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Monday, December 5, 2022

First Pitch: The Parallels Between the Current Offseason and 2012-13

In thinking about the current offseason, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the 2012-2013 offseason.

The Pirates entered both offseasons with fans irate. They were coming off a horrible collapse in the second half of the 2012 season, and were riding a 20 year losing streak. The anger this year feels as intense, although the circumstances aren’t nearly as dire, since they’re coming off their first losing season in the past four years. Still, the main concern is the same: How do the Pirates take the next step to get to the playoffs?

The offseason approaches were similar in both years. In 2012, the Pirates had a bit of a juggling act. They signed Russell Martin early in the offseason, but then traded Joel Hanrahan in order to free up some money (while also adding a key piece of their next few years in Mark Melancon), and used the savings to sign Francisco Liriano. They were faced with budget constraints, and all of their moves ended up working out better than you could have expected.

This year is still incomplete, but it’s shaping up to be very similar. The catching parallel isn’t quite the same, since they already had Francisco Cervelli under contract heading into the offseason. However, that is due to an extension they signed during the year, and if that extension wasn’t signed, they would have been seeking a catcher again this offseason.

They did trade Francisco Liriano during the season in order to create some payroll flexibility. Right now, I have them projected at $88.5 M, with an unknown amount coming from the Mets for Antonio Bastardo which could lower that figure. They should have enough money to sign a guy like Ivan Nova and fill their rotation need with no other moves. But you’ve got to expect that they would want to add some depth to the bullpen and bench, and that would require that they do another juggling act.

This was already attempted in a way. They spent the first part of the offseason listening to offers for Andrew McCutchen, and got close to trading him for a reported package that included Lucas Giolito. The approach to trade McCutchen obviously wasn’t about shedding payroll, otherwise they probably would have traded him by now for whatever return they could get. But the payroll savings would have allowed them to do some interesting things, adding someone like Nova with ease, and then having plenty to add bullpen and bench depth.

Now that McCutchen is staying with the team, they’re going to have to find another way to fit their offseason moves inside their budget. They are spending a lot more heading into 2017 than they were in 2013, but there is still a budget. It’s reasonable to assume that this budget is around $100 M, based on comments Neal Huntington made earlier this offseason about how signing David Freese last year put them over budget (they were at a projected $103 M, and Freese cost $3 M). It’s also realistic to expect this is their ceiling when you look at where other teams have maxed out.

The Pirates also reportedly tried to sign Sean Rodriguez in a plan to trade Josh Harrison and save some money. The swap of Rodriguez for Harrison would have saved them about $7.5 M over the next two years if they would have been able to pull off the plan. That plan went away when Rodriguez signed with the Braves.

There are still some moves that could be made to free up payroll, and ironically enough, they are mostly in the bullpen, just like the 2012-13 offseason. The easiest one would involve trading Antonio Bastardo. There have been rumors that the Pirates are shopping him and willing to eat some salary to get rid of him. Again, we don’t know how much the Mets are paying, but in either scenario, you can expect the payroll projection to drop.

Another option would be trading Tony Watson, who is in the final year of his deal, and projected to make $5.9 M. The savings wouldn’t be much, but Watson could bring an MLB-ready reliever back, similar to what happened with the Mark Melancon trade, and that could get them on their way to building a stronger bullpen (they’d probably still need an outside addition beyond the Watson return).

One thing working in their favor is the left-handed relief market, which is currently a seller’s market. Watson isn’t coming off the best year, and Bastardo doesn’t have the highest value. But we just saw Mike Dunn get a three-year, $19 M deal this week. So the Pirates shouldn’t have an issue moving Watson and/or Bastardo. The fact that they have five lefties lined up for the bullpen right now (those two, plus Felipe Rivero, Wade LeBlanc, and Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb) indicates that this is the route they will take.

Again, the issue doesn’t seem to be their ability to add a starting pitcher. They have enough in the budget to make that move, and finish right around $100 M. The issue seems to be their ability to add other pieces beyond just that one starter. We saw how important that was last year, with the offense overcoming injuries and poor performances across the board due to some key depth signings in David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, and Matt Joyce (and they brought back Freese on an extension at the end of the 2016 season, so they’ve already gotten started on the 2017 depth).

