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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Pirates Roundtable: Which position do the Pirates need to upgrade the most this offseason?

One of our most popular features this year was Prospect Roundtable, where I ask our writers a question about the Pirates each week and get their input.

The fun part is seeing how each writer approaches the game in a different way. We rarely have a consensus opinion, or anything close.

Prospect Roundtable will run in the offseason on Thursday’s at noon. To kick off the schedule for the offseason, we’re taking a look at the Pirates’ needs.

Question: Which position do the Pirates need to upgrade the most this offseason?

Check out our thoughts below, and leave your opinion in the comments!

JOHN DREKER: First Base

There are plenty of options for lineup holes to fill going into 2023, which makes it hard to limit this to just one. The ideal position to upgrade would be a hitter who can play first base this year, and possibly corner outfield or just DH beyond. There shouldn’t be any hesitation to go after a quality player who can help after 2023 when the team should have a much better chance to compete.

There’s no one on the Pirates (minors or majors) ready to step into first base right now, but Indianapolis looks like they will have a loaded team to start 2023, so that need at the Major League level could change depending on the progress of certain prospects. Having the versatility to move from first base would be a great option to have in a player, but the most important part is still the bat. The lineup is going to have multiple below average hitters until the top prospects start filling in holes throughout the 2023 season.

The ideal situation would be to add a middle of the order bat, speaking in terms of this current lineup, not a generalized definition of a 3-6 hitter. We are being realistic here after all, though front loading a contract wouldn’t be a bad idea in a year when it looks like the payroll will be low once again. If you can add a quality bat to the middle, the lineup becomes more tolerable to watch early in the year.

ETHAN HULLIHEN: First Base

Is there really any other option? Sure, they need help at catcher and corner outfield, not to mention starting and relief pitching, but at least there are some in-house options available at those positions.

The team has no true first base option on the roster at the moment, with nothing on the immediate horizon prospect wise either. Mason Martin hasn’t proven to be the answer, and Malcom Nuñez just moved up to Triple-A at the end of the season.

Simply signing a competent player could swing the position in the 4-5 win range from 2022. Even if they don’t want to pay for one, slugging corner infielders are a dime-a-dozen on the open market, and finding any kind of upgrade from the black hole last season shouldn’t be too difficult or much to ask.

WILBUR MILLER: Bullpen

The easy answers here seem to be catcher and first base. At catcher, though, the Pirates have the answers already close, in the farm system. Somebody like Roberto Perez can tide them over for a few months, but it’s not going to make a big difference ultimately. At first, it should be almost impossible not to upgrade dramatically. The Pirates were historically bad at the position in 2022, on a level that no GM apart from Ben Cherington could ever hope to achieve. Any random move there inevitably would be a huge improvement, except for the fact that it’d be Cherington making the move. Anyway, Bob Nutting isn’t going to spend the money for a real solution, so the Pirates will do just as well by waiting for something to emerge from the farm system, like Matt Gorski, or Henry Davis shifting to first.

The bullpen, on the other hand, is an area where they need to get to work sooner rather than later, thanks to Cherington’s incompetence on that front thus far. It’s been obvious in the playoffs this year that you can get great results from bringing a string of shutdown relievers into a game. Cherington, instead, has focused on sub-mediocre middle relievers, an addle-brained strategy that got exposed when the team had to find solutions for the losses of David Bednar and Chris Stratton. One or two late-inning relievers surrounded by a bunch of waiver claims not good enough for the other 29 teams is a blueprint for failure. The Pirates are going to need multiple quality relievers in order to succeed, so they need to get to work on finding them.

ANTHONY MURPHY: Bullpen

When you are coming off your second straight 100-loss season, there are no shortage of glaring areas that need improvement. First base was statistically the weakest position on the diamond last year, but that’s a position that doesn’t necessarily need a single answer to fix that. Catcher, and to an extent the outfield, all are positions that need to be addressed as well this offseason.

