The MLB Winter Meetings always bring the biggest week of the off-season, with teams and players meeting in one location, and the off-season market finally starting to open up. This year, things could be a little bit crazier than normal for the Pirates.
I guess that’s what you get when the week leading up to the meetings has been filled with trade rumors about your franchise player. Heading into the off-season, I felt there might be a pretty good chance that Andrew McCutchen would be traded this off-season. Now? I feel there’s a pretty good chance he could be traded this week.
A trade of McCutchen would be huge, but I don’t think that would be all for the Pirates. If that trade happened, it would put the projected payroll around $74 M, which would leave a lot of spending room. The Pirates also have some relievers who could be shopped around, creating more payroll space. In short, while the Pirates might unload a few players this week, or this off-season, I’d also expect them to make some additions.
The goal would be to do a quick reload of the farm system by dealing McCutchen and one or two others, while also addressing the biggest need for the 2017 team — the pitching staff — and adding depth all around. It would be a difficult juggling act, but could allow them to contend in 2017, even after trading McCutchen, and maybe others.
Andrew McCutchen’s Last Week as a Pirate?
Obviously the biggest news this week is going to involve a potential Andrew McCutchen trade. There have been a lot of rumors involving the Nationals and the Pirates, and honestly, it feels like there’s just too much smoke with this one for a deal to not be completed. Granted, the Pirates don’t have to trade McCutchen, and their stance is that they won’t trade him unless the right deal comes along.
Meanwhile, the Nationals are trying to acquire two of three players out of the McCutchen/Mark Melancon/Chris Sale group. They could try to go for McCutchen and Sale, but the belief is they don’t have the prospects to get both, especially when they won’t give up Trea Turner. So it seems that the decision would be between McCutchen and Sale, with the White Sox rumored to have an extremely high asking price for Sale.
Other teams have been mentioned as being involved, but right now it seems the Nationals are the clear leaders. This could very well be Andrew McCutchen’s final week in the Pirates’ organization.
Tony Watson and the Left-Handed Trade Market
There has been some discussion about how the Pirates could trade Tony Watson this off-season, although that hasn’t received nearly as much attention as the McCutchen rumors, and we haven’t heard that they’re actively shopping Watson like they’re doing with McCutchen. That said, this definitely seems like an off-season where they should be shopping Watson.
Earlier in the off-season, Brett Cecil received a four-year, $30.5 M deal. Watson is coming off a down year, but was one of the best relievers in the game the previous few years. Cecil is also coming off a down year, although not as much as Watson, and wasn’t as productive as Watson in previous years. So you could argue that Watson should have a high value on a one year deal projected at $5.9 M.
But then Marc Rzepczynski — who is a LOOGY with about 0.5 WAR maximum value, and lower advanced metrics than Watson and Cecil — received two years and $11 M. If he is worth $5.5 M a year on a multi-year deal, then Watson should get a very nice return.
The reliever market is shallow, and the same is true for lefty relievers. The Pirates have Watson for one more year, and we just saw them deal Mark Melancon this past season in order to get a long-term reliever, rather than keep Melancon for his final two months. It would only make sense to take the same approach with Watson, especially when the return price would be so high. Even coming off a down year, Watson’s price is going to be high.
The Pirates have some other options. Antonio Bastardo is owed $6.5 M, although the Mets sent some money in last summer’s trade, and there’s no word on how much they’re picking up. Still, the Pirates could also shop him, and Bill Brink reported that they’re willing to pick up some of his salary to move him.
If the Pirates moved Watson and Bastardo, they’d still have two lefties remaining in Felipe Rivero and Wade LeBlanc, along with Steven Brault as an option in the minors. They definitely have depth in this area, which is good, since this is an area where it’s definitely a seller’s market.
New Blood on the Free Agent Market
The non-tender deadline was on Friday, and is always a date that brings new free agents to the market. The Pirates capitalized on this last year, signing Juan Nicasio to a one year, $3 M deal about a week after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers.
There are some interesting names who were non-tendered this year, and while I haven’t looked through the entire list, there were two names that specifically stood out. Tyson Ross and Rubby De La Rosa both have injury concerns, but when they’re healthy, they are two guys who look like top options on the current free agent market.
