (in the last 20 years) won it all.

        • Just going back 10 years, the Phillies 2008 opening day payroll was $98M.

        • What was the Pirates payroll in 2008?

        • You need to keep this in perspective. Last year the average MLB team spent $122 million on payroll. This year the average team spent about $150 million. Teams are spending much more now than they ever did. I am nearly certain that you can find World Series winners who spent $100 million or less within the last 10 or 20 years but most of them spent league average or more. I think it’s comical, however to read that the Pirates payroll has “grown to $100 million” when The growth of their payroll hasn’t come close to matching the rate add which payroll figures have grown throughout the league.

          • I’m just frustrated. Lack of leaders, poor performance from guys who should be much better than they are showing, no real hustle and stupid plays every game that makes you want to smack someone in the head and tell them to get their head out their butts!!!

      • Oh come on. Huntington has made plenty of great trades (in addition to the ones from 5+ years ago that are well documented) that hardly even get talked about. Snider for Brault and Tarpley (who got traded for Nova) hardly gets talked about. Melancon for Rivero and Hearn was robbery.

        and i guess their drafting grade depends on what this current crop of Bell, Frazier, Moroff, Newman, Meadows, Tucker, Keller, Glasnow, Stallings, Luplow becomes.

        • Snider for Brault and Tarpley isn’t moving the needle for me. It’s a good trade. Rivero deserves to be mentioned in terms of being great.

          Great trades to me are ones that bring in talent like Chris Taylor or even Alex Wood.

          • One can criticize NH for blowing the draft, but to say he hasn’t earned his pay in making deals is revisionist history.

        • “Snider for Brault and Tarpley (who got traded for Nova) hardly gets talked about.”

          Hardly gets talked about?!

          • in my own personal experience, ya haha.

            • I mean I suppose Mr. or Mrs. jaygray doesn’t bring it up at the dinner table often but I literally can’t remember a single time Brault made an appearance this year where Brownie didn’t talk about this trade. 😉

              • interesting. Snider has been the furthest thing from my brain, except for when people bring up losing Snider as a reason to be too afraid to trade from depth.

    • It was 2 years ago, and 3 years ago, and 4 years ago. Hey but keep on believing what you want.

  • I just don’t understand why it’s an option to deal Cervelli and go with replacement level options, but it’s not an option to deal Mercer and go with replacement level options (even if that comes via a waiver pickup. because that is, by definition, replacement level). At least Cervelli represents some above-league-average upside that Mercer doesnt have.

    Mercer is also a big guy who is on the wrong side of 31. His range isn’t good and wont be better next year. it’d be a surprise if he goes beyond the 1.4 WAR he got this year, as he is now on the age decline.

    I’m not convinced that Moroff wouldnt out-WAR him at SS in 2018, but that’s beside the point. Or even Newman.

    my point is that if dealing Cervelli and living with replacement level from catcher is an option, then dealing Mercer and living with replacement level from SS should be an option too. Especially since Cervelli actually has an upside that goes beyond league average, and Mercer’s *upside* is probably slightly below league average.

    • I’d also add that given how bad Diaz and Stewart were in 2017 their performance in 2018 might be below replacement level.

      But setting that aside, I think the real issue in the big picture is this team doesn’t have many good options as far as freeing up money.

      Moving on from Jhay, Cervelli or even Mercer all bring some serious downside into the equation. And this team isn’t close enough to being good enough as is.

      But ultimately they have to take that chance because the status quo will just ensure more of what we have seen the last 2 years. Somewhere in between a mediocre and bad baseball team.

      • Yeah. if they’re good it’s going to be because some weird stuff happens.

        like they deal Cutch and his 3.5 WAR, and use frazier in LF and he pops a 2+ WAR.

        dealing mercer and harrison, having Moroff pop a 2 WAR at 2b, and buying a star SS with the Harrison, Mercer, and McCutchen money.

        weird stuff, but Frazier popping 2 in LF and Moroff popping 2 at 2b isnt thaaaat weird.

        That, in addition to Cole being a little better, and Glasnow not being a dumpster fire, and dealing some of the SP depth for some RP help.

        oh, and Marte and Polanco being Marte and Polanco.