All of those don’t touch the issues the bullpen had late in the season. If there’s a positive, David Bednar will have an offseason to rest up, and they will get Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman back.

It will have to go further than that, as the Pirates cannot have a repeat of what they had this year, as the splits of what Bednar did before and after that night in Los Angeles is as different as night and day.

Remember when things were already so in disarray they had to start the season with Roansy Contreras coming out of the bullpen? Yea that should have been a sign of things to come.

The Pirates bullpen had the 2nd and 5th worst unit when it came to ERA and FIP, respectively. Pittsburgh is going to enter the year likely with a really young rotation, so the best thing they can do is bolster a bullpen that recorded 27 blown save opportunities throughout the season – good for the eighth (tied) most in the majors.

JEFF REED: Center Field

I believe filling center field would have the most impactful domino effect on the roster. Bryan Reynolds can go back to left field, and then you have a plethora of choices to battle for right field and fourth outfielder.

This then leads to — repeat with me, “depth and competition is a good thing” – a plethora of players to battle it out for 2B and bench spots.

Reynolds 2021 season in center field seems to have been an outlier defensively. At the tail end of the 2022 season, it appeared as the Pirates themselves were considering the move back to left field.

Filling catcher only fills that one position, with no further impact other than how well they work with the pitching staff. With two top tier catching prospects, this is one area I feel they can bridge with a defensive minded player who hopefully hits better than the 2022 bunch. If I wanted to get crazy, I would say shortstop, thereby pushing Oneil Cruz to outfield, and so on with the ensuing domino effect.

The pitching staff to me is one of the more well-rounded areas, though that isn’t to say it couldn’t or shouldn’t be upgraded. In order for such moves to be impactful, it would likely require multiple positive acquisitions for either the rotation or bullpen.

Still in the midst of a “rebuild”, the Pirates aren’t going to dominate in any certain aspect of the game. On the flip-side they can’t completely ignore any areas such as defense.

TIM WILLIAMS: Catcher

My original thought was that the Pirates have the biggest need at either first base or in the bullpen. I’ve mentioned before that they need an alternative to David Bednar, in order to not exhaust him from over-use. Adding an elite reliever could help keep Bednar fresh and healthy long-term. The Pirates probably don’t need Bednar shutting down games in 2023 as much as they do in 2024 and beyond.

First base has some options emerging in the upper levels, but none that stand out as obvious starters. At best, you’ve got a group of 40-45 grade prospects, with the hope that one of them can emerge as an average starter. At worst, the Pirates have nothing but fringe-average options. I think the Pirates should add at first base, but I don’t think they’re getting a long-term option from the outside.

They might be better off banking on Malcom Nunez, Mason Martin, or even Matt Gorski. Blake Sabol is another possibility to shift to first. So is Jared Triolo. And so is Henry Davis, for that matter. The actual first base prospects might have more of a challenge from the other positions right now.

My choice is catcher, and perhaps I’m getting too fine with this analysis, but I’m focused on the long-term impact of the Pirates’ catching prospects. The Pirates do have two elite catching prospects in the upper levels. We can all just hope for the day they magically turn into MLB catchers. I do think that process will involve learning from veterans.

Bringing back someone like Roberto Perez probably won’t make an impact on the 2023 Pirates. It also doesn’t really seem like the Pirates making an impact in 2023 is a real priority. Perez would help the young pitchers adjust to the majors, which could boost a lot of the promising young arms. I’m thinking more about what he can do to teach those young prospects.

Catching in the majors is exceptionally difficult, and the game is constantly changing. Roberto Perez is an active catcher in the majors, right now. He gets active feedback from the games he plays in, learns from those games, and compares that knowledge to his career work. Rodriguez and Davis will be learning, but they won’t have the perspective. A veteran like Perez can give them this.

Sure, that’s what coaches are for, even if none of the coaches are playing in today’s Major League Baseball. My thought is the Pirates can rapidly accelerate the development of Rodriguez and Davis (the latter who is still developing receiving skills) by adding a mentor for them to debut under. It wouldn’t be a bad idea having Perez on a multi-year deal, serving as the starter at first, and eventually moving to the backup role and maintaining the mentorship.

