Pirates Have One Specific Need Heading into the Winter Meetings

Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings take place this week, running Monday through the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. The meetings are a time when things really kick off in free agency and on the trade market. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, I wouldn’t be surprised if the meetings are slow. There aren’t many areas where the Pirates need to seek an upgrade.

**They seem to be going with an all-defense catching combo of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, and with Russell Martin off the market, there aren’t really any good starting options available that could beat out this all-defense approach.

**The outfield is set with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. They’ve got a contingency plan in Travis Snider if Polanco doesn’t work out.

**The infield looks set at second, third, and shortstop, and they seem to be set on going with Pedro Alvarez at first base. They could try to deal Alvarez, but that might be foolish, since there aren’t any good replacement options available.

**The bullpen had issues in 2014, but came around at the end of the season. They have a great combo in the late innings with Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. John Holdzkom emerged at the end of the season as a potential seventh inning guy. Jared Hughes should return to a key role in the middle innings. They look to be going with Radhames Liz for another spot. The Pirates usually fill their bullpen needs with low-key moves. They need a second lefty, which could be filled by either Jeff Locke or Clayton Richard. They have added several right-handed options to help fill out the bullpen. I don’t expect them to make a big splash here.

**The bench looks strong, with Travis Snider and Sean Rodriguez providing good backup plans for the lineup, and good bench bats. I’d expect one of the Pedro Florimon/Justin Sellers/Jake Elmore group to take the second infield bench spot, with my money on Florimon. The final bench spot will depend on whether they go with a platoon at first base. If they don’t go with a platoon, they could carry an extra outfielder, or an extra super utility player. This is another area where I don’t think they’ll make any big splashes, or at least nothing bigger than Sean Rodriguez.

That leaves the starting rotation, which is the key area the Pirates needed to upgrade this off-season. They lost Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez to free agency. Charlie Morton is expected to miss the start of the 2015 season. That left the need for at least two starters this off-season. One of those rotation spots has already been filled by A.J. Burnett. The Pirates have been rumored to be prioritizing Liriano for the second spot.

Things aren’t expected to happen on the starting pitching front until after Jon Lester signs. Jon Heyman has the latest update on Lester, noting that the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, and Dodgers are in the mix, and that the bidding is going over $130 M, while the Cubs could be over $140 M for six years. Lester will set the market, and will open things up for other pitchers behind him to sign. At that point, we’ll probably start to hear more on what the Pirates might do, and what kind of market Liriano has.

There has already been one update, saying that Liriano’s signing could come down to whether a team gives him three or four years. Heading into the off-season, I expected he could get four years and $48-50 M. The Pirates can definitely afford that, as their payroll is projected to go over $90 M this year, and they’re currently projected at $72.3 M heading into the meetings. They could even afford him if the bidding takes the average annual value higher. They’ve already offered him $15.3 M through a qualifying offer that he turned down. Because of that, if he signs elsewhere, they will get a compensation pick after the first round of the 2015 draft.

Aside from the push for Liriano, I don’t expect anything big for the Pirates. Their off-season so far has been filled with a lot of moves to add depth, and fill out the final few spots on the roster. They’ve already addressed their catching situation, along with one of their open rotation spots. Going forward, I’d expect more low-key moves to help upgrade the bullpen and bench, and possibly one potential reclamation project for rotation depth. I also wouldn’t rule out a platoon at first base, which would require an external move.

The end of the meetings will bring the Rule 5 draft, which I’d expect will bring at least one transaction for the Pirates. Even if they don’t lose anyone and don’t take anyone in the draft, there’s a possibility they could trade a player to the Rays after the draft to complete the Sean Rodriguez deal. I think that’s possible only because “Player to be Named Later” deals at this time of the year are usually Rule 5 eligible players who get traded after the draft.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates draft someone. They have room on the 40-man roster. There is currently one spot, although that will be taken when the Radhames Liz deal is finally official. There are plenty of players who could be removed from the 40-man roster to make room, although that might end up being a wash if the Pirates do end up drafting a player, since Rule 5 picks these days amount to no better than waiver claims. As for the players who are eligible from the Pirates, here is the list, along with some thoughts on who the best candidates are to be drafted.

