The Pirates Are Slowly Stabilizing Their Roster

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been busy this offseason.

By no means have they made a “splash” that would make the rest of the league take notice. Their additions have been more of the “quantity” variety, without a lot of impact quality.

That’s not to say that the Pirates need impact players to make significant change. This team ranked among the worst at almost every position across the board last year. Even adding a 1.0 WAR player can make a huge difference, if done at the right spot.

Here are three areas where the Pirates have made low-key additions that might have more chain-reaction-type value than it seems on the surface.

Catcher

2022 Combined WAR: 0.1 (21st)

Additions: Austin Hedges

Subtractions: Roberto Perez

Analysis: As a group, the Pirates were replacement level last year behind the plate, which put them in the bottom-third of production around the league. Their starter was Roberto Perez, who went down with an injury after signing a one-year, $5 M deal.

The best options to emerge in the absence of Perez were Tyler Heineman and Jason Delay, who both got value from their defense. The Pirates have retained both as minor league depth options for 2023.

The Pirates just signed Austin Hedges, who has been replacement level the last three seasons, but has some of the best defense in the majors behind the plate. At the very least, Hedges and either Heineman or Delay will give the Pirates one of the best defensive combos in baseball.

The offense at this position will be atrocious, and the overall WAR is probably going to be in the bottom-half of the league. However, the Pirates will excel defensively behind the plate. That will impact their pitching staff in a positive way.

First Base/Designated Hitter

2022 Combined WAR: -3.0 (30th) / -0.9 (25th)

Additions: Carlos Santana, Ji-Man Choi, Miguel Andujar, Connor Joe

Subtractions: Michael Chavis, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Josh VanMeter, Daniel Vogelbach

Analysis: Here’s the fun part about upgrading the worst team in baseball: There are some areas where you don’t need to go all-out to massively upgrade the team. Carlos Santana and first base might be the best example of this.

Santana was worth 1.0 WAR last season, and the Pirates signed him to be their starting first baseman. The Pirates, as a group, had a -3.0 WAR at first base last year, ranking last in baseball.

They also traded for Ji-Man Choi, who had a 1.3 WAR last year. I would expect both players to split time between first base and designated hitter. Santana should get the nod more often at first base, due to his defense.

The Pirates have the recently added Connor Joe, as well as Miguel Andujar as wild card options, and both look better than the depth guys they had behind Daniel Vogelbach last year.

If the Pirates can manage just a 1.0 WAR at each of these positions, it will be a swing of six wins over the 2022 group. Santana and Choi aren’t going to be impactful enough to carry a team, but they make it far less likely we will see Josh VanMeter as the starting first baseman.

Outfield

2022 Combined WAR: 3.2 (24th)

Additions: Connor Joe, Ryan Vilade

Subtractions: Ben Gamel, Jake Marisnick, Greg Allen

Analysis: This is an area where I think the Pirates could do more. In fact, outside of adding a starting pitcher, adding a third outfielder might make the biggest impact that could be made on this team.

That’s what the team lacked in 2022. Bryan Reynolds had a 2.9 WAR. Jack Suwinski had a 1.8 WAR in his rookie season. Yet, the Pirates finished with a combined 3.2 WAR, because their third spot was made up of an assortment of league-minimum or worse players.

The additions so far have been minor, but have helped to offset the best of those depth options. Connor Joe was replacement level last year, but had a 1.1 WAR the season before. My hope is that Joe was brought in to boost the depth, rather than to be the third starter with Reynolds and Suwinski. A combination of Suwinski and Joe would probably lead to a good starter.

Ryan Vilade was added as right-handed depth, and doesn’t have much experience in the majors as he heads into his age-24 season. He’s only two months older than Canaan Smith-Njigba and a year and a half younger than Travis Swaggerty. He’s over a year younger than last year’s Pirates breakout prospect Matt Gorski. The Pirates have a collection of outfielders with upside, but last year showed they should treat this group as a bonus.