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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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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.

Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.

When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.

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Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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Raised in Cranberry Twp, PA, Jeff attended Kent State University and worked in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, before moving to New Orleans in September of 2012. His background is as an Engineering Designer, but he has always had a near unhealthy passion for Pittsburgh sports. Hockey and Baseball are his 1A and 1B, combined with his mathematical background, it's led to Jeff's desire in diving into analytics. Jeff is known as Bucs'N'Pucks in the comments, and began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2022 after contributing so many useful bits of information in the comment section.

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jaygray007

i guess i’m reading this as “where would i prioritize spending real money this offseason?”

of course signing a Roberto Perez type is a priority to bridge to Endy/Davis, but 1) that’s cheap and easy, and 2) in theory 70 percent of the season will belong to Endy/Davis. Internal options exist.

of course signing a SP is a priority, but 1) there are internal candidates marinating, and 2) they have a good track record at sniping good guys for < 3 million.

as far as spending real money on real production and to ultimately answer the question, give me the layups at 1b and DH.

Those are the easiest spots to buy good production, yet they were probably their worst positions last year, aside from C (we already established why i’m not saying C).

Ethan makes the argument about how bad they were at 1b last yr, and that being an easy spot to swing 5 wins. I see DH the same way, but probably more like a 3 win swing. There’s no other spot on the roster that’d be more impacted by each dollar that they’re willing to spend on 1b/DH.

if we’re talking about being allowed to add ~25 million of payroll to the team in order to get it into the 70 range, i’d spend, say, ~20 million, on, say, Jose Abreu and Matt Carpenter, in a second.

jaygray007

A cheaper, more “frankenstein” approach could be Brandon Belt and Brandon Drury.

Belt plays 1b vs righties
Drury plays 1b vs lefties and DH vs righties

idk what you’d do at DH vs lefties. I guess its not too hard to imagine a time where there’s 3 catchers on the team and one will DH here.

Anthony

You already have your DH against lefties, his name is Castro!

pantherfan83

Arizona beverages. Interesting selection.

JimEastTennessee

Um.
Manager

Wabbit_Season

well played, sir.

Anthony

I would go defense first at C and in CF, then spend some money on a middle of the order 1B, MOR pitcher, and at least two BP arms (preferably one being an 8th or 9th inning guy).

Trades will be a must bc I don’t think they can effectively accomplish these goals with $25M-$30M in FA.

jaygray007

If you cut CF out of your list, and assume that some combo of Reynolds, Bae, and Swaggerty can handle it, it becomes a lot more doable.

I think you could buy, say, Roberto Perez, Brandon Belt, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Drury, “the next quintana type signing”, a good reliever, and an okay reliever for about 30 mil.

(Maybe I’m underestimating the costs on Belt Drury and Carpenter. They all seem like the type of player that’ll be borderline colluded out of good offers)

Anthony

I would prefer Bae’s primary position to be 2B, and I’m an advocate for the concept of adding value by moving Reynolds back to LF assuming there is a strong defensive replacement in CF. It would be ideal if Swaggerty could take advantage of that opportunity; however, I think he needs more development time if he is not packaged in an off-season trade.

I’d like to see a non-platoon option at 1B. They’re aren’t many available, but I think it is our least “deep” position w/r/t MiLB prospects. So, I’d be okay with taking on more risk here and spending money for actual middle of the order production.

