Williams: Can the Pirates Contend in 2018? Only If These Things Happen

I typically ignore most of the public statements made by Neal Huntington in terms of how he’s building a team, trade discussions, free agency plans, and so on. Most of the statements are typical GM-speak, where you won’t get the actual plan. There’s no reason and no incentive for him to reveal his actual plan.

For example, leading up to the Gerrit Cole trade, Huntington refused to label the Pirates as sellers. That was despite daily rumors saying the Pirates were in trade discussions involving Cole, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and so on. Actions speak louder than words. If you were ignoring the comments, and just paying attention to the actions (in this case, you’d assume the rumors were true and that constitutes actions), then it was clear that the Pirates were sellers. If you cared more about the words, then it created a conflict with the actions, and you would have been one of the fans or media members yelling for Huntington to finally admit that the team was selling — which was weirdly a demand of Huntington even after he actually traded players away, showing that some just totally ignore the actions and only focus on words.

But Huntington hasn’t helped with this confusion for anyone who focuses on the words. After the Cole and McCutchen trades, he continued to say that the team intends to contend in 2018. He said this in the wake of continued trade rumors surrounding Josh Harrison. Again, this is where I’d look at the actions, and ignore the words. There’s no reason for Huntington to say that he’s absolutely dealing Harrison if he’s trying to get a good return. There’s every reason for him to say that they plan on Harrison being a key part of the team if he’s trying to get some leverage in trade talks.

But then Huntington had this to say following the Felipe Rivero extension:

“There’s a lot of misinformation, and a lot of false narrative out there about when we are looking to compete again,” Huntington said. “We’re looking to compete again this year. We believe this club is a lot closer to the ’11, ’12, and ’13 Pirates than we were to the ’07, ’08, and ’09 Pirates. There was enough talent at the Major League level, on the verge of the Major League level. We’ve added to that group. And Felipe, as one of the best young closers in the game, gives us some certainty in the back of the bullpen, and will continue to be an important pitcher for us going forward.”

That comment is a lot different than the typical throwaway “We still think Josh Harrison can help us contend in 2018” comment in the face of a trade rumor that you don’t want to confirm. That comment had definition. Not only does Huntington think the Pirates can contend in 2018, but he believes they’re closer to the 2011-13 teams, rather than the total rebuild 2007-09 teams.

To that, I would agree. I don’t think the Pirates are close to those 2007-09 teams, where you’re expecting 90-100 losses in any given year. But I also think that you need to separate those 2011-13 years, since the Pirates were at different stages of being on the verge of contending in those years. They weren’t really contenders in 2011, but benefited from a weak division, which made them appear to have a shot for most of the summer. They were fringe contenders in 2012, and could have made the playoffs if not for a horrible collapse in the final two months. And they were actual contenders in 2013.

I think this team is a little more 2011 than the 2012 and 2013 groups. I don’t see them as contenders. But I also wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t entertain the idea, and give my thoughts on what the Pirates actually need to do to contend. So here are those thoughts, looking at what the Pirates need to do to contend in 2018.

The Baseline

Every year I do an analysis on the team, using expected playing time and ZiPS projections to see a projected record. This year’s analysis came at the start of the offseason, and had the Pirates winning 85 games. That was with Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen on the team, as the best pitcher and position player.

If you remove McCutchen and Cole, the team drops down to 78.5 wins. Of course, you need to add other production to make up for those spots. It’s difficult to do this, since the ZiPS projections for the Astros players aren’t available, meaning we don’t know what Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove, and Michael Feliz are projected for. Let’s just say that this group, plus McCutchen’s replacement in the outfield, can add about 2-3 wins in a conservative projection, bringing the Pirates up to the 81-82 win range.

This isn’t a bad place to be. It does ignore a few things:

**Josh Harrison is still a major part of the projection, and second base would see a big drop-off if he was traded.

**I noted at the time that the ZiPS projections left little room for error, and not a lot of room for improvements. So while it’s nice to see 81-82 wins as a possibility, there’s more room for things to go wrong than for things to go right.

With that in mind, it’s obvious that if the Pirates want to contend, they’re going to need additional help here.

Help From Within

Back when I did the same ZiPS analysis for the 2013 squad, I had them at 83 wins. That was higher than almost every other projection, but much lower than their actual 94 wins. So what happened?

The big impact here is that the Pirates saw massive internal improvements where players ended up playing well above projections. Russell Martin was projected for a 2.3 WAR and finished above a 4 WAR. Starling Marte was projected at 2.6 WAR and finished at 4.8. Andrew McCutchen was projected at 5.3 and finished at 8.4. The rotation of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton finished 8 WAR above their combined projections. Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon added 3 WAR above their projections.

Aside from all of those performances, very few players fell below their projections in 2013, and none of the guys the Pirates were really counting on struggled. So the part from above about most things needing to go right for the Pirates in 2018 to get to 81-82 wins isn’t far fetched. It can happen, and isn’t as impossible as it sounds (especially since most of the analysis factors in things like injury risk, players performing below career high marks, and so on).

But the Pirates will need the other factor — guys to play above their projections. They’ve got a few places where that could happen, such as Starling Marte and Felipe Rivero playing closer to career bests to add a few extra wins. Young guys like Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell can take the next steps in their career to add value, although they’re projected to pretty much do that, so there’s not a lot of room for improvements.

There are a few big areas where the Pirates could use some internal improvements:

1. Tyler Glasnow – This might be the biggest factor, unless the Pirates add an outside rotation piece. Glasnow has top of the rotation stuff, but has been far from a top of the rotation pitcher in his attempts to make the jump to the majors. The Pirates will need a replacement for Gerrit Cole in the rotation, giving them another guy with top of the rotation potential. Glasnow is the only guy in the system right now who can provide that in 2018.

2. Gregory Polanco – I don’t believe the Pirates need an 8 WAR player like they had in McCutchen in 2013 in order to contend. But I do know that if they don’t have that MVP caliber player, they would need other players to step up and be above-average. Polanco was projected for a 2.3 WAR, which is close to his production in 2015-16. He’s got more potential than this average level of production, and the Pirates will need to see that come out in 2018 in order to help make up for the lack of an MVP-quality player on the roster.

3. Francisco Cervelli – The Pirates are on the hook for Cervelli over the next two years. It’s unlikely that he can be traded, since starting catchers of his value are getting less than his two years and $22 M remaining. So the best the Pirates can hope for is that he stays as healthy as possible, and finishes closer to his 3.7 fWAR in 2015 than his 0.9 fWAR in 2017. He was projected by ZiPS for 1.3.

4. Colin Moran – The more I think about it, the more I really like the addition of Moran from the Gerrit Cole trade. He totally changed his value last year, adding more power in a swing adjustment that not only looks to add lasting power, but also didn’t see a reduction on his other offensive skills. I could see the potential for an impact bat at third base, but I’d want to see more than half a season of numbers in the PCL before I think that’s an extremely likely possibility. The Pirates do need that to happen if they want to contend in 2018. I think a year from now, they’re going to either look extremely smart for adding Moran, or we’re going to learn some kind of lesson about projecting the new trend of adding lift to your swing.