On a site note, the Rule 5 draft is the final transaction that goes into the 2015 Prospect Guide, unless another transaction takes place before Friday morning. I’m finishing up profiles tonight, and will be making the final changes to the book this week in the down time between Winter Meetings updates. I’ve already ordered a test copy to make sure everything will print out properly. The book will go to publishing on Friday, and I’ll have a better idea at that point when it will be officially released. If you want to guarantee that your book goes out in the first shipment, your order needs to be in by Friday morning. You can pre-order a copy of the book here. I’ll have a preview from the book at some point early this week.

  • Given the history of free agents rejecting Qualifying Offers, having Francisco Liriano as their main target presents a real problem.

    Second tier free agents with draft pick compensation attached to them have typically signed late in the winter as teams seemingly have been unwilling to part with their pick until other options have been exhausted.

    If you’re Liriano, there’s no real reason to sign early unless some team steps up with that fourth year, and that’s something I don’t think anyone really expects the Pirates to do unless absolutely necessary.

    Therefor, it isn’t hard to envision a scenario where the other 2nd tier guys sign and the Pirates really are left with Liriano or bust.

    • What you say is true. However, the reason those guys have signed late is that their market has been depressed due to the draft pick. The Pirates will have an advantage here, since they don’t have to pay the draft pick. They can theoretically offer more money because they are paying less overall.

      That said, based on their history over the last few years, I doubt they’ll put themselves in this type of situation. They’ve been aggressive in going after the guys they wanted, and trying to sign them early. When things are delayed, they quickly add a backup plan so that they aren’t stuck with zero options.

      • Always appreciate the response, Tim.

        Your comment on backup plan is why I think Volquez is still in the picture, and won’t be surprised at all if the team ends up with him after the rest of the 2nd tier guys sign for four years or more.

  • Calling Cervelli “all-defense” is a bit unfair. he has been a MLB average hitter for his career and for a C that is pretty decent.

  • Scott Kliesen
    December 8, 2014 9:21 am

    I’m on record saying the Pirates should sign Liriano. There is no denying they need a horse at top of rotation to matchup w the Wainwright’s, Cueto’s, et al in the division. The reasons I prefer Liriano and not another tier 2 SP in FA plus the comp pick are, first he’s LH, which bodes well for PNC and our division. So many tough lefty bats in STL and Cincy, and Liriano is the best guy to negate them. And second, he has proven himself to be at his best when the stakes are the highest over the two seasons he’s been in Pitt, especially at PNC. And lastly, the comp pick has nearly as good a chance of being worthless as it does in manifesting itself into a ML player 3-5 years down the road.

  • Kyle Blanks could be an option for next bench spot.

    A right handed batter who can play 1B and corner OF spots seems to make some sense.

    • That’s a common name the fan base seems to love. Someone who hasn’t lived up to his potential and should be I expensive.

  • There are rumors the LAA want to get rid of the CJ will to contract to pursue a big name FA starter. Wonder if they’d take a small return just to get rid of the contract…moving to NL could really help him. Although he’s still expensive.

    • If they’d be willing to eat money I’d love to have Wilson. His big issue last year was control, but I’m sure Ray and Jimmy will fidn a way to fix that. They almost always do.

      • If they’d accept minimal prospect return I would be intrigued on taking on the whole contract…especially since it’s a short-term commitment (2 years)

  • 3 years, $40M for Liriano. I really do think that can get the job done. Make it happen NH, this team desperately needs a #2 SP. Rather it’s Liriano or someone else.

  • I would kinda like an out of the blue addition…James Shields…and then let Liriano sign elsewhere and get our draft pick back.

  • There’s a good chance Cervelli will out hit Martin in 2015. Will he stay healthy? Who knows?

    Liriano and Volquez lead the rotation in number of starts last year, and the Buccos were good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to advance. Why would a rotation with either one of the two of them and Burnett ( with Cole / Morton / Locke / Worley filling out the rotation) this year be a substantial enough improvement on last year to make a difference in the Playoffs? I don’t see it. If the Pirates advance in the Playoffs in 2015 it will be on the strength of their offense alone. It will have to be a return to the Pirates of the early 70’s, winning lot’s of games 9 to 7, Lumber Company style.

    • Well, in the playoffs things change since you don’t need a full 5 man rotation. Cole, Liriano, Morton is a pretty solid top 3 to have in a playoff rotation. Throw in Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon as options come this summer, Worley, and Burnett and they, IMO, would have enough SP to win. The bullpen would scare me though.

      • I think we need another bat or two pitchers. Standing pat really won’t be enough when we didn’t win the division last year as it is.