I’m not as familiar with Belt and Drury, and their respective fit. If they are non-starters on a contender, the opportunity to start with the Pirates could make their offer equally competitive to alternatives. Def on board with a lefty reclamation and two bonafide relievers.

jaygray007

I’d definitely prefer a universe where they’d be able to do a bona fide 1b and bona fide dh and still do all that stuff. This is just the direction I’d go if we are only talking about 30 mil of additions

PirateRican21

A position like 1b and DH could be filled by trade. There are teams like the Brewers and Rays that might be willing to jettison players like Tellez, Renfro, Choi to list a few, acquiring any or two of these players will not require a top ten prospect, just the willingness to add $6-$8 million per player. The bullpen for some reason I’m not that worried about, I think we have one of two arms like Bolton and Bido that are ready to help and I was encouraged by the potential that Ramirez and Stephenson showed and De Los Santos has potential as well and wouldn’t mind wasting another year looking at this options.

Wilbur Miller

Trade is my preference in some areas. They have countless 2nd and 3rd tier prospects they could trade for someone half decent as long as the cheapskate was willing to pick up a modest salary, which of course he’s not. Some of those prospects aren’t going to get a chance in Pgh anyway because they’ll never be able to fight their way through Cheringtoon’s legions of sub replacement waiver claims.

b mcferren

Marlins are probably going to non-tender Stallings

Can he be the catcher that we acquire this offseason?

wouldn’t cost much

The Gunner

I’d be fine with a Stallings reunion

piratemike

Any upgrade at any position will be welcome and make it a tiny bit easier to watch but it will be close to another 100- loss season.

RAS TN

Anywhere and everywhere including Dugout and FO…

ArkyWags

Every position save third, short and center. And several pitchers. Lee beat me to it!

leefieux

Just about every offensive position but the one Reynolds plays and arguably SS. Just about every pitching spot outside of Keller, Roansy and Bednar. You can’t pick just one, imo.

The Gunner

The Bucs have transitoned from having the nucleus of a possible contending team into something similar to an expansion team since the arrival of the new regime. After 3 years on the job, we are still pretty much at Square 1, IMO.

RAS TN

The Pirates were at square 1 after the 2017 season, it just took a while for anyone or everyone to finally accept the situation…

Wouldn’t spend money
Had nothing left in prospects to fill in players leaving

The Gunner

I agree, RAS.

Nutting didn’t want to pay Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Clay Holmes, Adam Frazier, and Jacob Stallings and then spend more money to add the complimentary pieces required for the Pirates to actually be competitive.

So, we have become a modern day version of the 1962 Mets.

joesolo6181

I think the Pirates need a no nonsense manager.

The Gunner

Mike Matheny, perhaps?

b mcferren

Jason Kendall

JimEastTennessee

wish I REALLY knew what happened with Hanrahan.

b mcferren

2000 Gold Glove winner Evan White is the first baseman that may be most probable

He comes with a hefty salary (compared to his career production to date) and only potential with the bat – – – – – but he could be a hidden gem; or at least a stop gap until Malcolm is ready

Dude can pick it and could certainly save Oneil Cruz some grief:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-xIXFj-Umw

Could be viewed as a salary dump by the Mariners, in which case maybe we could fetch a prospect like Robert Perez, Jr
https://www.mlb.com/news/robert-perez-jr-continues-to-flex-in-fall-league

or maybe a discount in the prospect they’d ask for in return for lefty starter Marco Gonzales.

Could you smell Ortiz’s gas in a series game after eating Marco’s cheese?

Seattle sends Evan White, Marco Gonzales, Robert Perez, Jr and $10mil to the Pirates in exchange for Matt Frazier, Diego Castillo and Travis Swaggerty

JRIcentral

I like this!
Would like it more if the Mariners don’t have to send us money and give us a more ready prospect (Cade Marlowe?). The prospects from our side would not be important (Frazier? Oliva?). We should be able to take on $15M to fill two positions with these young players to be with us a few years if they bounce back… I would complement this with someone like Brandon Belt as DH and sometimes 1B for maybe another $12M! And Perez or Stallings at Catcher for $3M

jeffw3000

I like this deal, but I can’t see Seattle giving us both Perez and Gonzales for Frazier, Castillo and Swaggerty. I might make the deal for White and Perez, and the money without Gonzales. We would only have to pay White half of what is owed him if he does not work out, and who knows. He might regain his hitting prowess he showed in 2000 when he won the Gold Glove, or 2020, or whenever it was.