5. The Prospects – The Pirates got help from their farm system in 2013. Gerrit Cole arrived at mid-season and was worth 2.5 WAR. Jordy Mercer took over as the starting shortstop at mid-season and was worth 1.5 WAR. Guys like Brandon Cumpton and Justin Wilson stepped up to add half a win or more in value. They’ll need some help from their prospects this year as well. That could be someone like Max Moroff stepping up to replace Harrison, if Harrison is traded. It could be Kevin Newman replacing Jordy Mercer in the same way Mercer replaced Clint Barmes. It could be Jordan Luplow or Austin Meadows taking the third outfield spot. Or, it could be one of the number of pitchers from Triple-A stepping up to take a rotation or bullpen spot, or to provide depth throughout the year.

Help From the Outside

The Pirates have some areas where they can get help from within, but if they don’t make any outside additions, then they will need pretty much all of the above to go right. It’s inevitable that some of the above players won’t take steps forward to out-perform their WAR, and the Pirates can offset that with outside additions.

It’s tough to determine which areas of the team need outside help when you’re coming from the point of view that the Pirates should be rebuilding. If they trade Harrison, they’d need a second baseman. But I’d rather give that time to Max Moroff or eventually to Kevin Kramer and see what they could do for the long-term, rather than finding a short-term option that could help in 2018. The same goes for the third outfield spot, a rotation spot, and so on.

With that in mind, here are the areas where I think the Pirates could use some outside help if they want to contend in 2018.

1. The Rotation – The Pirates have a lot of starting options, but you can never really have too many starting options. They had some very fortunate health last year, and probably could have gone with just six starters if they didn’t want to give younger guys a chance later in the year. But they should be expected to use ten starters in any given year. I don’t think the problem here is depth, but the lack of quality at the top. They need someone to join Jameson Taillon at the top of the rotation. I think Mitch Keller will eventually be the guy, but that won’t happen in 2018. I think Tyler Glasnow still has a shot, but it seems like a long shot, and I wouldn’t put all of my eggs in that basket. They need to get back to the reclamation project days and try to find the next A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, or Edinson Volquez. If they add a starter, it needs to be one of these types, and not the Jon Niese/Ryan Vogelsong type that just boosts the depth in the back of the rotation.

2. The Outfield – I wouldn’t add a starter for the outfield. I’d give Jordan Luplow the chance to show he can be a starter, and eventually leave the door open for Austin Meadows. I would get a contingency plan in the form of a fourth outfielder who could step in if Luplow doesn’t work out, and if the injury problems continue for Meadows. Similar to the approach the Pirates took in 2016 when they added Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and David Freese to their bench. You’d want a guy who could be a good value as a bench guy, and who could be a decent starting option if needed.

3. The Bullpen – The Pirates have added some good pieces to their bullpen this offseason. None of them are really guarantees, but they’ve got the potential for a good complement to Felipe Rivero in the late innings after the additions of Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz, joining Edgar Santana as potential 8th inning guys. The Pirates could have a nice bullpen with one of those guys stepping up to join Rivero, plus George Kontos in the seventh inning, and the other two from that group providing interesting middle relief options. But with the rotation not looking as strong, and the offense unlikely to be better than average, the Pirates would need a shut-down bullpen. You can’t count on five relievers to make that happen. They’d be smart to add another quality piece to the group, with the knowledge that relievers do have trade value at the deadline if it turns out you aren’t actually contending.

Can the Pirates Contend?

I agree with Neal Huntington that the current team is closer to the 2011-13 teams, but only to the extent that I think they’re closer to the 2011-12 teams than 2013. Can they actually be a contender? Sure.

The Pirates can contend if they see improvements from some of the key young players on the roster. They can contend if they have a year where not everything goes wrong, and most players live up to their projections. They can contend if they add a few high-upside guys to the roster from the outside who can help the team either by providing a backup plan for their young guys, or by providing value that some of the young guys can’t possibly replicate.

This is another thing where actions speak louder than words. I don’t care if Neal Huntington says the Pirates think they can contend in 2018. I care about how they approach that idea.

If the Pirates go out and add some free agents to boost the current team — even if they’re not the top guys like JD Martinez or Alex Cobb — then it shows that on some level they are trying to compete in 2018.

If the Pirates sit back and bank on younger players to step in and see improvements, then that’s not really a problem with where they are as a team rebuilding. It would just define their intent to content as a hope that they could contend, rather than an attempt to contend.

The only way the passive approach would be a problem is if they decided to keep someone like Harrison in an attempt to contend, and then didn’t add anyone around him. That would be a waste, missing out on the chance to move Harrison in order to contend, and then not actively doing anything to contend after keeping him.

Again, actions will speak louder than words. The Pirates may believe they have a shot at contending in 2018. Technically, anyone in baseball can contend if the right circumstances take place, with the odds of each team contending being much different. The actions we see the rest of the offseason will tell us whether they think they have an outside shot, but not enough of a shot to bank on with outside additions, or if they think they have a real shot — enough to add pieces and go for it. I feel it’s going to be the former, and that any pieces that should be added would be better off added in 2019 or beyond.

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.

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I don’t know if Huntington is saying they’re contending this year for any reason other than to publicly support the guys who are still on the team. It would be pretty deflating as a player to hear the guy who acquired you and developed you wasn’t confident he could win with you, after all. I mean, I’m sure the players know they have an uphill battle, but hearing your GM admit it wouldn’t do you any favors.

That said, I think outfield and starting pitcher are the two places it makes sense to sign a guy for a couple to a few years this offseason. Both positions have enough spots to fill that you can find playing time for everyone who deserves it, and since our outfield has some injury history, and since pitchers are pitchers with respect to injury, they’re the two places teams most need insurance. Signing bullpen arms also makes sense since they’re cheap to acquire in the off season, but very expensive at the trade deadline, but there are enough interesting arms worth giving a look this season, that I’m not sure it makes sense this year.

Catcher and short stop are weak positions right now, but Grandal is the catcher I’d most want to sign, and he’s a free agent next year. This year’s class is pretty crappy. So I’d wait until 2019 for that. We have several internal options worth looking at for shortstop in the next two years, and I don’t think it’s a reach that at least one of them will step up enough to at least replace Mercer’s production, and we’ve won with Mercer, so I don’t know that it’s essential.

So this offseason, I’d deal Nova and Harrison and look for a good multiyear deal for a solid outfielder and starting pitcher.

Blaine Huff

Yes, I agree.

And, yes, I am still stinging that the Pirates didn’t get Bruce.


As Tim laid out so well, the Pirates biggest problem with contention is being stuck in the mediocrity trap.

There simply aren’t many *easy* ways for this club to add wins.

A team full of players projected around average is the hardest one for a resource-limited club to improve upon. There are extremely few truly black holes that could be relatively easily filled. The Giants have already added upwards of six wins through little more than taking on mid-range salaries because the positions they were filling had literally no value projected at them. Replacement level. Any value added to those positions represented a *net* improvement.

For the Pirates to improve, they have to add wins to positions that already project to be worth 1 or 2 WAR; for all the slack given to David Freese, he’s still been worth almost 2 WAR per year with the Pirates. Colin Moran could reach his 90th percentile projection and still only add something like 1 *net* win to the club.

This is precisely why you look for upside; if, that is, your goal is to actually win a championship.


Their fangraphs proj of 78 comes with 0 WAR at LF, 1 WAR at SS, and 2 WAR at C. these are where i’d want to throw money. they give Moran and Freese 1 WAR *total* on their depth charts page, and honestly i’d be shocked if they didnt combine for at least *2*.

If i’m them, i’m giving Carlos Gomez and Jon Lucroy calls. they’re not young, but at least they have star level seasons on their resumes in the not-too-distant past. well… 2014 for Gomez i guess. 2016 for Lucroy. it’s upside you can dream on. And at the very least, CarGom can at least play a respectable CF still. Something that we can’t be sure that Frazier, Meadows, Polanco, etc could still do if Marte gets hurt. The need a professional effort at CF whether theyre in contention or if theyre winning 77, right?