If I had to give a loose projection of the rest of the offseason, I’d guess the Pirates will trade from their left-handed relief depth, free up some payroll in the process, add a starting pitcher, and add a few depth pieces for the bullpen and bench (the bigger need is the bullpen), while finishing right around $100 M in expected payroll. And then we’ll have to see if the entire big picture approach works as well as it did in 2012-13.

**Ivan Nova’s Market Has Been Surprisingly Quiet This Offseason. A look at how there have been very few rumors surrounding Nova, and no other teams connected to the right-handed starter.

**Winter Leagues: Alen Hanson Reaches Base Three Times on Saturday Night. John Dreker has the latest recap of the winter league performers.

**Pirates Sign Josh Lindblom and Eury Perez to Minor League Contracts. The Pirates signed two more guys to minor league deals with Spring Training invites.

**Pirates Sign Hard Throwing Minor League LHP with an Injury History. They also signed an interesting left-handed reliever who didn’t get an MLB invite, but who has a lot of velocity and looks like an interesting project.

**Baseball America Releases Top Ten Prospects List For Pirates. Tyler Glasnow drops down to third on the list, and falls behind Mitch Keller. I guess I’m not alone in thinking that Keller is the top pitching prospect in the system right now.

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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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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Here’s a deal they should kick the tires on – Cutch, Kang, and Will Craig for Manny Machado.


This is depressing. If the Pirates develop their own players they could become a victim of their own success. Right now they cant sign many FAs without shedding salary. In a couple of years, they might not be able to sign their own players (Tallion, Bell or Meadows) without shedding salary. Or worse. what if they can pay their 2nd and 3rd year Arb guys without shedding salary. The cost of baseball is going up faster than the Pirates can add salary.

John W

“The cost of baseball is going up faster than the Pirates can add salary.” There is no doubt about it. The old core is aging or gone and the window is closing quickly.

John W

LMFAO! Someone please explain how Miam spent 14M more than us last year?


joe s

Don’t understand the love for Fraizer. Sure he can hit singles and an occasional double put he can not field any position well and doesn’t really steal bases. So why is he so good?

John W

He isn’t very good. Adequate depth, probably someone you don’t want starting for any extended period of time. Jhay isn’t much better though. Both those guys barely break glass with their exit velocity.

Arik Florimonte

They may have enough budget to add another starting pitcher, but there don’t seem to be many options. Nova seemed solid with the Pirates, but he’s no Burnett/Liriano. He joined the Bucs and miraculously stopped walking guys, which is great, but he doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. Anything more than a two year deal seems very risky, and I think someone will offer him 3-4 years.

John W

Ivan Nova looks a lot less interesting with a 5.9% walk rate as opposed to 1.1%.

John W

I don’t see too many parallels besides some pissed off fans.

The analytics edge the Pirates once had is over as the rest of MLB has caught up so I don’t expect NH to move quickly to identify an undervalued asset like Russ Martin and which will give them 4 to 5 WAR a year for the next 2 years.

The basically bought low on Liriano whereas if they sign Nova they will be buying high.

Things have changed so so much since guys like Melancon were plucked away with a huge disparity between their ERA and FIP.

The old core was so much better than the “new wave”

I’ve said it before- for all the hype surrounding Josh Bell and his bat how many people think he matches the production we received from Walker who was often deemed a nice piece but nothing special(about 2.8 FWAR a year)

2nd base is filled with the slappiest of slap hitters in Frazier and Jhay.

Mercer had a horrible year by defensive metrics and is just a year older now.


I generally share this sentiment, but it’s a fun article so I’ll try to look at it from a “what happened” and “how could that happen again” point of view.

The 2013 club was projected for win totals in the high-70s / low-80s from what I remember, “should have” won about 88 games based on runs scored and runs given up, and actually won 94 games. How did they get from low 80s to actually winning 94 games?

Well first, they got huge performances over what was projected from Martin, Liriano, Melancon, and Burnett on top of career years – value-wise – from Cutch, Marte, and Alvarez. Projection systems inherently aren’t going to predict these kinds of performances, so that alone largely gets you from high-70s / low-80s to their 88-win pythag record.

On top of that you can add in a league-leading – by more than two full wins! – WPA from the bullpen along with what at the time was underappreciated framing from Martin and second-best Defensive Runs Saved thanks to GBs/shifts and you can pretty easily see how they got to 94.

The 2017 club *starts* with a higher talent base, IMO, with projections looking to be in the low-80s as a floor, but I don’t buy that they have anywhere near the same opportunity for framing and defensive runs based both on talent and relative use around the league. It looks like the question is where they’re going to find the over-performers, and how can they turn the bullpen into a similar weapon?