        • Agree they can’t stand pat the rest of the way, but where would you put the bat? Like Tim points out, the position players are pretty much set. Really all they need there is a platoon partner for Pedro. They need another SP, could use a bullpen arm too.

          • I would like Headley, if you really wanna know. Haha. Move him around between 1B and 3B and then move JHay around more. Get more rest and have more depth. If Walker goes down we’re really thin, since JHay wouldn’t be there to replace him. He’s too expensive to not start every day (or most days), but I wonder how many at bats we could get him and the depth and added bat would be really nice. That’s a dream though haha.

            • I’ve been a fan of the trade Walker for a SP, sign Headley to play 3B, and move Jhay to 2B thing for awhile. That’ll never happen though. Neither of our Headley scenarios are even remotely possible lol.

          • 1st base

      • Morton ? No. He stresses out at getting into a regular season jam.

        • 3.72 ERA since the start of 2011, 3.50 the past two season. And this year it was a little inflated due to him trying to pitch through that hip injury when he probably should have been shutdown a little sooner. Threw a stellar game in his one career postseason start, I’ll take my chances with him.

          • 3 major injuries. Really good when things are going his way. Really bad when faced with adversity. A good pitcher finds ways to win when things aren’t going his way. He folds. Quickly.

  • So it’s kind of “Liriano or bust?” IMO, it’d be odd to just skip from Liriano straight to the bounceback dudes. If they want Liriano, i’d have to think it’s because they need established pitching with upside, right? If they think an established pitcher with upside isn’t necessary (i.e. just skipping to the bounceback dudes), then why go for Liriano anyway? Emotion?

    i guess… why would they want Liriano, but not the other 2nd tier guys like him? It would seem like an emotional decision to make it Liriano or bust.

    I would hope to see a non bounceback dude acquired even if Liriano goes elsewhere (within reason, of course. Obviously don’t spend just to spend). But a Liriano or Bust mentality would be pretty annoying to me.

    • Agreed. Don’t see why they couldn’t get someone like Hammel if Liriano goes elsewhere.

      • Lee Foo Young
        December 7, 2014 9:10 pm

        Doug…I’d prefer Hamel over Hammel 🙂 🙂 🙂

        • Cole Hamels ? Sure, I’ll take 2. Amaro doesn’t seem to be the brightest bulb on the tree. Get him to pay half the contract and offer him a couple decent prospects. I wouldn’t be opposed to that or a Lee or someone else with a couple years left on a deal. The Pirate only need a guy for a couple with Kingham, Taillon and Glasnow in the pipeline.

      • They could get Hammel, heck I’d like Hammel. Problem is, Liriano is much better. Liriano is a front of the line top 2 type SP, Hammel is not. They really need a top 2 guy right now. I’d love to add Hammel, but they need to add a top 2 type guy as well.

        • Both would be more than OK

          • I’d love that, but I highly doubt it happens. Probably would cost around $23M or so combined for next season, that would put the payroll around $95M. I do not believe the Pirates are willing to have a payroll that high.

            • I think we might be able to get both for $20-21M and that takes us to only, what, $92-93M? That’s not that far over $90M that we’re told they’re going to go over.

              • I do not for one second believe they’ll be over $90M, no matter what FC says. I have to see it to believe it. I’m thinking Frank would cost about $13.5M a year, and Hammel somewhere in the $8-10M range.

                • Yeah I was thinking $13+$8=$21M. That’s what I was thinking. That puts Locke in the bullpen for long relief and depth. Id be ok with that.

                • Why don’t you believe it? If you look at what they have done the past few seasons , you’d have to expect it. If the recent history repeats itself they will be over 90 mill. I expected all along to have Payroll over 100 mil for the 2016 season and it will

                  • Even though the Pirates have had a nice offseason so far, minus wasting guaranteed money and a Major League contract on Liz, I still don’t trust this FO. They can prove me wrong though if they add that last arm or two that they really need and get the payroll up over $90M. Well, they can do that without getting the payroll over $90M but regardless it needs done. Until I see the BMTIB sport a payroll of $90M+, I will not believe it.

                    • I’m not understanding the fixation with a specific amount of payroll as a means to prove their worth.. it’s not unfeasible for the better valued player to be the one with lower cost..

                    • Guess you missed the part where I said they can address the rotation hole without going over $90M.