There’s no easy answer at SS unless the Yankees are somehow convinced that Gleyber is ready to take over for Didi or something weird like that. i have absolutely no desire to watch Mercer for 600 PAs this year, whether it’s a team trying to eek out 85 wins and a WC or if it’s a rebuilding team that wins 77. that would be a failure.

All in all, i could see Gomez and Lucroy taking them to like 83 if things break right, projections being too low on Moran/Freese taking them to 84, and maybe some weird “bullpenning” pioneering taking them to.. i dunno… 86?

Blaine Huff

Therein lies my concern…getting to the fringes of competing for a WC by signing older talent? Meh…not in favor of that.

Sure, everybody loves to trade for Beltran in late July, but getting the older guys is a way to nudge yourself over the finish line…not get you to where you think you have a chance to catch the next slowest guy in front of you.

Forgive me…I still have flashbacks of George Hendrick, Steve Kemp, Sixto Lezcano, and Al Holland 🙂

michael schalke

Thanks Tim, I enjoyed the article and agree with most of your perceptions. I think the main issue with contending lies with 3 guys. Glasnow, Polanco and Marte. If they can have good years the Bucs could surprise some people.


Tim…a lot of words to say that a lot of things need to go right for us to contend. 🙂

But a good article nontheless. 🙂


I think off the bat, the pitching staff has to perform comparably to last year, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable. Behind the opening day starting five, there are plenty of guys waiting like Brault, Kingham, Holmes, Glasnow and potentially even Keller. I don’t think it will be difficult for Searage to peace together an effective staff.

The issue is the known unknowns in the lineup. Marte provides speed and defense, so CF is a plus even if he doesn’t regain his juiced up power. Harrison and Mercer provide probably league average production in terms of offense and defense. Bell should provide offense from 1B. Cervelli and Polanco have to be healthy, I think just for some lineup stability, I don’t think either are more than ~2WAR players. So at this point, we’re assuming some things, and we’re still looking at a bad offensive team. Moran has to emerge as a middle of the order presence, I don’t think there’s any way around it.

Thomas H

This is a good assessment of the Pirates current situation. I agree that the Pirates need Glasnow and Polanco to step up in a major way. Both had awful seasons last year. I’m surprised there’s no discussion of Taillon and Marte. Both had less than impressive 2017 seasons and the Pirates will go nowhere unless both live up to their respective pedigrees.

I look at this team and see no pitchers who have ever produced top of the rotation sort of numbers. Offensively I see no HR power in the line up. And defensively I think they’re below average. I’m not seeing any way they finish .500 without adding significantly through free agency.


The Pirates finished in13th in runs allowed, I don’t think a top of the rotation guy is that necessary. It is if you make the playoffs, but not necessary to get there.

Also, I don’t think Polanco is part of what will determine whether they compete or not. I can see Glasnow, but both of these guys have played a lot at the major league level without showing much indication of being capable of making an impact. Glasnow struggles to show basic competency and Polanco can’t stay healthy long enough to contribute. I’m looking at some of these guys that have shown power in the minors (moroff, Luplow and Moran) to come up and provide some instant offense and push other guys to utility roles.

Thomas H

And with the offense they had 13th was good enough to get them a 75 win season. They just got rid of their best offense of player and are talking about trading their second best offense of player from last year. You really think the pitching is good enough without someone having a breakout season and pitching like a solid number one?

Can you think of a 2017 playoff team that didn’t have two or three top of the rotation sort of starters? It doesn’t happen. And if you’re counting on Luplow and Moran to carry the team, then you’re counting on something that didn’t happen in AA or AAA ball.

I didn’t say it was likely but both Glasnow and Polanco at least appear to have all the tools to maybe become all-star caliber players at some point in the future. Outside of Taillon and Bell, neither of whom have proved anything, they are the only guys on the roster you can say that about. Frankly, I think if less than 3 of the guys I mentioned develops into a star, which seems likely, it could be five or seven years or more before the Pirates have a chance to win again. The guys have in the minors do not project to be stars and I don’t think you can be a winning organization without at least 3 stars.


I think i’m mostly just pointing to the fact that considering the scenarios the Pirates need to compete make me wonder if I should just but a power ball ticket.

Even if the pitching staff does better, they still need to boost their offense. So what my comment there was indicating, was that the onus lies on the offense. Then that with the known quantities that they have on offense for them to compete, those players i noted have to provide a significant offensive spark. And thus, counting on those players to carry the offense is akin to playing the powerball.

Thomas H

I agree. They aren’t very close. They could be successful if they added free agents and, in theory, they have the money to do that. I just don’t see it happening.


They kind of have to just muddle along for a bit and hope something clicks with some of their toolsy prospects like Meadows and Tucker. If that doesn’t happen then you have to try and leverage some of their other assets like Rivero and Marte.

dr dng

I just knew Tim’s evaluation would start with Polonco and Glasnow.

Unfortunately, for me, these are the two Pirates that I have lost
the most confidence in. I don’t know much about this baseball
stuff, but these are two players with the greatest upside, but
also the potential to just be slightly above or below replacement.

Stephen Brooks

Hey, you just defined “high beta” – which incidentally is a term borrowed from the stock market, referring to stocks that have higher than usual up-and-down swings.


I would love to see them get moose at say something 4 years for 48M. Maybe bring in Dyson or Austin Jackson in center at like 2 years 10M. Dyson could make the outfield one of the better defensive outfields in the league.

If they trade Harrison that’s 30M out and 17 in. I would hold on to him though if they go that route. I’ve read Moran can play left field and 1st some as well.

Dyson CF
Harrison or Fraizer 2nd
Marte LF
Bell 1st
Moose 3B
Polanco RF
Cerville/ Diaz C
Mercer SS

Brian Z

Well see how close they are but these are Spotrac’s projected contracts for those guys:

Moose: 6 years $100MM ($16+MM/year)
Jackson: 3 years $40MM ($13MM/year)
Dyson: They don’t have his projection yet

Winning is expensive


Does Jose Osuna figure in any of this? I know last years stats are not exactly glowing but he has shown flashes of power in his professional career. Any chance he hits his way into the lineup and provides unexpected production?

Stephen Brooks

I’m sure he’ll get a callup, but I think you hit the nail on the head with the word “unexpected.” He set a pretty low bar his first run through the league. For a guy who can only play 1B and corner OF, he’s going to have to hit better than he did last year to stick.


They certainly have their best bench heading into a season in years.


real talk. they do have to bring in someone who can pick it in CF for if Marte gets hurt…. right?

They wouldnt just march Frazier/Polanco out there…. right?

here is the list of FA CFs…

Peter Bourjos (31)
Lorenzo Cain (32)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jaff Decker (28)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Carlos Gomez (32)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Cameron Maybin (31)
Alex Presley (32)

Bourjos is bad, Cain is unrealistic, Davis is bad, Jaff lol, Dyson would be fun, Gomez would be fun, Jackson would be fine, Jay would be fine, Maybin is bad, Presley is bad and fun

The way i see it, Dyson andGomez are the only free agents who are 1) realistic, 2) good enough to justify taking *some* (not all) playing time away from young guys, and 3) can play a decent CF. Jackson would be fine, but his CF numbers are pretty awful.

and Gomez represents a player with talent that you can dream on as well. Sounds weird to say that about a 32 year old, but there it is.

