Pirates Unlikely to See a First Base Upgrade

Two pieces of news recently came out which point to the Pittsburgh Pirates missing out on a chance to land a first base upgrade. First was the talk that Derrek Lee might opt for retirement if he doesn’t get the right deal between now and Spring Training. Lee remains unsigned, and isn’t open to returning to the Pirates, who want to bring him back. The second news was the signing of Carlos Pena by the Tampa Bay Rays to a one year, $7.25 M deal.

Pena and Lee were arguably the top first basemen on the market for the Pirates, when you consider that the Pirates have no shot for Prince Fielder. The Pirates offered arbitration to Lee, who turned it down. Had Lee accepted arbitration, he would have been guaranteed at least $8.5 M, which is what his total compensation was in 2011.

The news on Lee means more than the Pirates missing out on a potential first base upgrade. If he retires, they won’t get a compensation pick for him in the 2012 draft. Right now that pick projects to be between 53rd and 57th overall.

You could make the argument that the Pirates need a starting pitcher more than a first base upgrade. At this point that would be the only option for the Pirates, since Pena is signed, Lee won’t sign, and there are no other options on the market that look to be an upgrade for the team (again, making the reasonable assumption that Fielder won’t sign with Pittsburgh).

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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Matt Beam

who cares about 1B, go pay for a good SP


Howabout the fact that the offense was the problem in 2011, not the SP? We have done nothing to improve the offense this offseason outside of hoping that Casey McGehee can hit better in a worse park for his skill set.

James Vargo

This winter has a sickening feeling. One or two more upgrade signings would make a big difference in this team. It is a buyer’s market. But NH seems indifferent, or should I say, ownership. With half the payroll of Milwaukee, we had a shot at a weakened division…. 


I don’t get this train of thought. The Pirates are bad but if they make two upgrades thy are good enough to compete for the title that doesn’t make any sense at all.

Now I will grant you, maybe if you were talking about signing Pujols and Sabathia, and we assume Bedard stays healthy all year, and we assume that Alvarez becomes the slugger we hope, and we assume Presley is legit, and we assume Tabata and Walker improve upon their first two years, and we assume Kartsens doesn’t regress, and we assume Morton and McDonald build off of last year and we assume ….

Yes if all that would happen maybe just maybe we would see a 90 win team capable of competing for the division title. But lets assume you realized the chances of the Pirates signing Pujols and Sabathia were non-existent and lets assume you realize that not all of other things will happen. What do we have? We have a team that I believe to be slightly better than last year’s version, not much but just a little bit so lets call them a 74 win team. Now lets add Edwin Jackson and Carlos Pena, two fairly reasonable upgrades for the Pirates at probably their weakest positions, what does that make this team? A 78 win team?

Where are the other 10-12 wins coming from? Now I am not saying they shouldn’t try to improve the clubs even if it wouldn’t make them a contender (I still think a SP needs added, another catcher should be pursued and a long term 1B solution needs found) but to act as if signing two good but not elite players would vault the Pirates into contention just doesn’t make sense.


here here. Everyone keeps looking at Mil look at Tampa look at the things they do. They were terrible forever changed their philosophy and make smart decisions w/o overspending. MIl will be a bottom feeder in a couple of years. They won’t have enough $ to resig Marcum and Greinke longterm and with no Fielder their lineup becomes Braun and the nobodies. Its a terrible comparison and it shouldn’t be made.

I understand people want a bigger splash so they can feel good but in most cases its a complete waste of resources. There is no quick fix players outside of Pujols available. These todays special 1b everyone wants are a joke. Brandon Allen? Garret Jones is better than him. Why waste your time? Best case Pedro and Mcgee hit and Pedro makes his move to 1b.

Paul Maholm is an aging mediocre or even below that guy coming off an injury. He’s showed decline the last few years. If Bedard makes 22 starts its a significant upgrade. I find it laughable that people still say they shouldve kept his option. For double what the rest of baseball thought he was worth. Unreal. Cedeno terrible inconsistent and uncoachable. Barmes the opposite even with his eh bat. Doumit a complete travesty behind the plate oft injured and inconsistent(love watching guys just freely run around the bases on him). Barajas not as much bat but some pop and a much better def catcher.