AdministrativeSky236

I mean… im in

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

2000 you say

AdministrativeSky236

Manager? Manager.

ArkyWags

If they had the best manager in baseball, how much changes? They win maybe 4-5 games more.

TNBucs

I think the difference between Shelton and an average manager is in the 5 win range and then add another 5 wins for the difference between him and a very good manager. Yeah, the team was bad. But are there managers who could have led them to something like 72-90 instead of 62-100? I think almost surely. Do those 10 extra wins matter? Well, it’s 10 more nights I’d probably go to bed in a better mood.

emjayinTN

My first thought also because it is the position that influences every aspect of the game. Three consecutive .300’s winning percentages is proof enough that a change is needed.

Wilbur Miller

When Tim texted me that the discussion was going to be what position most needed upgrade, my response was “GM.”

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

At least a 10 WAR improvement there

emjayinTN

I think the only thing saving Cherry is his drafts, but we could use a war-time Consigliere – he could stay GM, but assign an assistant GM to handle the on-field game.

Wilbur Miller

I think the only thing saving Cheringtoon on his drafts is his singular ability to draft guys who are always hurt, so he can never be judged by his drafts.

patrick_kelly

I’m still willing to give Ben a pass on the last few seasons. I have a sense that he wasn’t trying to build a winning team, particularly the bullpen after some of the better arms went down last year. I think with the attitude of not trying to win yet, he grabbed whatever shit hit the waiver wire to see if anything stuck. Not churning through them faster was a larger issue.

Anthony

Exactly, context matters.

AdministrativeSky236

Several teams do the whole GM and president of baseball ops combo, we could do the same! But then we would have to pay them both

Wilbur Miller

Nutting has a GM and president of baseball oops combo.

Tintin049

Couple of things.
Why are we so excited to bring Perez back? Isn’t there someone, anyone, that is an upgrade?
and to me it’s starting,pitching and it’s not close.
The bullpen was pressed last year because the starters, even when good, couldn’t go more than 5 inning or so. Reducing bullpen expose starts with getting much better starting pitchers

adicesa14

I’m happy the ‘emendations’ are finally resolved, and you are back.
 
It seems to me that in terms of immediate help from outside the organization, you got it right, 1B, relief pitching, and interim catcher. I would add left-handed starting pitcher. The remaining ‘needs’, and there are many, are likely in the current Pirate organization if they work out.
 
Three other issues remain for discussion: 1) Can Ke’Bryan Hayes hit? 2) Will Bryan Reynolds peacefully move to left field? 3) Will O’Neal Cruz’s defense improve, or will he accept a move to another position?

PiratePrimate

A 3B who can hit? A SS who can field? A 2B? A 1B? A RF? A CF? The Pirates have a LF but they insist on playing him in CF. A C? A Bullpen? This is a mess and the only hope is a prospect miracle where every rookie becomes a solid, everyday player. A position of economic respectability might be the most important position.

skliesen

Is there a wrong answer here?

If the question is about improving one position to improve the team’s number of wins, then the answer most certainly is bullpen. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say the Pirates would win at least 10 more games next season just by having a middle of the pack bullpen.

If the question is more about a single player, than I would say 1B over Catcher by the slimmest of margins. Let’s be honest, production from both positions was simply atrocious. Signing or trading for average starters at both positions likely adds about 8 wins.

I’d give an honorable (or is it dishonorable?) mention to 3B bat. If Hayes can figure out how to increase his average loft by 5 degrees without sacrificing his contact rate or average exit velocity, he becomes a better 3B than Arrenado was this year.

ArkyWags

I think any swing change is gonna come with sacrifices. His K rate was 21.8 which is a shade better than average. I’d take an extra five percent on that if that means a good bit more power.

Wilbur Miller

Is there a wrong answer here?

Haha, no.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

Now that’s an array of opinions. Four different answers lol

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