Blaine Huff

To say the least, I’m a little leery of: “Marte and Polanco…and hopefully Marte returns to his former self and hopefully Polanco stays healthy…and, hopefully, some mishmash of untested players who really didn’t tear up the minors can cover the third OF spot. There, the outfield is solved…”

And then you go ahead and post the FA OF’s and it’s like…well damn, there’s really nothing there I’d really want to commit money to, either….

Brinson and Nimmo are looking like better options the more I think about it.


just to be clear, those are just the FA CFs. There are some decent corner guys out there too. But i’m making the case that they need a guy who can play CF.

and omg yes if they somehow could get Brinson, then *obviously* they take that. Getting brinson in a harrison deal seems unrealistic at best though. Can Nimmo play CF? i have no idea. Regardless, it doesnt sound like theyre dealing Nimmo for Harrison either.

I think Gomez would be fun.

Blaine Huff

Do the Pirates need a true CF? I mean, not to be overly smart-assed, they haven’t had one for about three seasons.

I’ve got no issues, really, with Marte manning the position…but they definitely need someone to add to the mix. Bruce was my hope…and, at $13M/yr, he would’ve been just fine.

As for Brinson/Nimmo…the Pirates can always sweeten the pot…it doesn’t just have to be Harrison. As soon as the Brewers lose out on Darvish, they’ll need a pitcher. Nova with half his contract paid should give them a lot of flexibility. If they don’t want to go diving on that…the Pirates have MiL chips that might sway them for an OF that might not have a full-time job.

Either way, I’d rather the Pirates go with an actual prospect or an established veteran. If S-Rod turns out to be the stop-gap until/if Meadows is ready….I think it’s fairly safe to say any hopes of WC contention are wildly misplaced.


lol @ “they haven’t had one for about three seasons.”

I agree about SeanRod. I’d much, much rather watch Frazier or Brinson or Meadows or Luplow or Gomez in LF.

NorCal Buc

In these columns, I read so many recent comments about all of the potential top prospects coming to the Pirates. Evidently there were an awful of swing and misses from inmates.

I see more problems with the performances of the players than with the moves by this FO. But there is very little more annoying to me than second guessing.

I’ll simply root for my hometown club, as I have done since 1962

Tim B

To compete this year, and with the money we saved on the G Cole and Cutch deals,
Just sign Cargo and hope he is as good or better than Cutch, then sign free agent Alex Cobb who could equal what Cole has done the past 2 years or exceed that, if we are not competing trade Cargo at deadline just like we would have Cutch

Blaine Huff

Cargo had a .606 OPS away from Coors last season.
2016: .744
2015: .758
2014: .544
2013: .987

He’s been going downhill for awhile now.


Carlos Gonzalez or Carlos Gomez?

Gonzalez would be fun to bring on in a Matt Joyce role. I actually think Carlos Gomez would be a great fit if he’d take a 1 year deal. jMaybe a 2 yr deal.

Gomez is still a decent defender in CF to spell Marte. I’d also be interested in seeing Meadows/Polanco platooned with Luplow/Someone like Gomez.

yep. i’m now all aboard the Gomez train. I had been on the Dyson train but now i’m all in on Gomez. lots more upside.


Carlos Gonzalez, still just 32, can he equal Cutch stats??


he’s a bad corner outfielder who can only hit righties.

he’s averaged 1 WAR per season since 2014. I don’t see him being anything more than a good bat off the bench. But who knows, i guess.


I don’t usually comment, this time however I have to give Tim credit,very insightful piece Mr. Williams, excellent job.

Blaine Huff

Hmmmmmm, MLBTR is reporting the Brewers are about to make a deal…

With all the Pirate movement as of late, gotta wonder…

The Brewers are looking for pitching and a second baseman…and have a surplus of young OFs.

The Pirates are probably very interested in moving Nova or Harrison or both…and have a gaping hole in the OF.

Sounds like a potential match…

Joe P

If ifs were a fifth , we’d all be Nutting Drunk

dr dng

A short quick question.
Anyone can feel free to answer in addition to Tim and John.

Who do you see hitting in the top 5 spots in the batting order?

You can list one batting order or a batting order based on
what hand the opposing pitcher is.

Thanks. Dr. DNG.

Stephen Brooks

If you&#8 217;re assuming Harrison sticks with the team, I would run with:

1. Frazier LF (vs. RHP)/Harrison 2B (vs. LHP)
2. Cervelli C
3. Marte CF
4. Bell 1B
5. Moran/Freese 3B

Cervelli&#8 217;s high OBP/low SLG bat is wasted in the bottom 3rd of the order. As long as he is playing, he should be a table setter.

I have Harrison 6th, he sees the fewest pitches per plate appearance of any returning starter which is really not ideal for top of the order hitter. With a LHP on the mound, I would have the 4th OF, whether Luplow or an acquisition.

I have Polanco 7th, easily is the highest beta player; if he can recapture the .200+ ISO from &#8 217;16, he&#8 217;s a good fit for #5 and you move everyone else down.

Mercer is 8th. There&#8 217;s no reason to hit him higher, even against LHP.

By June/July, when (fingers crossed) Newman and Meadows have graduated, this will need to be juggled. Newman probably just slots into #8 . Meadows? No idea.

dr dng

I do not speak baseballeese. Can you explain what this means?

I have Polanco 7th, easily is the highest beta player; if he can recapture the .200+ ISO from ’16, he’s a good fit for #5 and you move everyone else down

Stephen Brooks

No problem, dr dng.

I would bat Polanco 7th, at least until I see tangible signs of improvement.

That said, he is the player on the Pirates with easily the highest range of potential outcomes (“high beta”), ranging from bad (like he was in ’17) to near elite (like he was in the first half of ’16 when he batted .287 with a .500 slugging percentage).

If he can get back to hitting like a power hitter (“200+ ISO = the difference between his slugging percentage and his batting average is .200, which means he’s hitting a lot of doubles, triples and home runs), then he is more suited to the middle of the lineup. I would bat him 5th, where he will have more runners on base to drive in.

Since I had him batting 7th initially, if he moves to 5th, then you have to move the #5 and #6 hitters down one spot in the order (Moran and Harrison). But if Polanco is hitting that well, it will be a nice problem to have.

dr dng

Thank you. I understand much better now.
Yes, Polonco was a doubles machine early in .’16
I would sure rather having him hit 5th instead of
Freeze, if he could produce is best numbers.


Pirates have the same opportunity to contend that they have had the past 2 years. It’s just up to them play sound baseball. Catch the Ball and Pitch the Ball.

BTW they do need to get a veteran outfielder, and not use that silly platoon of players that are not outfielders….


I actually think Frazier made a lot of strides last year. Granted, his arm isn’t good.

That said, id have a hard time arguing against getting a Jarrod Dyson.


Dyson really just a platoon hitter but a very good fielder.


yeah i’d be down for platooning him with Luplow and being a late-game defensive replacement. There’s almost always room on a team for that.

Stephen Brooks

For a team in the bottom 1/3 of the league in pitchers’ K%, that may not be such a bad thing.


The Pirates will contend in 2018 if these things happen(ed): 1) If Houston had traded Carlos Correa and George Springer for Gerrit Cole; if Giants had traded Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey for Cutch; if Yanks had traded Stanton, Judge and Gleyber Torres for JHay, Cervelli and Nova and paid their salaries; and if Orioles traded Machado for Trevor Williams and Daniel Hudson. As unlikely as those transactions, that’s how unlikely it is that this team will contend for anything other than a 90+ loss season. They have no power other than Josh Bell and the starting pitching is question marks after Taillon. Good luck with that!