                    • Actually I did, lol… I stopped reading after get payroll over 90… then caught the last sentence

                    • Don’t worry, I quit reading yours after “I’m not understanding the fixation with a specific amount of payroll as a
                      means to prove their worth.. it’s not unfeasible for the better valued
                      player to be the one with lower cost..” to make my response lol. But I doubt Liriano gets 4 years, if he does though I have no problems with them not giving him 4. I wouldn’t go much higher than 3 years $40M. From what I’ve read, the Yanks want McCarthy for 2 years but he wants 3 years. I’d also have no problems going 3 and $40M on him.

                    • Value is relative to the cost of acquiring the player right. Seems like a simple concept, perhaps not.. I’m not a huge fan of liriano. I feel like we’ve gotten his best years already.. it’ll be interesting once lester comes off the board..

                    • The Pirates aren’t the Yankees. Meaning that when they get to the position they are now. One or 2 players short of being serious playoff/WS contenders, they have to take advantage of it. they can’t just say “oh well we’ll get em next year” . It makes no sense to invest all the years and millions they have invested to get right to the edge and not go that extra mile. The Yankees can because they KNOW they can just retool the next year and carry on. the Pirates can’t do that. As much as they can’t afford the Scherzers of the world, they also can’t afford NOT to take advantage of a chance to be great.

                    • There’s three pitchers on the market that can make us great.. lester/shields/scherzer.. even if we go after one they could easily decide to play in a different market where they can leverage their name for marketing purposes. . The rest are just hoping they make a difference.. it’s not just a matter of the front office deciding to spend more

                    • Not really. If they were to put the 2013 pitching staff with the 2014 offense they win 100 games. With Liriano in the fold they do that. The pen should be better than last year. AND you have Taillon ready at the AS break to take over when Locke runs out of gas. I think they’re that close. To NOT do it because your afraid of an extra $12 to $15 million a 4th year to Liriano , which after all is 4 years from now, is the wrong way to approach it.

              • No way they want to go into the year at the limit they set. Starting at 92 million likely makes them very unwilling to take on more salary if they need an upgrade.

    • “So it’s kind of “Liriano or bust?” IMO, it’d be odd to just skip from Liriano straight to the bounceback dudes.”

      Not Liriano or bust. Starting pitcher or bust.

      If they don’t get Liriano, there are a lot of options beyond him, both in free agency and on the trade market.

      • But I think you’d agree that it has to be a #2 type of pitcher. That’s where the need lies. I don’t think they’re done at 1st either. Either a platoon guy with Pedro or a full time guy. It’s nice, in a way, to see that they have a very well defined need. I’m interested in seeing just how far they are willing to go. If they go far enough this team will be sitting very well for winning a division next year.

        • I do think it has to be a top of the rotation guy. I’ve said that in a few articles in the last week.

          • What about a Hamels or a Lee. Someone that has a couple years on a contract but you’ll have to give up something to get ? I use the Phillies because they are in the position of having heavy contracts with little hope of being a playoff contender. I’m sure there may be others. Like I said, when you get right down to it they only need a guy for a couple years. But he has to be able to slot between Cole and AJ this year. In FA that means 4 years probably. If you can get a guy for 2 or 3 via trade that’s even better.

    • Arik Florimonte
      December 8, 2014 3:39 am

      One thought as to “Why Liriano”… only top LHP out there after Lester.

  • I would rather see the Bucs sign Brandon McCarthy and get the compensation draft pick for losing Liriano. Draft picks are lottery tickets, but the Bucs need a constant stream of talent from the minor leagues. they cannot afford the ever-increasing market rate for even moderately talented established major leaguers.

    Nick Markakis is an $11 million player these days, so it seems like a relatively nondescript, league average player is going to cost $10 million or more. The Bucs could use an extra (albeit late) 1st round draft pick. And McCarthy is essentially the same pitcher as Liriano.

    • As much as i like Liriano, I’m kinda in this camp too. As long as they think that the changes in McCarthy are real (the cutter can be maintained to the dominance of last year, and his new lifting regimen really did add sustainable velocity and durability), then it’d be worth it. Like you say, the 1st rounder will probably be nothing, but it doesn’t seem very Pirate-y to just throw away an asset that the MLB system is actually trying to give them for once.

      Sure. if Liriano’s market never really develops cuz of the QO and 3×40 would get him, but McCarthy would cost 3×48, then sure. screw the pick (probably. As long as they use that money elsewhere). But assuming equal prices? The pick has to be the tie breaker IMO.

    • I’m in this camp as well.. wonder what the dollar value of the comp pick is?

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