Ross is the big one, dealing with a shoulder injury that limited him to one start in 2016, and required surgery in October. According to Peter Gammons, his return is expected between February and April, and I’m not sure if that means he would be guaranteed to pitch in the majors when he returns, or if he’d need some time to build back up.
The Tyson Ross timetable is a Fenbruary-April return. He is smart, methodical, it's his FA year, so he will be patient
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 4, 2016
Ross put up a 4.4 fWAR in 2015, and a 3.2 fWAR in 2014. He pitched around 195 innings in each of those seasons. The shoulder issue makes him a gamble, and the Padres didn’t want to pay around $10 M for that gamble. You have to wonder if he might be worth it, though. Andrew Cashner just received $10 M, and he never put up better than a 2.7 fWAR. He also dealt with injury problems in 2016, and while he looked like a potential bounce back candidate, he had some concerns. So if Cashner can get $10 M for one year, despite concerns, I don’t think that amount would be unreasonable for Ross.
Then there’s Rubby de la Rosa, who was owed a projected $3 M in arbitration, but could be facing his second Tommy John surgery. This is a tricky situation. He’s got two years of control, so if you sign him for a low price, you’re paying for the hope that he returns healthy in 2018. He has mostly worked as a starter in his MLB career, being worth about 0.5 fWAR while underperforming his xFIP results (due to a consistently high HR/FB ratio). He’s a hard thrower, and at the least, seems like he’d be a great addition to the bullpen.
If he can avoid the second surgery, then he’d be a great option for the 2017 Pirates bullpen. The risk here is that you might sign him, and then watch him miss a season, with no guarantee that he can help you in 2018. But this is an extreme seller’s market with very few good options, so that might be a gamble worth taking.
The thing with both of these players is that you’d figure their team knows best when it comes to their medicals. The Padres have said they would bring Ross back at a cheaper price. The Diamondbacks didn’t really have much to spend on de la Rosa, which says a lot. It could be that they both look too good to be true because they are too good to be true, and the injuries are a much bigger deal. But in a market short on pitching, a team might find an advantage gambling on health, and hoping for value if the medicals end up checking out.
Eric Wood and the Rule 5 Draft
The winter meetings will wrap up on Thursday with the Rule 5 draft, and the big concern among Pirates fans over the last few weeks is that third base prospect Eric Wood could be lost in the draft.
The Pirates left Wood off the 40-man roster last month, despite watching him put up improved power numbers in Double-A, along with a great season in the Arizona Fall League, and an assignment to the Dominican Winter League. One thing going in their favor is that third basemen rarely get selected in the Rule 5 draft, and rarely get protected. So on the off-chance that Wood gets selected, the odds would be low that he sticks in the majors all year.
Another thing working towards their advantage is that the cost of Rule 5 picks went up to $100,000 this year, which is $50,000 more than the previous cost. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the Rule 5 decisions, since teams would only be able to regain half of that amount if they can’t keep the pick. It’s not like $50,000 is a big amount for MLB teams, but if you’ve got a case like Wood, where the odds are low of protecting the player, then drafting him would be seen as a waste of money, even if the amount is small.
We’ll see if Wood becomes the exception and gets selected. I have a feeling the higher cost and the low odds are going to win out over the 2016 success.
**Nationals Are Trying to Get Two of McCutchen, Sale, and Melancon. The latest rumors on McCutchen, heading into the meetings.
**Winter Leagues: Offense is Starting to Pick Up for Jose Osuna. John Dreker with the latest winter league reports.
**Pirates Non-Tender Jeff Locke and Eric Fryer, Tender Contracts to Everyone Else. Moves from Friday night, with the Pirates cutting ties with Jeff Locke for good.
**Arizona Diamondbacks Hire Away Mike Fitzgerald From the Pirates. The Pirates lose a key contributor to their success from the last few years.
**MLB Announces the Collective Bargaining Agreement Details. All of the details of the new CBA, highlighting some of the more interesting changes that would impact the Pirates.
**Pirates Sign Wade LeBlanc to a One Year Deal With an Option. This move could turn out to be a pretty good one, especially if LeBlanc’s late season run as a reliever turns out to be legit.
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.