Pirates Q&A: Extension Candidates, Hitting Changes, Roster Upgrades

Here are the final batch of questions from this weekend’s Q&A, with a few extension questions, plus a few that I deferred for my articles that are coming up this week. Thanks for submitting the questions, and be sure to check back on Thursday for the next round.

So Many Extension Questions

Zachary Wolfe – Is there a player on the 40 msn roster who will sign the first $100mill contract with the pirates?

Alternatively, Are the pirates done extending prearb position players? Seems they haven’t done so in a few years.

Tim: Honestly, unless baseball changes, I don’t see it happening. The Pirates could do this without baseball changing, but I also don’t see that happening. That’s mostly because an extension like that would require a long-term deal close to free agency. Any player good enough to get $100 M probably would be giving up some money to stay in Pittsburgh.

I don’t think they’re done extending pre-arb players. But that’s a two-way street, and not every player would be open to an extension. I think we’ll see a lot on that front next offseason, with so many players set to hit arbitration.

RAS TN – With the cost of the Corbin signing and Mikolas signing what is your assessment that the Pirates will sign either Taillon or Williams to buyout arbitration years…

I put it at best 10% chance on either player….

Tim: I don’t think Taillon will be signing an extension. I’m not sure about Williams. I’d wait to see if he can repeat his 2018 season before considering that.

LeeFieux – How much do you think that the high arb rewards and the AAVs of Harper and 
Machado hurt the Bucs if their young players like Taillon, Bell or others, break out? Will we be ‘doomed’ to consistently trade any young stars we get long before they get too expensive?

Tim: Unless baseball sees a change, I think we’ll always see the best players leaving when they get close to or reach free agency. I don’t think it’s a guarantee that every player will be traded BEFORE they hit free agency. The Pirates have held onto some players until they were free agents, rather than trading them with a year left.

Most of the guys they’ve traded were starting to decline in value and had replacements available. The one exception was Gerrit Cole, who just wasn’t used properly here. As long as a player stays productive, and if the Pirates are contending, I could see them keeping a player around. But once he hits free agency, I think the best guys will leave for elsewhere.

rickmontgomery – Corey Dickerson has made comments about trying to get his power swing back this season without sacrificing too much off his OPS. What do you think are realistic expectations for him this season, both as far as HR’s and OPS (20 & .800+)? Do you think they could be enough to make it attractive to try to extend him, and, if so, do you think that is realistic for the Pirates?

Tim: On the extension front, I think that topic depends on two factors: how he performs and whether there’s a replacement available. Even if he performs well, the Pirates would probably move on to Bryan Reynolds or Jason Martin if either of them looked ready. And the Pirates aren’t going to be getting a discount by extending Dickerson now, so they should wait to see if he repeats his 2018 success.

On that topic, his walk rate was down to 3.9%, which is normally concerning. However, his strikeout rate dropped from 24% to 15% and his average went up to .300, with a BABIP in line with his career totals. The power did see a drop in that process.

He wasn’t swinging at considerably more pitches, but was making a much higher contact rate, especially in the zone. He went from 75% to 85% contact in the zone, and 73% to 80% overall. He also saw his swinging strike rate drop from 15% to 11%. All are good trends that signal he can repeat last year’s numbers.

If Dickerson can find a way to increase the power without sacrificing the contact skills, he could be an impact player. But that’s hard to do, as those two approaches tend to run counter to one another. You typically have to sacrifice one for the other, and it’s no guarantee you can get both.

He’d be fine if he just repeated last year. I’m wondering how the new offensive approach will impact him.

The Business of Baseball

AttyMike – Any reaction to Anderson’s recent article on CBS Sports about the relationship between Pirates’ ownership and Pittsburgh fans?

Tim: I had some input to that article. R.J. called and interviewed me for about half an hour. We discussed a lot of the issues surrounding the team, and their relationship with the fanbase. The simple answer would be “spend more” for most Pittsburgh fans, but there’s some nuance in the entire situation, involving how the league limits small market teams. That doesn’t mean that “spend more” isn’t a big issue. It is.

I thought R.J. did a good job navigating all of that, and I know that he realizes this is also partially a league issue and the Pirates just happen to be the slowest swimmer with the shark approaching, due to their low payroll. I believe he’s doing articles on other teams in the future.

cabbo80 – Based on the return of many of our top prospects, how good does Archer have to perform? We have the great benefit of reading and following the prospects daily on PP so it stings a little more for us that are followers if Archer misses the bullseye. Does he have to be Robin Hood to be worthy?

Tim: I think if he pitches like he did in September, and like he’s done for most of his career, that will be good enough. The Rays might get good returns from Glasnow or Meadows, and that might sting a bit. But as long as Archer performs, that will just be chalked up to the cost of getting an established player for multiple years.