So for some people to say all these moves are nothing or lateral at best is a joke. Not spectacular but look what teams like the Rays have done and they have plenty of holes.


I love the signing of Bedard, but what I dont understand is that when people talk about signing him, they view it as a replacement for Maholm, and it doesn’t need to be one or the other.  At the moment, we still have a chance Correia ends up in the rotation, and Maholm would be a big upgrade over KC.  No reason signing Bedard precludes us from keeping Paul, or signing another rotation upgrade.


Agreed that it doesnt need to be 1 or the other read a lot about lateral moves is all. I dont want Correia in the roto either and I could see maholm as a slight upgrade to him.I kinda would like another lefty in the rotation too. I just think at the cost ,his injury, declining innings, I’d just as soon take a shot on Lincoln Locke or if they could get Jeff Francis for $1-$2 mill.


We are not getting any of these players until the team commits to winning in the near term

James S

Don’t need him to get walked, just need him to knock in runs.

If I ran the team, I would fine every 3-4-5 & 6 hitter in the batting order 100 bucks for every walk they take.


Because if there’s one thing that leads to championships, it’s 2/3 of your order with a sub .300 OBP.  Players would be fucking jumping at the chance to play for the Idi Amin of the NL.  “Welcome aboard, dude! Expect your stats to fall to a level your career will never recover from!”



James S

There’s still the possibility of Mark Trumbo going on the trading block, who I would do everything it takes to get. That’s the only one I’m hoping for.

Kotchman is still intriguing, but Cleveland will probably sign him. I would even take a shot at Xavier Nady if he ever recovers fully from the surgery two years ago. He can’t be very expensive at least.


No clue how you could like Trumbo but not Allen, same age, same pedigree. Niether is great, but both have legit power at the expense of bad contact skills. At least Allen knows how to take a walk.

At any rate Trumbo is hurt and no team will trade for him while injured.

Please explain how Nady presents any kind of upgrade over a Jones/McGahee platoon?

white angus

James, about Kotchman:  even the Rays thought his 2011 was a fluke, which is obvious because they just signed Pena for more money than it would have taken to resign Kotchman.

I’m no fan of Jones, but a platoon (gag) of he and McGehee should put up better numbers than Nady, and probably better “hitting” than Pena.

James S

I’ve already said the same about our platoon. I’d just like them to have Nady on the bench. There will be times when they need another proven hitter in the line-up. Like I said, his price can’t be much.


Don’t like Trumbo and his .291 OBP.  Flash in the pan who is currently injured and may not be ready by the start of spring training. 

Of course, just my opinion

Scott Klima

1B: Should’ve traded for Alonso or Rizzo, but since they missed out they should go after Trumbo or Allen.  

SP: Would’ve liked to see Maholm be retained at the price the Cubs paid, or even higher, but now we don’t have any ML ready depth here in case of injuries or underachieving.


NH has been sitting on his hands watching good long term solutions go by the way side. At this point the only option might be whomever gets freed up by Fielder signing.


John.alcorn, that isnt fair to say he has been sitting on his hands.  You dont know that he didnt try for Alonso or Rizzo.  I understand the frustration, but it doesnt help when you just say something that you dont know is true.


You also don’t know he tried. This is a common defense used by pro-NH guys. It just doesn’t make sense, we know the trade price that was accepted, therefore if we had offered more we’d have the player. There is little reason to think that an opposing GM would take less from another team just to avoid NH. The entire baseball world knew Rizzo was available and he’s now a Cub not a Pirate, that is worth criticism.

My greater concern is the poor track record of talent evaluation demonstrated by NH over and over again.


And you dont know that he didnt try.  This is a common defense used by anti-NH guys…..  The Alfonso trade would have cost us at least Tallion, and probably more.  No thanks.  As for Rizzo, he would have required a Tallion also.  Sorry.  Wouldnt do that either.  Why trade away your very best pitcher for a unproven player.  I am glad you sir do not run the Pirates.

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