The Pittsburgh Pirates added veteran infielder Chris Owings on a minor league deal, which we learned about yesterday.
Prior to this move, I asked Pirates Prospects writers where else the Pirates need to add for the 2023 season.
With all due respect to Owings, I’m not sure that anyone had a backup middle infielder as the biggest need. Then again, in keeping with the theme of this article, I’m making that assumption without having read what everyone else had to say.
As usual for Roundtable, all responses are submitted blind, so no one knows how anyone else is going to answer the question.
Where else do the Pirates need to add for the 2023 season?
This question can be answered at least two ways. I’ll start by saying I see the Pirates winning around 76 games this year, with a little bit better performance during the second half. If they decide to keep all of the impending free agents like Rich Hill, Carlos Santana, etc, then maybe they can do a little better if the group of top prospects at the upper levels don’t fall flat.
You would need to add something to that group to give them a playoff shot if everything went right, but it doesn’t mean you’re a really good team if you just sneak into the playoffs under the new system with more playoff teams.
So this question is, do you want to block some prospects in order to possibly sneak into the playoffs? Or do you want a legit playoff team that can go somewhere? I don’t think they have the resources for the second part, and I really don’t know if those difference makers are available right now.
Answering the first part, the outfield still looks like it could add a starter. There seems to be room for improvement, especially with Andrew McCutchen likely to play DH most of the time. You basically still have Bryan Reynolds and a bunch of question marks. I don’t know if I’d be willing to add someone over giving legit shots to guys like Cal Mitchell and Jack Suwinski a chance to see what they could do with regular playing time now that they have MLB experience.
Assuming they could add a legit outfielder, then I’d want to see a better catcher as the backup than any of the available players already in the system. It’s another spot where I’d be hesitant to add because I think Endy Rodriguez will end up in a platoon role by mid-season. If we are adding players though, then I’d want a legit backup. Those two additions would move the needle on those slim playoff chances from almost zero to an actual full percentage number.
To me, this is fairly easy. Not to say that the options are all the best, but most of the roster is set at this point.
The bullpen and rotation are overflowing with options, there are too many outfielders that need to be sorted through, and most of the starting infielders are set. If anything, backup catcher could be better, but either Tyler Heineman or Jason Delay will keep Endy Rodriguez’s spot warm until he’s ready. That leaves backup shortstop as the only glaring hole, at least in my opinion.
Currently, the options vying for second base are the options to backup Oneil Cruz. Hopefully Cruz can be a mainstay there this season, but any of the other players in the mix can hardly play the position well enough to give Cruz a day off, much less if he goes down with an injury.
Rodolfo Castro has proven not to be the best option at short, while Ji Hwan Bae doesn’t really have the arm for it. I guess the other player competing for a bench spot in spring is Tucupita Marcano, but he’s not exactly the best fit for shortstop either. With neither seeing time in Triple-A yet, I personally don’t think Jared Triolo or Liover Peguero are options at this point.
Based on how Ben Cherington has talked, I think any option at this point in the offseason is going to be a Non-Roster Invite. Bae and Marcano may be in direct competition for backup utility infielder/outfielder, but a veteran middle infielder who can play shortstop wouldn’t hurt this team going into the season.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above response was submitted on 2/1, a day prior to the Owings signing.
Their two biggest needs are general manager and manager, but that’s not going to happen so I’ll go with the bullpen.
The concept of “adding” at a particular spot does have its pitfalls, because it leads to a check-the-box mentality. It’d be better to think of it simply as adding talent, not a particular position. In that sense, the Pirates’ two biggest player needs are the same as they were going into the off-season: catcher and first base. They may end up worse at other positions, although I doubt it, but from the standpoint of potential, those are the two spots where they remain the furthest behind other teams.
But the Pirates have checked those boxes, so the bullpen is the obvious place to add, unless they’d be willing to ditch Vince Velasquez. They probably have enough on hand now that, with a few breaks, they could end up with at least a solid bullpen. Of course, Derek Shelton’s obsession with middle relievers and his tendency to value tenure over talent won’t help, but the potential is there.
They’ve got an extremely volatile situation, though, as the relievers in the current pool with the most established track records are mostly the ones with the lower ceilings, specifically Duane Underwood Jr., Wil Crowe and Chase De Jong. Guys like Robert Stephenson, Yerry De Los Santos and Jose Hernandez are going to be very hit-or-miss, and Colin Holderman is a significant health risk (as is David Bednar, if Shelton uses him carelessly again).
Adding more options, especially lefties, is never going to be a bad thing, as long as it’s guys with some upside, no matter how risky.
I think looking at the major league roster without taking into consideration the prospects they have in the system, the position that probably still needs to be upgraded the most is catcher. Austin Hedges and Tyler Heineman (assuming he does win the back up spot to start) form quite the formidable duo defensively, but leave plenty to be desired when it comes to the bat.
Of course, two of the team’s top prospects also catch, one is already on the 40-man roster, so this is what they are going to enter the season with and have to deal with until one of the other two are deemed ready.