A little bit off topic, but next year’s free agent class is expected to be excellent. Obviously the Pirates are not going to sign the top guys, but is there enough depth to the class that the Pirates might have a legitimate shot at a pretty good player? If so, that might also be a factor is Huntington’s current moves.

Stephen Brooks

An optimistic, but not insane, projection of a “contending” 2018 Pirates team:

C Cervelli +2 (returns to reasonable health)
1B Bell +2.5 (keeps the power, adds some BA)
2B Harrison + 2.5
3B Moran +2
SS Mercer/Newman +1.5
LF Luplow/Meadows +2
CF Marte +4
RF Polanco +3
Bench (Freese, Frazier, Diaz, Moroff, SRod) +1.5

Taillon +3.5
Nova +2.5
Kuhl +2
Williams +2
Musgrove/Glasnow +2
6th starters +0
Rivero +1.5
rest of pen +2.5

That’s 37 wins + baseline of 48 = 85.

Mind you, this is not a prediction.


Not insane at all. I don’t think we see Meadows until later in the season. I love J-hay but if they are going to run this team like a business I think they should try to trade him to the Mets for Nimmo. Luplow Can be a good 4th OF. Then they need to sign a Lance Lynn, over pay him a little for a 3 year deal.


They could really use an injection of talent at C or SS


Agree, but I think Mercer and Cervelli are serviceable as long as Cervelli stays healthy. I would like to see them trade for Realmuto, but I don’t really see it happening. I think I would be asking for too much in signing Lance Lynn and trading Harrison. A Mercer trade would be ok with me, as long as they used their minor league assets to get someone else, and I just don’t know who that would be right now.


Realmuto would be fun too! I just figure that the payroll is gonna be like $50 million next year (as things stand right now), so might as well plan on spending money *somewhere*, and Catcher makes the most sense since there are young options/prospects everywhere else. But i’d certainly be satisfied with giving up prospects for Realmuto too, within reason.

I’m not a Lance Lynn guy, but yeah the overall concept of signing a good pitcher and then pushing Musgrove/Glasnow into the ‘pen seems like it’d help too.


For the Pirates and “contending” it’s as much about getting that high-ceiling talent as finding the next competitive advantage. Travis Sawchik laid it out pretty well at Fangraphs a few days ago https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/how-the-pirates-got-here/ and Tim has covered many similar elements over the years. The Pirates success was because players reached potential AND they were able to be ahead of the curve as an organization in pitch framing, shifting, etc.

Now they are in the opposite situation — the potential stars (Polanco, Glasnow, Meadows) are looking unlikely to reach their once-thought ceilings and the organization seems to have bet wrong on the “gap power/contact” approach as a winner in the “launch angle” era. So where do they find that next area they can be ahead? Bullpen usage seems like the one that is most obvious, but doing that over 162 game grind is a lot different than in the playoffs with plentiful off days. And as much credit as I give Hurdle for progressive managing while maintaining and old-school feel as a traditional leader, we all know that creative bullpenning might be a bridge too far for him.


The “ Return of Kang” ( not the Star Trec movie ) surfaced again the other day. Any chance? Would he have a decent WAR?

Blaine Huff

Just for fun…

If Kang does return…and he can hit…have him play second and move Harrison. payroll drops by about $7M and production rises 🙂


We have no idea. Depends on how much his Winter league struggles were rust and how much was a deterioration of skill.

I’d probably rather watch Moroff at 2b and Moran at 3b. If the bat looks like it’s alive then I’d be more interested in watching him at SS than Mercer, defense be damned

Scott K

Kang will need ST plus probably a month or two in AAA before he’s ready to hit ML pitching. I’m not even predicting he’s going to get a visa, let alone helping this team ever again.

Chris Thomas

I agree, however I don’t want them to hope on a reclamation project. Go sign a solid starting pitcher. They have the money now, don’t sign a bunch of average Joe’s. Sign one solid pitcher as a foundation piece with Taillon. That would help appease the angry fans. Well, maybe lol


I get the actions are louder it also makes me fear they’re going with Musgrove in the rotation instead of Glasnow because they’re “competing”.


Musgrove is the better pitcher, therefore, he should be in the rotation.


Not ceiling wise. Might as well start Brault or kingham unless there’s some second gear that no one knows about.


If Musgrove can translate what he did in the bullpen last year over to the rotation this year, he is on par with Taillon. If he goes to the rotation, drops velocity and his ability to strike batters out like last season in the rotation, then he will be battling to stay in the rotation.


I guess Glasnow can be put on hold until the future of Nova has been decided. My fear is Glasnow can’t transition to the pen but we already know Musgrove is effective there.

Blaine Huff

I don’t know much about Musgrove’s struggles, but he was a beast in the minors…I’d say, since this is (most realistically) a rebuild year…trade Nova and give both Musgrove and Glasnow shots at the rotation. If one or both of them show no signs progress by mid-season, do what you have to with them and promote some of the AAA arms.


They really should trade Nova. Tim has suggested as much as well. The salary and rotation spot could be much better utilized.


Saw someone on Twitter saying the buccs should target yelich. Thought it was an interesting idea, anyone think that Meadows Glasnow and maybe Newman or Tucker would get it done?

joe s

Just give up what they want and what you suggest and Yellish will quite the game if he is traded to the Pirates.


That would be an overpay, but those are areas of depth for the Pirates.

Blaine Huff

An overpay? No…not at all…if anything, even all four of them wouldn’t be anywhere near enough.

Yelich has $145M is excess value.

Meadows is rated a 55 and worth $38M
Tucker is a 50 worth $20M
Newman is a 45 with $11M in trade value.

That’s $76M short of acquiring Yelich…and Glasnow isn’t going to make up that difference. If Glasnow were still a prospect, his struggles are so severe, I don’t think he could be graded out any higher than a 55. For a pitcher, that’s $22M in value. So the Pirates would still sitting $54M short of getting Yelich.

Quickest way to get to $54M?

Add Keller to the deal (a 60 with $34M in value) and Hayes (50 with $20M).

So, a perfectly balanced deal would be:

Pirates get Yelich,

Marlins get:


The Marlins would probably be forced to take less, but there’s no way that deal happens for them unless it’s headlined by Keller, Meadows, and Tucker. Two of the other three would probably have to go, as well.

If the Pirates really wanted Yelich, the smartest way to minimize the hit to the farm system would be to accept Wei-Yin Chen in the deal. Taking on the roughly $60M in dead money could pull Keller, Tucker, and Newman out of the deal and have the Pirates “just” giving up Meadows, Glasnow, and Hayes.

Scott K

This evaluation should put the idea of trading for Yelich to bed.


Now that is funny stuff

Blaine Huff

Well, therein lies the craziness of trying to acquire a highly underpaid upper level talent who’s signed long-term with a weak farm system. It ain’t pretty.

But you’d also have to look at the risk the Marlins take with the deal…we love the prospects because their ours, but you also have the reality that….

Keller: 34 IP in AA
Meadows: the injury history is appears to be stalling his development.
Glasnow: if he can’t figure it out, he’s a BP arm…at best.
Tucker: has yet to show power or hit above AA
Hayes: hasn’t made it to AA yet and hasn’t shown power as a corner infielder.
Newman: closing in on 25, no power, and hasn’t figured out AAA pitching.