Hitting Changes

JamosLN50 – How are the Pirates incorporating Rapsodo into Spring training and how does it compare to years past? Is it different for pitchers vs hitters?

AttyMike – The Pirates’ apparent plan to improve their offensive production is by hiring new batting coaches. If this plan is working, when should see expect to see evidence of it? What does “success” look like from a team-wide statistical standpoint fro this plan?

Tim: I’ve been working on a feature on the hitting changes, and will be rolling that out this week, starting tomorrow with a look at Rapsodo and the hitting changes the Pirates are working on.

Quick Hits

jsandstrom – 2019 Pirates Prospects “update”
Wondering when the 1st update to this years Pirate’s Prospects guide is due to arrive? Enjoyed the initial release and am looking forward to the updates.

Tim: I’m doing the final edits to the book this week. That includes a few changes based on things I’ve seen so far in camp, interviews I’ve done, and generally just taking one last look at the top 50 with John and Wilbur.

mtw247 – Tim, as a comic book fan, could you explain the mission of the Defenders, in this case, the Bob Nutting Defenders, those individuals that defend Uncle Bob no matter how low payroll goes? Is it just that every story needs an antagonist?

Tim: This question started off with so much hope and ended very disappointing. Any time you have a large enough group of people, you’ll get every possible opinion you can get. There was a time when I was accused of defending Nutting (and for some, it’s still that time). I think instead of assuming someone has a mission, see why they believe what they do. Maybe they don’t want to discuss payroll all the time. Maybe they think Nutting is an issue, but not nearly the only issue. Maybe they just want to enjoy the game of baseball. I don’t think there’s anyone who just sets out to defend Nutting for no reason.

cabbo80 – Only true Pirate fans will know who served up Austin Meadows first big league homer…can you answer without looking? I bet someone who’s vying for a spot knows without looking.

Tim: I guessed, based on that clue, looked it up, and I was right. I’ll leave it unanswered for anyone else who wants to guess. I’ll leave one more clue: I don’t think he’s vying for a spot on the roster.

tmcgowan – Who has surprised you the most in your first hand accounts this spring? Kang?

Tim: I think it’s definitely encouraging to see Kang off to a good start. That would be a massive boost to the team to see him getting back anything close to the player he was before. I’ve also been impressed with the defense from Erik Gonzalez at shortstop. He’s a smooth defender with good routes and some speed from what I’ve seen.

wvpirate – Do you expect a trade of one of our borderline pitchers such as Kingham or Brault, etc by the end of spring training? To maybe an area of weakness

Tim: No. They’re not going to get much to address a weakness with those two, and will most likely prefer to keep them around, as the depth they provide is more valuable than the depth they’d get at another position (which is the likely trade return, unless they went with a low level lottery ticket).

PhillyJake – Do we know how much money NH has left to spend for this season?

Tim: I’m guessing they’ll end up with a $75-80 M payroll on Opening Day.

JamosLN50 – Do you think Huntington would’ve preferred Bucholz for $3M (+$3M incentives) to Lyles for $2M?

Not that Lyles contract SHOULD have negated the Bucs ability to sign Bucholz, but it likely did.

Tim: Outside of being a better name, I’m not sure Buchholz is much better of an option. He’s missed a lot of time the last four years, and while his ERA was good last year, his advanced metrics suggest a regression. He’s also in his age 34 season.

Lyles isn’t exactly a guarantee either, and considering his value is based on half a season of relief stats projected to transition to the rotation, there’s valid reason for concern or uncertainty. Despite yesterday’s outing, I think he’s a good gamble. I’d agree with you that he shouldn’t preclude the Pirates from adding other players. I just don’t know if Buchholz is the best option.

hank21usa – As the roster is constructed now Tim has them projected at 86-87 wins this season. Which is usually not enough wins to reach the playoffs. Is there a realistic trade or free agent signing that could push the Pirates to the 89 win total or more? i.e. a 5th starter or short stop maybe something else. If not is there something realistically internally that can happen to push them to the 89 or more win total? i.e. players that can out perform previous seasons, Kang getting back to his previous self, or Keller getting called up and out performing his projections.

Tim: One issue with a trade or free agent signing at this point is that you’d have to get a really good player to move the projections. Most positions already have value built in. So if you add a 2 WAR player to replace a 1 WAR player, you’re only adding one win and not moving the needle much.

Based on the projections, the best area to add would be in the rotation, replacing Jordan Lyles, who isn’t projected for much value. But that’s the projections. The Pirates see value in Lyles, so it’s unlikely they will be replacing him.

I think their plan is largely based around internal improvements. And I can see an argument for that happening, which I’ll dig into more tomorrow.

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