There’s also the outfield, as there are still plenty of names, but none that really stand out. They brought in Andrew McCutchen, but if he takes the majority of his reps at DH, that really didn’t solve anything on the field.
The biggest glaring need right now, for me, is who is going to backup up Oneil Cruz at shortstop. Hopefully he plays as many games as possible, making a backup shortstop a very low priority, but it would be nice to have an option behind him that they can feel comfortable with playing against lefties to give Cruz a break if he is in a slump.
It really doesn’t do any good to have Liover Peguero sit on the bench, and while Jared Triolo could be an option, he hasn’t played much at shortstop professionally. They could slide Rodolfo Castro over to shortstop, but that’d force Ji-Hwan Bae or Tucupita Marcano (both left-handed) at second base to face fellow left-handers.
It may not be a big need, but definitely something the Pirates should look out there to see if they can address it.
There aren’t many areas I think the Pirates could really upgrade without it having to be a trade with purpose. Which, with some of the upper level depth they have, it may not be the worst idea.
Backup catcher would be one glaring area. Tyler Heineman probably has the inside track, with Jason Delay and Carter Bins as other possibilities. My original off-season plan would’ve been to swing a trade for Danny Jansen, but that time has passed. Austin Hedges is the number one for now, but if he gets hurt, it will be painful until Super 2 date arrives for Endy Rodriguez.
A backup shortstop is an area of need. I’m not sure if bringing in Chris Owings was an attempt at this, but a trusted backup shortstop would be useful for when Oneil Cruz needs a day off.
Bullpen’s always need additions. But they’re also extremely fungible, while the Pirates have a slew of bullpen likely arms in the upper levels. I think the best additions here will come from within their existing depth.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above response was submitted on 2/2, after the Owings signing was announced.
I’m going to keep my answer short: The Pirates could use a veteran reliever to pair with David Bednar. They were running into usage issues with Bednar last year, and that was with a 62-win team. The 2023 squad projects to win more games, which will put more of a demand on Bednar.
I like the middle relief depth the Pirates have put together. There are a few pitchers who I could see emerging as strong leverage relievers by the end of the year — just as Bednar did in his 2021 season. I don’t think the Pirates should bank on this happening, as they run the risk of having no one but Bednar if the depth falls apart.
Adding a veteran leverage reliever can help to keep the middle relief depth strong in middle relief, rather than demanding that someone step up to fill a need. This will also add more structure and options to the bullpen, making Derek Shelton’s job easier — especially during the dog days of summer.
I guess I have a slightly different take. What they need are star players. B-Rey is a good, even great player but he has yet to be a star. Ke-Bryan could step up offensively and become the star that he showed for a brief month in 2020. Cruz has the charisma and the awe but does he have the consistency and maturity? Some of the young pitchers have potential.
Whether from outside the organization or inside, they need some “stars.” This team will not improve much with incrementalist additions like relief pitchers or backup infielders (which I don’t see as a need – if Cruz can’t cut it there are significant issues or other options internally simply need to step up). It will improve with star quality and the investment it takes to lure them and/or keep them. The unwritten need – an owner willing to invest in the product on the field.
If the Pirates were a legitimate ‘contender,’ this would be a more interesting conversation. It seems to me that ‘beefing-up’ the roster, whether with back-up catcher or SS, another outfielder, more relief pitching, or whatever probably yields limited benefit. The most that could be accomplished is a few more wins, possible (but doubtful!) low-level entry into the playoffs (with little or no chance to advance), and most importantly delay, i.e., block, prospects on who decisions must be made.
Unfortunately, last year’s prospects aren’t locks either. Briefly, Suwinski’s abysmal batting average and strike out issues, Mitchell’s terrible fielding and Cruz’s low on-base average and many errors (I’m insinuating that SS may not be his best position) are issues that must be resolved. The most named 2B and back-up SS players are all untested at the MLB level except for Castro who has his own issues offensively, defensively, and apparently psychologically. The starting pitching is promising but not yet set and current major league relievers are less talented and overworked.
Me thinks it’s time to find out about the usefulness of the players in waiting at AAA. We all expect Rodriguez and possibly Davis to arrive in Pittsburgh this year. Could Shelton actually take a good look at Travis Swaggerty? I keep reading about the plethora of talented pitchers in the upper minors. Might it be a good idea to work them into the majors via the bullpen? And our best player is unsigned. These problems need solutions. Adding likely journeymen to slightly enhance the roster is a fools errand. Let’s find out what we have!
Bae doesn’t have awful LH splits. The delta between his glove/bat and a defense first RH SS isn’t big enough to sign one, given the 40-man crunch, in my opinion. It’s smart to have some SS waiting in AAA just in case, so I like the moves by BC there.
Agree with Juniorkrz re: catcher.
Seems like a generic answer but what does every team need? Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. With options, injuries, and underperformance space will be naturally there for another SP or RP. And if he performs well some team will throw a prospect at the Bucs at the deadline. Money well spent.
Cole Hamels anyone?