As far as prospects go…one, maybe two hit their ceilings…if you’re lucky. One, maybe two, become contributors. Two-to-four become spare parts if they make the majors at all.

That’s why three years of Sale cost the best prospect in baseball, Kopech, and two lottery tickets.


You’re absolutely right here; any deal the Pirates offered not including Keller would be laughed at by the industry, and even one that included him would also need young ML talent to get a deal done. The Pirates don’t have enough in the system to do it alone.

Christian Yelich is stupid valuable.

Blaine Huff

Speaking of no one in particular, but this is what always makes me scratch my head about proposed deals…

You’ve got Pirate fans who say Torres and Andujar are a fair return for two years of Cole…then are absolutely aghast when you point out the cost of acquiring someone with Yelich’s control/production/cost.

It’s really hits home when they want Realmuto thrown in with Yelich…a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation based on prospect value is that deal would cost: Glasnow, Keller, Meadows, Baz, Tucker, Hayes, Sanchez, Hearn, Escobar, Newman, and Jennings. I’m guessing that leaves Reynolds, Jason Martin, and Alemais fighting for the top spot in the farm system 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


Preach, my friend. 😉


NM I figured it out, I missed a year on his contract.

Blaine Huff

He’s a beast…he should get better…though, in that lineup…maybe not. If he just stays as is, he may be putting up 1 WAR for every $2.6M he’s paid.

To use that as a baseline for a player in the free agent portion of his career, Mike Trout would have to be cranking out 13.1 WAR/season to have a similar value.


However, a 4.5 WAR player is not going to move the needle on a 75 win team. Would he make the Pirates better, undoubtedly, is he a player a team trades 3 top prospects for? IMO, no, however, in the Pirates current situation, they have to make an offer.

The problem is, I just don’t think the Pirates have the pieces to get a deal done. Value wise, possibly, but I don’t think that there is a general consensus that the prospects in the Pirates system are that good. Mitch Keller might be the only one that teams could see at this point providing true value at the major league level.


Where did you come up with Yellich’s excess value?

Blaine Huff

3 of the past 4 years, Yelich has clocked in at exactly 4.5 WAR…the one season he didn’t, he missed almost 40 games. So, I think it’s fair to call him a 4.5 WAR guy.

He’s got 5 seasons remaining on his deal…22.5 WAR.

With a WAR being worth about $9M,..he’s got about $202.5M worth of value. With 5 years and $58.25M left on his deal, that’s $144.25M in excess.


I don’t see Hudson fitting into the bullpen with so many young arms. Do you think JHay will be dealt now or at the dead line?


Tim, in general I agree with your assessment of the 2018 Pirates – and I stated as such in one of my MANY posts since the recent Cole and Cutch trades.

Even if the Pirates didn’t make the two trades, I did not consider the Pirates being a playoff contender in 2018 – they have way too many holes to fill and the division is getting stronger, not weaker. Being objective, as we sit here today, they are ranked 5 in a 5 team division – and the distance between them and the Cubs and Cards has not shrunk but may actually be wider – especially the Cards, who have strengthened themselves significantly this off season.

Yes, Glasnow, Polanco, and Moran all have to come much closer to their potential than they each have to date. Each would have to have very strong 2018 seasons for the Pirates to even have a remote chance. Moran was a high draft pick, and until 2017, he appeared to be another in the long line of first round busts. Although he did have a good 2017 season in the minors, his numbers were not overwhelming and they came in the PCL – that makes me somewhat skeptical and rightly so. We will find out this Spring and early Summer if he really did find himself or if he just benefited from hitting in the PCL.

The Pirates also need Taillon to be healthy and effective for an entire season – is that reasonable to expect given his condition? They would also need 2-3 other young pitchers to step up big time in 2018 and firmly grab rotation spots – 2-3 from the mix of Kuhl, Brault, Musgrove, Kingham, Holmes, Williams, etc.

Marte would need to return to 2013-2015 form and play exceptional CF. Mercer and Bell would need to NOT backslide from their 2017 production – and hopefully they can do even better. Finally, some combination of Newman, Osuna, Meadows, Moroff, and Frazier would need to make significant contributions – if not start.

Obviously, the odd and likelihood of all those things falling in place are not good. If the front office did the unthinkable, and spent some of this payroll money that they jettisoned and added external assets without weakening the team elsewhere, that would help their prospects. My prediction as of 1/21/2018, 70-75 wins and that would be considered a good year given their current roster.


5 out of 5 in the division? Really? I’ll bet you a $1000 the Pirates do not do worse than the Reds this year. I’m not very optimistic about this year being anything more than a bridge year, but 5th out of 5? Comments like that make it hard to take you seriously as anything but a naysayer.


Okay, the Pirates only finished 6 or 7 games ahead of the Reds last year, and just traded Cutch and Cole away with little likelihood that the return will fill those holes of production – at least not in 2018. And its very likely Harrison will be gone soon as well. So, why is it such an outrageous suggestion that the Pirates could be the worst in the division in 2018? You make it sound like the Pirates were 15 or 20 games better than the Reds last year… Please explain…I’d love to hear your rationale…


The problem with adding external assets to a rebuilding team, which is what the Pirates are seen as, is that no good FA will sign here. By good, I mean one that would help this team contend. So in essence, they would be looking to sign bounce back candidates, which in all likelihood would not help this roster.

You know what is a real shame………after 10 years of drafts, largely focused on high upside pitching, this organization has not produced a single top of the rotation starter. If we can be honest with ourselves, they have only produced 2 marginally above average starters. That is bad. Add to that the fact that they basically punted on 3 drafts, and more fans should be upset at the owner for signing the GM to a 4 year extension.

Scott K

I’d normally agree with you, but have you noticed what is happening this winter with FA’s? There will be lots of quality FA’s who are looking for a job this time next month. Definitely a buyers market.


Who would you recommend the Pirates sign? Even a month from now FA’s will be out of the Pirates price range.

Scott K

They’re payroll is now slated to be just north of $80mm. Last year they had over $100mm opening day payroll. They can afford either Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn. Especially if they deal JHay as I expect.

IC Bob

I think there payroll will be closer to70 million but I highly doubt we spend more than 5 million on anyone


And the Pirates will not sign any of them!

Scott K

We’ll see. History would suggest you’re more likely right than not. But if there ever was a year…


You make a good point about FAs – the Pirates will not likely be a desired destination. Only AAAA players, reclamation projects, and over the hill vets will be interested – the Pirates need to resist the temptation to sign those types and block their own prospects – which they have repeatedly done in the past.

As for pitching development, I assume you only count Cole and Taillon up to this point? If yes, if we are being objective, you are correct. And the jury is still out on both of them, although we only care about Taillon now. He had many moments of brilliance last year, but health issues did him in. Can he reach his potential with his obvious medical condition? That is a big question.


Trade Harrison for Nimmo, sign Lance Lynnn. Then pray for Glasnow and Polanco to break out. If things pan out, make a deal in season. Minimum wild card with this scenario


I’m not keen on a Harrison for Nimmo trade…I’m not convinced he is a real upgrade over Osuna, Luplow, and Meadows….I’d rather they try to get some younger prospects at positions of need in the system – like C, 3B, and CF….


Osuna? Did you watch that slug try to play the outfield? Then, there’s the fact of him not being a very good hitter. He’s got AAAA written all over him


And Nimmo has done what so far in MLB?


Much, much more than Osuna has…and he can actually play the outfield.


