The Pittsburgh Pirates made several moves today, adding four players to the 40-man roster, claiming Pedro Florimon from the Washington Nationals, and still not confirming the Radhames Liz deal, even though everyone else is saying it’s a done deal. Here is a rundown from the busy day.
The Rule 5 Additions
I will point out one big misconception about today’s deadline. This isn’t about protecting every single prospect, and no one is lost because of today’s moves. The purpose here is to protect players who are at risk of being drafted by another team, and protected all year. That’s very rare, even if it did happen to the Pirates last year with Wei-Chung Wang. In fact, last year at this time, the talk was about how Zack Thornton was a near guarantee to be taken in the 2013 Rule 5 draft. He wasn’t. In the “eligible” link above, I talked about the guys who stand the biggest risk of being taken this year.
The Roster is “Set”
Each team “set” their roster today, which implies that these rosters are final. They aren’t. Last year the Pirates removed five players from the 40-man roster in the month following the Rule 5 protection deadline. That was during a slow off-season. The first two moves came five days after the rosters were set. The year before that, which was a busier off-season, they removed five players in the first ten days following the deadline.
Looking at the current roster, I can easily find players who could be removed for future free agent signings, waiver claims, or any other move that brings in new players and bumps someone off the roster. Chaz Roe, Jake Elmore, Preston Guilmet, and Pedro Florimon are four quick examples. And those examples represent a trend this off-season, which explains why the Pirates have so many of these guys on their 40-man.
And once that Radhames Liz deal becomes finalized, expect one of these guys to get the bump.
The Bench and Bullpen Needs
If you’ve been paying attention to the moves so far this off-season, you’d notice two trends. The Pirates have been loading up on infield bench and bullpen options. Some of that started towards the end of the season. Here are the players acquired for each category.
Relievers: Chaz Roe, Rob Scahill, Preston Guilmet, Collin Balester, Jeremy Bleich, Deolis Guerra, Brad Lincoln, Blake Wood, Radhames Liz (eventually)
Bench: Pedro Florimon, Justin Sellers, Jake Elmore, Gustavo Nunez
None of these guys are guarantees for a major league roster. Their upsides are mostly middle relievers or bench players. Most of them will spend the season in Triple-A, only getting the call when an injury occurs. But none of that really matters, because all of these guys are cheap. With the exception of Rob Scahill (who cost Shane Carle in a trade, and Carle profiled as a guy who might have a shot as a fifth starter, but probably a middle reliever), none of these guys cost anything important.
Even the reported $1.5 M a year for Radhames Liz isn’t significant, especially when you consider the track record the Pirates have with finding hidden pitching gems. At this point, if you’re complaining about any pitcher the Pirates have added, then you’re ignoring Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Vance Worley, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, John Holdzkom, A.J. Burnett, Vin Mazzaro, and Jason Grilli. I’d go on, but I’m only listing guys who had good seasons in the last two years, and were either reclamation projects, hidden gems, or both.
As for the middle infielders, the Pirates have prioritized defense with all of the above guys, including today’s waiver claim, Florimon. By now we should know that the Pirates prioritize defense for their backup middle infielder, especially at shortstop. They did this the last two years, and that didn’t stop them from making the playoffs the last two years. The common argument against these moves is that they aren’t finding someone who can hit while putting up good defense. Those players exist. They’re called starters. The Pirates have one of those guys. They aren’t available on waivers or as minor league free agents. They aren’t found on the benches of every other team. The position is so thin that when it comes to a backup, you choose one or the other. The Pirates choose defense.
The Rest of the Off-Season
On Friday, November 21st, we reach the one week anniversary of the A.J. Burnett signing. I bring that up as a reminder that:
1. It’s still November.
2. The Pirates have actually done more than just add minor league free agents and waiver claims this off-season.
Are the Pirates doing nothing so far? See last week. Is Burnett enough? No. Is it too early to assume the Pirates are done? Yes.
Maybe it’s the lack of rumors that suggest the Pirates aren’t doing anything. Never mind that there were zero rumors about Burnett until the moment the deal was done. It was the same thing with Francisco Liriano back when he was signed. There was about a day’s notice when Russell Martin was signed. The Pirates don’t like information getting out there until a deal is finalized, which is why they won’t confirm the Liz deal. But it’s easy to read between the lines here and see what is going on.
The Pirates are looking at pitching. Neal Huntington has said as much when he talked about how they were trying to bring back Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, but might have a difficult time bringing both back after the addition of Burnett. The pitching market is stalled right now, and will be stalled until the top tier establish the market. After guys like Jon Lester and Max Scherzer sign, we’ll start seeing guys like Liriano and Brandon McCarthy on the move. Again, it’s November 21st. There’s still three weeks until the Winter Meetings. So don’t expect the Pirates to be doing anything on the starting pitching market until that market gets going.
After designating Ike Davis for assignment, the projected payroll is at $71.5 M. The Pirates were already trying to give a big contract to Russell Martin, along with pursuing another pitcher. They have plenty of money to get at least one more starting pitcher, and they can spend money on an established guy this time, rather than rolling the dice on another reclamation project.
And expect more fliers on bullpen arms and infield bench options. A lot more. These moves don’t hurt anything, and they don’t prevent the Pirates from making moves that could provide a big impact to the team.
So what if this is all the Pirates do this off-season, and they don’t add the pitching they need? That’s a question best answered three months from now, when we get to see if that scenario actually played out.
Links and Notes