Tim nailed it, IMHO. A power reliever to share closing duties with Bednar would be my choice, too. I am not worried about the catching situation as the tandem’s defense will serve us well until Endy gets the call.
I am flummoxed as to why Alex Reyes is still available. I know saves are not really a great stat to look at the quality of a reliever, but he has alot of them, and that tells me he is comfortable with late game situations. So, my pick would be get Reyes to pair with Bednar OR (if you really wanted to go leverage lefty) get Chafin or Matt Moore and shoehorn them into that late role. Saving Bednar’s arm is a top priority.
Wilbur, I thought for sure you’d say trevor bauer, but you did say the next best thing, a new GM and definitely a new manager.
I started off thinking we need a veteran good-glove shortstop who can still hit a little in case Cruz is injured but then I think we can cross that bridge if it happens. If someone from our own system isn’t ready then we can always find someone on the waiver wire or trade for someone for cash considerations. In which case, I like to see us grab a quality bullpen arm to pair with Bednar that we can sign to a multi-year deal.
Having sorted through the answers my easy answer is add nothing given the options that are realistically available.
I first gravitated towards the RH backup shortstop but then decided that Cruz basically needs to play every day. He HAS to be able too hit (or given the chance to learn) hitting lefties whether he ends up at SS or some other position. For those few days he sits, I’d rather survive with Bae or Castro sliding over than carry some veteran backup who I fear will then get ‘bonus’ starts elsewhere. Keeping Owings in AAA can suffice if Castro/Bae et al faceplant but I don’t want to start with him in the majors.
I think a better backup catcher would make me feel better but will it really matter?
There is plenty to sort out in the OF so I’d rather roll with what we have.
Brendon Rogers for Cal Mitchell might be interesting
He just won a Gold Glove. I doubt they would trade him for Cal Mitchell, who can’t field and has not proven whether he can hit yet.
what about Suwinski?
dude cant hit outside of coors though
I agree with Tim and Wilbur on this one, and in general I’d love to know what their plan is for 7th and 8th innings, or for when Bednar needs a day off. There is talent in the pen but they all come with such significant questions, I feel like I’m going to have a lot of anxiety between the starter going out and Bednar coming in. My #2 guy to Bednar would be Oviedo but I think it would be wrong to give up on him as a starter.
My second choice would be a RH OF but I’m willing to give Suwinski the chance to see if he can become an everyday player while platooning Cutch and Mitchell or other LH OF at the other corner.
Starlin Castro has officially retired?
we can´t have him for the same reason as Bauer
shame – – he fits the mold of the right handed hitting backup shortstop pretty well
The OF mix does feel like it’s a RH short.
Cutch has said he’s mostly a DH now, so he wont help much. That leaves Joe to platoon with either Suwinski or whoever makes the team out of Njigba/Mitchell. that leaves a RH spot open at the opposite corner.
maybe, to them, that player is already Vilade. maybe it’s someone who is still in FA. i dont know.
bring Bob Grossman home! or i wonder if Profar still has his shortstop glove to fill multiple roles.
Easy pick is andrew chafin.
the gentleman’s pick is Andrelton Simmons.
I cheated. Aka procrastinated
How to fix back up SS and the pen without waiving Vilade off the 40!!! .trade Choi to the Twins for Kyle Farmer, Vince replaces DeJung as the swing reliever, Oviedo is the 5th starter, sign Andrew Chafin.
i believe vilade was once a shortstop… just sayin 😛
Last played there in 2019 in High A. An error every 32 innings.
He started his career as a shortstop. I think that is the real reason they kept him around. He has played everywhere professionally, except 2B, pitcher and catcher. Him and Owings will battling it out as the righthanded backup at short.
Is he the new Van Meter?
Sources say Reynolds heading to the Dodgers momentarily for Julio Urias
Urias is in his last year of control that would be downright stupid. Get better sources.
Horses. He meant horses.
Lol….I forgot. Bobby is gonna Bobby… For entertainment purposes only! 🙂
why wouldn´t we want the best pitcher in the league?
watching the one eyed pirate Urias toss gems all year in 2023 is a lot more exciting than wishing for a another set of prospects to flake out
i´d have much rather us received Derek Lowe for Jason Bay than that slop of yak we had to endure watching for years after
As far as the top remaining ZIPS projected FA (projected WAR):
C – Gary Sanchez (.9)
1B – Donovan Solano (.7)
2nd – Jose Iglesias (1.3)
SS – Elvis Andrus (1.8)
3rd – Donovan Solano (.7)
OF – Jurickson Profar (1.2)
OF – David Peralta (.8)
OF – Ben Gamel (.6)
SP – Michael Wacha (1.5)
RP – Andrew Chaffin (.4)
Iglesias at SS and Chafin as the set up.
oops put Solano twice by mistake, next highest 1B is Luke Voit (.4)
Good answers. Had not even thought about a backup RH hitting SS.
As for the bullpen, any good arms available are much too expensive. So, we’ll have to hope someone steps up.