Osuna didn’t belong in the same group with those other two, but you’re gonna have a hell of a harder time refuting BFSMD’s point if you *don’t* pick on the week link.

Blaine Huff

Pfffft…he could be a starter right now on the Twins, Giants, or Tigers.

Of course, in the Japanese/Korean leagues.

Steve Zielinski

Superstars elevate good teams to great teams. The Pirates currently have 5 candidates that have superstar potential and who are on the ML roster or near to it.


Each player comes with qualifications that indicate lesser potential. Taillon, Polanco and Meadows have injury concerns. Bell has yet to settle on a consistent approach. Glasnow cannot throw strikes and has been less able to miss bats than his MiL would lead one to expect. Each player has the pedigree and talent, however, that were they to produce >5 WAR, their success would not be a complete surprise. These players need to produce if the Pirates were to contend sooner (2018) rather than later (2019 and later).

Scott K

Nice breakdown of the roster strengths and weaknesses, Tim. I’d agree the odds of the team as it’s currently constructed are unfavorable. However, the one strength of this team, bullpen, gives me reason for hope.

As we saw in the playoff seasons, having a lockdown bullpen covers up areas of weaknesses very well. This bullpen with the additions of Feliz, Crick, Kontos, and to a lesser degree, Santana and Lithuanian Lightening, make it a much better group than the one coming out of ST last season.

A strong bullpen reduces stress of rotation to pitch through the lineup a 3rd time. Plus it also covers up for an inconsistent offense to a certain degree, too.

I say if this team ends up contending past the trade deadline, it’ll do so on the arms of their bullpen arms.




Haha, nice.

Aaron J

I have a crazy idea that won’t happen but should. Trade anyone not named Mitch Keller for Christian Yelich. Marlins are apparently seeking AA and AAA prospects. Include any combination of Meadows, Osuna, Moroff, Frazier, Newman/Tucker, Kramer, or the dozen or so pitching prospects they have at those levels to get it done. Yelich is young and good and has a reasonable contract through 2021. An outfield of Marte/Polanco/Yelich could be very impressive and it shows the fans that you legit want to compete in the near future. Then you are set at almost every position with young players in the majors which means you can afford to gut the top 2 levels of the system. Yelich may not seem like the kind of player you sell out for, but he’s exactly the type of player the Pirates can and should target.


Initially, I thought Yellich was more impressive than he has actually been. Don’t get me wrong, he is a heck of a player, but I’m not sure I give up any of the Pirates top 3 prospects for him. I am also not sure Miami would trade him without at least 1 of those 3 involved. However, if the Pirates were to go after Yellich, it kind of negates the necessity to have Austin Meadows.

If Miami would take Meadows plus 2 of the 5 starters at AAA, then I would be fine with it. Would make for a very interesting line-up for the next 3 years as well. It would provide time for the organization to produce an outfielder from the minors, and would give them 3 more drafts to go out and draft an outfielder as well.


The pirates would probably prefer realmuto if they’re shelling out


They would need to offload Cervelli first, and that is much easier said than done.


Sometimes you just need to rip off the band-aid


They’d be better regardless


I’m good with that as well. I think that they need to sign someone like Lance Lynn as well. I have thought a Yelich trade would be good idea. Would set them up for years. A big time Polanco and Glasnow breakouts and more progression from Josh Bell would mean the playoffs.

Daryl Restly

I think the one thing that could tank NH thoughts of being a contender this year real quickly is the health of Cervelli and the uncertainty regarding whether Diaz could handle the majority of the workload if something were to happen to Cervelli health-wise. I know the Pirates had talked to the Blue Jays about Harrison at one point. Any chance the Pirates could get Reese McGuire back in a trade? I’m not really sold on the depth at the catcher position behind Cervelli and Diaz. I know they got Jacob Stallings and he has gotten some MLB playing time the past 2 years. Is 2018 the year where either Diaz or Stallings breaks out and establishes themselves as solid MLB contributors?

John W

Agree on Moran Tim. This is either going to end up really smart or not good At all. Let’s hope for the former- would be huge if we hit big on Moran.


Yeah Moran but if Musgrove can put up Millerish results in the pen and Feliz takes a respectable fip down a little it’s an all out steal.

IC Bob

Did you just compare Musgrove to the best set man in a decade?


i think it is hilarious how thecrow admits to feeling the same way about andy laroche….and now beaverjp believes we got a ‘steal’ when NOT 1 PUNDIT/SCOUT/GM in the COUNTRY concurs….fucking rose colored glasses at their absolute worst!

Blaine Huff

Do you recall what an absolute monster LaRoche was when the Pirates acquired him…damn near every ‘expert’ thought the Bucs ‘won’ the trade for getting him.


Blaine, youre getting confused with Adam…..Andy was never a monster with this team or any other…and nobody thought Pirates won the Jason Bay trade

Blaine Huff

Nope, no confusion at all.

Pundits, experts, etc., were all congratulating the Pirates for getting Andy LaRoache.

When the Pirates got him in 2008, he was a 24 year-old with this minor league track record:

2005: .305 BA, 30 HR, .926 OPS in A+/AA
2006: .315 BA, 19 HR, .924 OPS in AA/AAA
2007: .309 BA, 18 HR. .987 OPS in AAA (311 PA)

For those three seasons, Baseball America had him ranked from 19-31 and he was also either the Dodger’s #1 or #2 prospect through those three seasons.

Andy LaRoache was a highly touted beast…he just happened to not be able to put it together at the major league level.


I think the Moran get was a steal. Then again, I thought the Andy LaRoche get was a steal as well.

John W

Ha. Yeah LaRoche is cautionary tale. I want to believe in the swing adjustment Moran made and that’s it’s sustainable.

Scott K

Totally agree, John. In a larger sense, how the Cole trade works out over the next couple seasons will likely dictate how successful team is in the short term.


What does it mean to “contend”? To me that goes beyond putting together a team you think can be competitive. Contend could mean to hang around somewhere on the periphery of the playoff picture and that’s it. If that’s what he means, I say “no thanks”. More of the middle in my mind. Contend means also a willingness to add to the team as necessary during the season; to make decisions based upon winning in that year vs. develop players for the future. Contend is a very general word and it can mean a lot of things.


Contend means trying to win and succeed…the ownership and the FO fails that definition – their only interest is turning a profit. They would prefer 5th place and a positive bottom-line over a true playoff contender and a negative bottom line. The fans do not factor into the equation.


Yep .. It can mean staying in our middle ground chasing 81 wins.


I think Max Moroff is kinda the key to all of this. If he replaces Harrison’s ~2 WAR, then theyre in pretty good shape as far as hovering around 81 wins. I’m pretty confident that someone in the mish mash of Luplow, Frazier, and Meadows will step up with 2 WAR type production.

I also think that C and SS are they two positions where it would make the most sense to add help. Maybe that’s giving Lucroy a “lucroy”tive 1 year deal to re establish his value? Maybe that’s trading for Yasmani Grandal with the intention of wooing him into signing an extension (or a combination of both… signing Lucroy now for a year and signing Grandal next offseason). I have a pretty firm belief that one of those two guys should be this team’s catcher of 2019-2022 or so. Grandal is the better fit because Cervelli-Grandal would be a badass platoon in 2019.

And then get weird with the yankees and get Didi Gregorious somehow if they’re confident that Torres could play SS. He’d bridge the 2 years to Cole Tucker perfectly.