Using Steamer projections available right now, I’m not sure I see it.

Taillon is *already* projected to be a 4-WAR starter, and Glasnow gets a nice 2+ WAR projection as well. Wouldn’t surprise me to see Kuhl put up another win than he’s projected to get right now with a full-season of innings, but his upside isn’t much higher than that.

As for the position players, Bell is the only one who’ll even have a chance to get starter innings, and his defense will have to massively improve in order to significantly over-perform his current 1+ WAR projection.

I think Polanco has a 5-win season in him at some point, and because of that think he’s probably the guy closest to fitting the bill here. Oh, also, Marte playing a full season in CF will blow past his current projection.

John W

5.9 projected WAR between Glasnow and Taillon sounds mighty aggressive. I think I would take the under on that… not really seeing much room for high outperformance there.

John W

I see quite the opposite. I see so many guys with limited ceilings in this lineup(Mercer, Jhay or Frazier etc) and not entirely safe floors.

Cole has potential to be huge underperformer with his elbow. If he isn’t completely healthy…

Marte is probably near his peak. Polanco could overperform for sure but has also had a lot of injuries for a young guy.

I see some people calling for 3-4 WAR from Josh Bell! Do they have any idea what sort of offensive output that would require with his likely defensive limitations.

Right now bullpen looks very weak to me.

If people think we might be seeing a repeat of 2013… I think they will be sorely disappointed.

John W

2016 should not be a starting point for projections and I acknowledge that. But I want to add that I have seen you and others talk about 2016 being nearly a 500 team with horrible performance from Cutch, battling for playoff spot.

I just want to note that the 2016 Pirates were a HORRIBLE team. 74-88 per Baseruns and that was with ridiculous contributions from Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce. Per Baseruns we were worse than the Brewers, contemplate that for a moment.

John W

They recieved an extra 7 wins when you factor in Baseruns and unexpected production from Srod and Joyce.

John W

I’m not pointing everything that could go wrong. Everything would be Cutch being sub replacement most of the year, catcher being a disaster again with injuries etc,

I don’t even think things are bleak. I just think if you balance out an equal amount of things breaking good vs things breaking bad you have a middling team in the 80-83 win column. Not bleak, just not real good.

John W

I generally agree with your points. You mention the bullpen and that 2013 team had 10 WPA from the bullpen. They had 4 legitimate late inning options in Grilli, MM, Wilson and Watson. Mazzaro was very good for a middle reliever that year.

I don’t see anything close to that right now. If anything, I view the bullpen as a weakness. I think people are taking a lot of funny pills if they think Rivero(or anyone) can be expected to duplicate the amazing consistency of Melancon. Rivero has an amazing arm but I don’t expect him to be consistent. I think Watson is probably on downside of his career. Nicasio has major lefty issue. They need another very good righty imo.


Despite having a “bad season” for him and compared to his previous recent seasons, I would not trade Watson – if the primary motivation is to dump salary. He is still their best and most consistent performer in the bullpen, and the only proven LH option. He is likely their current only real closer option.

If salary needs to be cut, I’d be looking at trading Bastardo, Jaso, and even Harrison. The problem is that only Harrison has much in trade value. Bastardo is, well, Bastardo – inconsistent, often times wild, and a HR waiting to happen. Jaso is largely a singles/doubles, middle of the road 250-.270 hitting DH – with no defensive value and little HR power. So, you are not going to get much for either, unless they are made part of a larger deal.

dr dng

Is anyone like me feeling that Frazier should purchase a small RV
for the number of trips as he will be moving back and forth from
Indy to Pittsburgh this season? Pirates like those guys who
still have options.

Zack Nagel

It would be a hard sell on keeping Hanson up and optioning Frazier. I’d get it from a control perspective but Frazier earned a spot on the 25.


Hanson is out of options and I doubt he’d clear waivers?


It is a sad state of affairs when you consider how the Pirates have squandered so many prospect resources – either by trading them away with little if any return (Dickerson, Broxton, Supak, McGuire, Ramirez, Polo, etc.) or didn’t trade when they had max value and now have either stagnated or seen their value drop to almost nil (W. Garcia, Diaz, Hanson, etc). Hanson was once a top 50-75 prospect – now, they could waive or trade him and there would likely be minimal interest.