        • If I had to choose it would be JHay probably a 1 war difference with Frazier. But if they can add 2 war – they can take the 10m and get at least Neil Walker who can maybe even play third and maybe a little money for the glut of righty relievers. Mercer and Cervelli are harder to replace because of the internal drop off.

        • Yeah, I think you’re on right path(although I don’t think they deal Cutch).

          But I guess I disagree that all that stuff happening at same time would be pretty damn weird imo.

      • Trade Cole before they lose him, since BN won’t pay what Boras demands.

        • Nor should he in this one particular instance…

        • If the $ is close, Cole would still opt to go elsewhere. I expect him to be on the WC when he hits FA. Maybe a big market team like the Yankees, Cubs or Rangers.

      • There’s a reason the Bucs were 13 games under 500. They don’t have good ballplayers. I am tired of people talking about Polonco’s potential. He out grew his body and now he is no longer a good athilete. We have to stop looking at potential when the ballplayers are in the Majors. Either they have it or they don’t.

      • I wouldn’t lump Mercer in w JHay and Cervelli when talking about risking serious downside. Cervelli & JHay have upside Mercer never will.

    • That’s a big gamble you’re suggesting (well I guess if you ignore that the Pirates probably won’t contend next year no matter what, its not such a big gamble). What’s the back up plan if Moroff doesn’t work out? Moroff is, at best, a temporary player at SS. I don’t see how the team is made better — or able to be made better — cutting Mercer’s salary and plugging in Moroff at SS.

      • i don’t necessarily disagree that it’s a gamble. but my point is that it’s no bigger a gamble… or perhaps a smaller gamble… than trading Cervelli.

        and yeah i included Newman too, dont forget.

        • I have not seen anything to suggest that Newman will be an upgrade over Mercer. At least in the neart term. He will be cheaper. Tucker is the one. Hopefully he can be that lead off hitter/SS that Alen Hanson never was.

      • You’re right Mike. Every potential replacement is a big gamble and that speaks to an inept development system.

        Mercer has been a fine player but replacing a 1.5 WAR short stop internally shouldn’t be a huge hurdle- but it is.

        Same with replacing a 2 WAR 2b or 1-2 WAR catcher. Every one of these potential replacements has low ceilings to go with low floors.

        • How many teams in baseball can you “just plug in a new 1.5 WAR SS? Just because other teams don’t have it doesn’t mean you can’t expect the Pirates to but I doubt the majority of baseball has a 1.5 WAR SS sitting in AAA.

          • You’re right, the majority of baseball has already graduated that player to the bigs. 😉

            Honestly though it’s amazing how many good, young shortstops there are in baseball right now.

            • Lol. That was half of my point though. I mean, if I write them down… there’s 10 SS IMO that could be significant upgrades to Mercer in terms of Ws and Ls. I didn’t say there’s only 10 to 12 better, but I think after you get by 10… you’re maybe looking at an extra win at some point in the year…or possibly they hit a gap shot and win one that Mercer wouldn’t have hit for another win. That doesn’t get them where they ultimately want to be (I’m assuming). I also think like you and I talked about last week that if he’s ever able to play around the diamond…. EVERYONE looks at him as a must have bench piece for 2 to 4 more years. And I don’t have enough knowledge to know this as a fact, but I just don’t know if 15 to 16 other clubs have that 2 WAR SS ready to plug in at AAA. I just think there’s issues much deeper than Mercer with an organization on a college student kind of budget. He is the Pabst Blue Ribbon of my college days…is there much better out there? Yup…but do I get good value for it? Yup. Lol

    • Simply playing devil’s advocate here but trading Cervelli would free up an additional 4 or more million than Mercer and due to weak catching across the league relative to superb production from shortstops across the league it’s likely that most teams would prefer league average production at catcher instead of shortstop. Aside from Cozart there arent many true starting SS’s in free agency and you can ask Padres fans how hard it is to get a quality SS too.

    • It’s isn’t necessarily about the WAR in this instance. Cervelli is getting paid 10+ mil for 1.4 WAR and Mercer projects to get roughly 6 mil for 1.4 WAR. There is more “excess value” with Mercer than with Cervelli. If you want to replace Cervelli with Diaz/Stewart/Stallings, all 3 would cost 2.5 mil, if you replace Mercer on the open market, it would cost about 8 mil per year. That is a significant difference.