If you’re going to make statements about contending, at least do something more interesting at SS and C than Jordy f***ing Mercer and Cervelli/Diaz. Every other position at least has *interesting* players there.


Question do you see us adding pieces before camp to get to the 100 million payroll or keeping it at the 80 or so we are now?


welp i’ll put it like this… if they yell about how they’re trying to contend, but have a team with such a boring SS and C, and no backup centerfielder, but only have an 80 million payroll or less, then i’m going to call bulls***


I could be very wrong. But weren’t the Pirates linked to Gregorious a few years back?


well i’ll be damned. there was a Morosi rumor about it back in March of 2014.

There’s absolutely no indication that the Yanks would move him, but whether it’s this offseason or next offseason, you’d think they’d let Torres take the reins *eventually*.


That is what I thought. I remember it being a very small rumor.


I don’t get what Texas is going to do with Profar if they’re just going to sit on him for a year in case Andrus opts out but he’d be a nice stop gap to Tucker.


because they are trying to win a world championship – that is what championship level teams do – plain and simple. Most championship calibre teams have reserve players that could start on other sub-.500 teams like the bucs.


Tex definitely didn’t take that approach with their rotation they’re another team in a world of mediocrity


Who do you think has a better chance at landing Darvish – Pirates or Rangers? Enough said. Texas is always going to have a better chance at winning year in and year out because they are always willing to invest in the roster


Cubs, Brewers, Twins, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers I’ll take the under on the rangers


I’d like to see them take a flyer in Profar. Have plenty of pitching depth to offer.


Honestly I don’t know if he’d be an upgrade, but he’d at least be interesting.


With their extra financial flexibility, could they possibly bring a few FAs in at 1-2 year deals and move them at the deadline if they’re not in contention.

Daryl Restly

The only drawback to that is a scenario in which the guy you signed is in the final year of his contract (or only year) and he outperforms his contract and the Pirates are in contention and he’s a big reason why they are in contention. Look no further than Russell Martin. I agree though that the Pirates should exploit this, with where they are as a franchise now. Go back and look at 2011 when they signed Kevin Correia to a 2 year deal. It wasn’t a sexy pick but he ate up some innings and won 12 games both years he was with the Pirates and he made the ASG once. As far as starting pitchers the Pirates could go after in FA, that would be the ideal scenario.


That’s what I was thinking (hoping) they might do. Cargo on a pillow deal (or John Jay or maybe Werth to give way to Meadows??) … reclamation of Chris Tillman (or Cshner, Bucholz, Vargas, Garcia, Jimenez, Hellickson??) for roughly the money saved on our trades. That seems like a win-win for us and the players.

IC Bob

Not a win for BN so it’s not happening


I don’t fully agree, but this will be the perfect offseason for it.


Like Tillman and Cargo. Jay offers nothing.


A’s used to participate in this type of activity….Matt Holliday immediately comes to mind.

Ron Zorn

I am a huge proponent of this, and not sure why it doesn’t happen more often, with teams similar to the Pirates resources. Sign several veteran free agents, looking to bounce back. If one or two work out and we not in contention, flip them at them deadline for lottery pick type players. Not players like Colin Moran, but like Oneil Cruz. The Gleyber Torres of today was not viewed as highly as when traded for Arolis Chapman. Have to get those players BEFORE they are on the Top 100 lists, not once they are there.

After all, Buc’s were brilliant for giving Josh Bell the $5 million. So much so, MLB changed the rules. But, is there really any difference in signing a good veteran on a pillow $5-7 million contract, then flipping him at the deadline for an 18 year old with high upside, high risk. Just like Josh Bell was, and the net monies are the same.


I guess then it becomes an issue of what the pirates FO actually things they have- if they DON’T think they have the player internal, then signing someone temporarily that might NET them a long term answer certainly isn’t a bad idea……especially if they can’t roll over the unused money from the payroll


I don’t that mercer needs to be offer a long term deal, especially on next year market.


I agree they can contend in 2018, with some help from Moran at 3B, and Marte, Polanco, and Cervelli returning to top form. If we do not trade JHay now, we have him for 4 months at best (Apr thru Jul).

Love to see the Pirates trade both he and Rodriguez prior to the beginning of the season, and open the MI to guys like Newman at 2B and Leadoff in 2018 and Tucker at SS in 2019. I would sign Mercer long term if the price is right – he could be a mentor to Bell, Newman, Tucker, and Moran.

IC Bob

If all 25 players play better than they are suppose to we can contend


Maybe I am too willing to think that the Pirates young talent can adapt to MLB as quickly as we have seen young guys adapt on other teams. But, that means they actually have to get on the field.

For example, last year we signed an injured Josh Rodriguez and activated him on August 5. He batted .168 with a .528 OPS, but managed to play in 39 of the remaining 52 games the team played. The Pirates had 3 or 4 young guys who were hitting better than him and desperately needed the extra PT, but they got splinters sitting on the bench. That’s on the GM and the Manager who were both rewarded with 4 year extensions.


“There’s no reason for Huntington to say that he’s absolutely dealing
Harrison if he’s trying to get a good return. There’s every reason for
him to say that they plan on Harrison being a key part of the team if
he’s trying to get some leverage in trade talks.” I don’t accept this as accurate. If we don’t believe him, why would his words make teams believe this and offer more in return? Everyone knows the Pirates have zero intention of retaining Harrison. They’ve done nothing to build a team that can contend this year. I propose that in actuality, everyone knowing the Pirates’ obvious intent on trading players away a year or two from free agency is what truly impairs the Pirates’ ability to get better returns in trades. That reality is baked in now and cannot be avoided in future barring some change in the Pirates overall decision to constrain themselves in a way that is even greater than the financial constraints facing small market teams already. The only chance they have to get fair return is a hot player and teams competing. They drive up the price themselves, not Huntington. Nutting and Huntington are their own worst enemies from a trade standpoint.


I don’t think there’s any reasonable doubt. But that wasn’t my point. I don’t think what he says publicly has any impact on the return he receives in trades. And I’m agreeing with you that actions mean more than words and thus the history of the Pirate management group in trading players away due to affordability has a long-term baked in impact on their negotiating leverage.


The fact that the Bucs may favor trading a player doesn’t affect the players inherent value, which is determined by his performance, age, upside or the length and terms of his contract. Those factors affect the return, not the Pirates situation.


I don’t think this is realistic. If everyone knows you can’t afford to keep something you are selling, they will offer less b/c the option of you retaining the asset is no longer there to help drive value (or conversely to create risk if the offer is too low). Your other factors I do agree are things that impact value.


Who has this management group truly traded away that had value but wasn’t affordable? Cole was only making 6.75 mill. If they were concerned about dumping salary they would have dumped a higher paid player like Nova for a PTBNL. Cole trade wasn’t close to a salary dump. Neither was McCutchens when they pitched in $2.5 million in order to get Bryan Reynolds. Small market is teams need to capitalize on their assets. NH biggest fault is not selling high on these assets when he had the chance to.


I agree generally with some of what you say. But when does the “churn” of players stop? When does the team move some chips into the pot in the name of winning when they have a reasonable chance? Isn’t that what fans expect? This management group plays to not lose. Their desire not to lose a player’s value from a trade trumps a chance to win. They had a chance to win this year if they added a player or two. Their fear of losing Cutch and Cole for nothing trumped their ability to win this year.


I’m with you. Why trade 2 guys who do at l least make you a potential contender. What if all the stars that were supposed to line up last year suddenly happen. Now we will never know. The return we got is no way equal to the chance that’s completely gone.

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