I am not saying this is the case with guys like Hanson, but knowing that they are completely blocked at the MLB level for multiple seasons, if makes you wonder what does that do to them emotionally and mentally?


Maybe I’m being too presumptuous about the intelligence of a typical minor league player, but if I were one, there wouldn’t be an organization I’d *rather* play for.

Factually speaking, the Pirates have gone out of their way to make room for any prospect worth pushing. There’s nothing they like more than trading veteran earners for cheap talent while plugging a top prospect in their place. That’s not a criticism, at least not by me.

Hanson’s explanation is simple. He wildly over-performed at the plate during his breakout in WV (.219 ISO, .364 BABIP) and was still young enough for folks to dream on him staying at shortstop. Remove that one year, and add the information we now know of him never becoming an adequate shortstop, and he’d never be in contention for Top 100 status.


Why can’t they expand the payroll 5 million and do all of above without trading Watson or Bastardo.


Maybe the Marlins will take Bastardo, they need LHP help.

Stephen Brooks

I could see the Pirates sign any of Ivan Nova, Travis Wood, Brett Anderson, Jake Peavy or Clayton Richard

or trade for any of Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Pomeranz, Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin, Brandon McCarthy or Michael Pineda.

Let’s all watch as they are removed, one by one, from the market.


On your “sign” list, the only guy who would interest me is Wood.

On your “trade” list, unless they are willing to part with a Meadows, Glasnow, and/or Bell, they are not going to be able to get any of those guys – and it would likely take 2 of those 3 to get an Odorizzi or Pineda.


They love Yankee players. I could see Pineda being a target.


I’ll throw a potential dark horse candidate out there: Danny Duffy.

While Duffy isn’t making a ton ($4.75) yet, he’s due for 3rd year arb, so a big raise coming for 2017 and he’s a FA end of year. KC wants to shed salary and get prospects.

I could see NH offering 1-2 MLB-ready pitching prospects (or Kuhl+), plus a position prospect (e.g. Frazier). One year of Duffy isn’t enough for a Bell or Meadows, but he’s probably the best LH remaining who might be pried away from his current team.


Duffy is a very intriguing guy…he has electric stuff. But, the one year remaining would be a no go for me – as he will cost a lot to get in a trade, and you know the Pirates won’t pay him to extend him beyond 2017 – he would be a one year rental.


Removing Frazier weakens their bench as he’s replacing Rodriguez. Trading Kuhl removes one of their starters. Replacing him with Duffy still leaves them with 2 open rotation spots. Highly unlikely they trade any of Cole, Taillon, or Kuhl. Definitely not for basically a 1 for 1 swap. Additionally you’re losing 6 more seasons of control for Kuhl for 1 of Duffy? Can’t see it.


Completely agree. Trading Watson (and praying someone takes Bastardo) could definitely be the first dominos to fall. seeing the reports that the pirates would eat some of Bastardo’s contract could also point to him being a part of a package that could maybe even include Watson. Rays have been linked to the relieve market; my guess is NH is trying to use Watson as primary bait in a package for Smyly. Sure rays would want a top prospect in addition but it makes sense. Still think the target is and always has been one of the LH starters in the trade market. I refuse to believe NH is content with Brault being the only lefty we have remotely close to the majors.


I really don’t like the idea of trading Watson at this point. Our three late inning guys are: Watson, Rivera, and Nicasio. So if they trade one of those three, they would need to turn around and fill a late inning spot possibly in free agency. So any saved money would immediately be lost. I do like trading: Harrison, Bastardo, or Jaso. Not that they would return much but I would like to see a platoon of Hanson/Frazier, Bastardo isn’t needed, and (assuming Kant plays and Rogers has some value) Jaso isn’t needed.


Rogers has zero value, although I would be in favor of moving of Jaso. The idea of going with Nicasio/Rivero as the 8th/9th inning combination is not a comfortable thought – neither have proven themselves to be able to handle high pressure/high leverage situations on any consistent basis. Last year, Rivero was lights out without a game on the line, but he crumbled in close games. Nicasio is best suited for the bullpen, but I wouldn’t trust him as my closer. The Pirates are in a very tough spot, as they want to run a franchise on a shoe string budget, but they don’t have a ton of options on how to lower their already low payroll. For them to be successful in the long run, we need new ownership. We cannot have any more ridiculous Liriano-type moves….that was embarrassing.


Ha ha ha…..more of the same old same old.

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