      • but do you realize that in your description of the situation, that you are replacing Mercer on the open market but you are replacing Cervelli with internal options? apples and oranges.

        i’m talking about replacing Mercer with guys they already have internally… SeanRod/Moroff/Newman. just like you’re talking about replacing Cervelli with Diaz/Stewart/Stallings.

        I’d absolutely make that argument that the trio of SeanRod, Moroff, and Newman has an upside that Diaz/Stewart/Stallings can’t come close to touching…. although i’m sorta becoming a Stallings fanboy, to be totally honest with myself.

        If you want to make the argument that it’s about the 10 million vs 6 million, then fine. but i’d really make the argument that Cervelli and Moroff/Newman starting at C/SS has a lot more upside than Diaz and Mercer starting at C/SS. A lot more than $4 million worth.

        Diaz and Mercer are worth 2.5 WAR combined, tops. Probably less when you factor in that Mercer is on the wrong side of 31 and is a big guy who is bound to lose range. Cervelli does 2.5 WAR *alone* just by staying healthy.

        This team needs to take on risk in order to be good again. Putting Mercer and his 1.5 WAR self out there for 150 games isn’t getting this team anywhere.

        • I have little faith that the trio of SRod, Moroff and Newman could result in 1 WAR.

    • I wouldn’t deal either one. Mercer is solid defensively and hits LH pitching really well. I would start with Harrison and Cole.

  • I hope they have enough money to sign Brian Duensing unless they go complete rebuild all bets are off

  • When you look at how definitively mediocre this team projects to be BEFORE they have to take theoretical risks downgrading position(s) to free up money it spells out exactly why NH and co should have never been extended for 4 more years.

    • I second this and would add that its w/o any upgrades from the minors. Seems that consensus is that younger players available now would all be downgrades to existing players.

      • Correct. And this was a minor league system that was praised at every turn. The reality is that almost all of the future players in the system look like downgrades(with the possible execption of some one like Tucker who has a high ceiling but also a low floor)

        Downgrading or parallel moves on a team that is already mediocre… am I missing something about our future?

        • Who praised the PBC minors besides Keith Law and this publication???

        • 4 starting pitchers, the entire outfield and 40% of the infield are all homegrown. The farm system deserved to be praised. It seems like it was assumed that the team would follow a straight line progression to World Series contender. NH f’d up after 2015 and overestimated and two main cogs (Cervelli and Polanco) had their careers’ derailed.

          • Sort of. Harrison was acquired by a trade. Williams as well (pitcher). two of the outfielders were acquired by different management over 10+ years ago. Jordy was 2008 I think. There’s credit to be given, I agree but we’re not talking about historical successes. We’re talking about the last several years being relatively unfruitful when needed.

            • Harrison and Williams both played in the Pirates ML system. I don’t think being drafted or signed as an International FA is required to be homegrown.

              The Pirates essentially graduated Bell, Taillon, Kuhl, Frazier & Williams over the last two years. How many regulars do you think organizations graduate each year?

              Granted these graduations weren’t enough, but graduations are never going to be able to replace losing players in trade or FA and major decline in current players. The FO didn’t properly project current roster players, too many didn’t meet expectations over the last two seasons (McCutchen, Polanco, Cervelli, Liriano, Niese, Kang, Marte, Cole), are all guys that through one way or another failed to live up to past production or failed to improve.

              I think there are a few lessons to be drawn for NH with respect to hoarding prospects and when to add ML roster players. The Indians should be the new prototype, they seemed to have taken the Royals model and used it more effectively (they’ve spent money much more effectively than the Royals did).

      • I’ve said this out loud to myself many times. What is the difference between the minor leaguers called up by the Cardinals and Pirates? It seems that- there is little-to-no-learning curve from the Cards’ players, while ours seem to take a lot more time in becoming productive players. Look at this year, the Cards basically turned over a quarter of their starting lineup and competed for the Wild Card. Us, not so much.

        • I agree with one caveat. The Cardinals sent at least 4 players back down to the minors in the last couple of years after they were all productive initially (Grichuk, Wong, Diaz, and Piscotty). Not sure how to explain that. At least in part it suggests these four all over-achieved initially.

  • Great article. Well reasoned.

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