Today might have wrapped up one of the most busy Winter Meetings I can remember. Normally on a Thursday, things have died down, the Rule 5 draft takes place, and it’s all over. This morning there were a wave of transactions that almost made you think the general managers wouldn’t make it for the draft.
The Pirates didn’t have an active day. They didn’t select anyone at all in the draft, and lost three players. None of the players they lost will be a big blow to the system. Andy Oliver and Tyler Waldron have a shot at the majors, but at best they are middle relievers. The Pirates didn’t do anything today, but they were active this week, and may have left the Winter Meetings with all of their off-season needs filled.
On Sunday I wrote about how the Pirates had one big need heading into the meetings, and that was a top of the rotation starter. They filled that need on Tuesday, bringing back Francisco Liriano on a three-year deal. With the earlier off-season addition of A.J. Burnett, the Pirates now have their rotation set. Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Burnett will top the rotation. Charlie Morton will take the fourth spot when he’s healthy. Until then, Jeff Locke and Vance Worley will fill out the final two spots.
The depth behind those starters include Brandon Cumpton, Clayton Richard, and Casey Sadler early in the season. The top prospects who could join the team by mid-season include Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Adrian Sampson. Overall, that’s 12 starters the Pirates have at the moment who can pitch in the majors at various times throughout the year.
The other big need the Pirates had to fill this off-season was at catcher. They filled that earlier by trading for Francisco Cervelli. Some might not like the move, but Cervelli provides a ton of defense, which is something the Pirates prioritize. There’s also a slight hope that he can hit, in addition to providing that strong defense. He has an .822 OPS in a very small sample size of 223 plate appearances the last two years, and a .729 OPS in 785 plate appearances in his career. The big question is whether he can stay healthy enough to put up those numbers over an entire season.
Last week the Pirates upgraded their bench by adding Sean Rodriguez. Eventually that trade will be completed, most likely with a Rule 5 guy. However, the player to be named later has not been named just yet. Rodriguez is on the team, and is a lock to make the squad as a utility infielder. The Pirates have added a lot of cheap infielders through waiver claims and minor league free agency, and could fill the second infield role through that route.
The bullpen was a problem last year, and was dealt a small blow this off-season when the Pirates sent out Justin Wilson for Cervelli. That created a need for a second left-hander, which they filled on Wednesday by trading Joely Rodriguez for Antonio Bastardo. They could also use relief pitching depth and options to fill out the bullpen, and they’ve been working on that in the form of waiver claims and minor league free agents. They added another option earlier this week when they claimed Josh Lindblom.
So what is left?
There were rumors today that the Marlins were looking at Pedro Alvarez. If the Pirates did eventually trade Alvarez, it would create a hole at first base. They’d also be selling low on Alvarez, coming off his worst season in the last three years. It looks like first base will be the spot to watch going forward, although I don’t know if that means they’ll do anything at the position.
I could see them continuing to make minor moves for the bullpen and bench, with waiver claims and minor league free agents adding depth.
The Francisco Liriano and Radhames Liz deals need to become official, which should happen in the next week. There is currently an open spot on the 40-man roster, which means only one more spot will need to be opened for those two pitchers.
The annual Neil Walker extension rumors have started, which reminds us that extensions are also a possibility for the remainder of the off-season.
Then there’s the possibility that the Pirates could get creative in the next two months, trying to find ways to upgrade the team in creative ways (like dealing Alvarez for an upgrade, then replacing him with a good first base option, assuming that’s even possible).
At the end of the Winter Meetings, the Pirates find themselves in a good position. They could pack it in now, and pretty much be done for the off-season, with just a few small moves for depth needed, and maybe some specific moves like a platoon option for first base. That wouldn’t be a bad approach, since this is a team that looks like it can contend. Or, they could get creative, and try to upgrade the team even more. It’s easy to say that’s the way they should go, and they definitely can go that route knowing that this roster provides a safety net.
I don’t know if the Pirates are done for the off-season, but it’s certainly going to be interesting to see where they go from here.
Links and Notes
**The 2015 Prospect Guide will be sent to the publisher soon, and will hopefully be released in the next week. All of that depends on how quickly I get the book back from the publisher. You can pre-order your copy here.