Last offseason wasn’t a good one for the Pirates, with their track record of finding value on the pitching market coming to a halt. That, combined with their entire pitching staff performing below projections, led to their first losing season since 2012. But if there’s one thing that went right last offseason, it was the signings they made for the bench.
The Pirates got tremendous value from Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, and Matt Joyce. They paid $6.5 M for the trio, and all three put up years good enough to guarantee them deals in the two-year, $11 M range. Their performances also helped to hide some down years for the offense, leading to the Pirates being one of the top five offenses in the NL.
There has been a track record of the Pirates finding reclamation projects on the pitching side, but they don’t have the same track record on the hitting side. That’s probably because the hitting side can be a bit more difficult, with hitters generally showing more year-to-year consistency than pitchers, and the mechanical factor allowing for drastic changes on the pitching side. There can be adjustments to hitter mechanics as well, but hitters don’t develop mechanical issues in the same way that pitchers do.
If the Pirates want to repeat their success on the bench, they would need a mix of opportunity and just downright good performances. They saw a 1.9 fWAR from Rodriguez, a 1.9 from Freese, and a 1.3 from Joyce. Those players all played to the best of their abilities, and a bit beyond in some cases. But it’s not like those performances were uncommon for these players.
Joyce had put up a fWAR around 1.8 each year from 2010-2014, with a 3.6 fWAR being the outlier in 2011. He declined in 2015 with a -1.4 fWAR. He probably over-performed a bit in 2016 with the Pirates, but the performance showed that 2015 was just a down year, and he still had something left in the tank.
Freese was an interesting situation, because he was coming off two years with a 2.0-2.2 fWAR each year. He had a down year in 2013, but had a 3.8 fWAR and a 2.3 fWAR the previous two years. For some reason, he was still available and able to be signed for $3 M in March. He responded with a 1.9 fWAR, which is right where he’s been the previous two years. The Pirates were fortunate in this case that a value slipped to them so late.
Rodriguez didn’t have the immediate track record of the other two, but did have a good history. He was a 2.0 fWAR player in 2010 and 2011, and had a 1.2 fWAR in 2013. After two replacement level years, he bounced back with a 1.9 fWAR n 2016. But prior to that, he started hitting in the final two months of 2015, and carried that performance to the 2016 season.
I’ve thought that John Jaso could be this year’s version of Rodriguez. He also finished strong, with a .307/.413/.568 line in 104 plate appearances over his final two months. He also started pretty strong, with an .845 OPS in April, and a .775 OPS in May. The down months in June and July definitely count, and you can’t remove them, but Jaso showed some promise and something seemed to click for him at the end of the year. Whether that carries over to 2017 remains to be seen.
But what about finding another Freese or Joyce? The Pirates do have internal options competing for the bench, so they don’t need to rely on veterans this year. But Joyce was a minor league free agent who won a spot out of Spring Training, and if another Freese comes along, they can’t pass that up. The question is whether there would be an opportunity available again, with similar players still available at low prices.
Fortunately, it seems that will be the case. Buster Olney wrote an article on Monday pointing out the enormous amount of unsigned free agents remaining this time of year. Some of the guys on the list are eventually going to get good deals, such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, and so on. But there are plenty of names still available, and odds are that one of them could drop down to David Freese territory.
The area where this could be the most attractive to the Pirates is the outfield. They don’t necessarily need an extra outfielder, due to all of the super utility players on the roster. But if someone is available and looks like a good overall fit, it would make sense to sign them. The list of outfielders remaining is pretty interesting:
This list also doesn’t include trade options, which Olney lists as J.D. Martinez, Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, and Charlie Blackmon.
You might notice that several of those guys listed above have a star next to their name. The guys with one star are the guys who have put up at least one 2.0 fWAR season in the last three years. The guy with two stars also put up at least one 2.0 fWAR season, but I’d rather see the Pirates lose 120 games than sign him.
Some of those guys will sign contracts bigger than what Freese received last year. But with so many options available, and additional options available on the trade market, there could be another value out there this offseason. That’s especially the case when we’re entering the normal Christmas down period with very little activity taking place.
For now, this is something to keep on the back burner, as we won’t know about potential value players until Spring Training gets closer, or until the market finally picks up and we see who is remaining.
**Order a Last Minute Pirates Prospects Gift Subscription. Get a gift subscription for a friend or family member, and help expand the site’s content in the process.
**Pirates Among Numerous Teams Interested in Tyson Ross. The Ross market is interesting. Any team could have had him for his projected arbitration price of around $10 M just by trading for him. He was non-tendered, so it’s not like he would have cost much. You’d think that would mean his price will be below $10 M. But with so many teams interested, he might end up getting near that amount.
**The Mets Have Spoken to the Pirates About Andrew McCutchen. Not really much to this, as the teams have talked, but the Mets have a lot to do before they could add a center fielder, starting with trading two corner outfielders.