They did have Ji-Hwan Bae starting in center field at the end of the season. Bae would be an interesting wild card, and an outfield with him, Reynolds, Suwinski, and Joe might have a better chance of putting up league-average value.

To have league-average value in 2022, they would have needed a 7 WAR from the outfielders. Reynolds and Suwinski combined for 4.7 WAR. Bae, Joe, and Miguel Andujar might be better depth options than the Pirates had last year, allowing them to build on the first two players.

I think this could be an above-average outfielder with the addition of an actual third starter. The biggest impact here would be making it less likely that you see all of those negative value depth players — who tend to show up when you enter a season without three outfielders.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

The Pirates Are Slowly Stabilizing Their Roster – READING

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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DanInNC

Improving the margins of the roster, it is what NH used to do all the time. I remember that the WC playoff teams were usually pretty deep, or at least utilitarian on the bench and the end of the roster. That way you have less chance for a complete black hole. BC might be entering that tinkering stage on the MLB roster now, getting ready for more “tangible” improvements within the next 10 months in terms of….urr…talent. But in the meantime, undervalued things like defense, shift-busting, and mentorship/clubhouse presence are the ways to improve the margins.

BTW….I was super impressed with Austin Hedges’ interview (I think it is attached to another article or I saw it in the Trib or something). Very well considered and articulate man! I hope it translates!

redwards60

Stabilizing their roster?? Seriously? If this was a AAA team, I might agree with you. DFAing Castillo, while retaining wastes of 40 man roster spots like Velasquez, Wilson, Hedges, Choi, and numerous others is pure genius. Until ownership and management change, don’t expect improved talent or decision making competency. I’ve been a Pirates fan for over 50 years and I am about to throw in the towel with this organization. It is an embarrassment.

emjayinTN

Slowly stabilizing the roster for another unstable season? This year’s group of one year “plug-that-hole” cheap veteran position players is better than the 2021 and 2022 groups. Our overall defense will be better than it was last year.

Not what I would have hoped for, but it is what it is! The reality is that we have all but dedicated 1,500+ plate appearances in 2023 to guys who are auditioning for other teams. Does that make sense for a team that finished with a .383 Winning Percentage in 2022? MLB Plate Appearances for Prospects? Why not?

Bryan Reynolds 5 years/$106 mil?

James_Robert5

Where do these WAR values come from?

Is it Baseball Reference?

https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/team_compare.cgi?request=1&year=2022&lg=MLB&stat=WAR

James_Robert5
Zack

Okay, so who do you think will provide the most value from this list in 2023?
– Andujar
– Marcano
– Mitchell
– Smith-Njgiba
– Swaggerty
– Triolo

bianco599

CSN should loan Marcano a little body weight. Or at least sit next to him in the cafeteria and show him how it is done.
I vote Mitchell. Hope they all add some value. Even if in an uncommon 6 for 1 trade at the deadline.

James_Robert5

Triolo

SouthernBuc

I’d also vote Mitchell. For now IMO he and Andujar are the two most likely to get opportunities early in the year. Andujar is fighting some long odds but I don’t mind seeing what he may do.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc
leefieux

Is ‘none of them’ an answer? I was hoping Mitchell would get a DH shot, but that ain’t happening. He is below average on the outfield.

I like Triolo, but what will his MLB impact be? CSN has not power, but gets on base. Marcano is a slightly bette version of Tucker. Swaggerty May never hit enough. And, Andujar May end up like Chavis. Great rookie year, but has petered out since.

I noticed you didn’t include Vilade. I still don’t know why he is on our roster.

Zack

What if Triolo gets 5 starts, has a .1 war and ends up the best from the group? Mostly sarcastic here…

NMR

Nice.

Leader in the clubhouse would be Mitchell, he’s got the best combo of talent/experience/spot on depth chart.

But if he doesn’t stick, my money would be on CSN.

The first two stink, Triolo has a giant Kebryan Hayes problem, and I’m not sold Swag can hit enough to rack up defensive value.

Zack

If CSN is ready, and he’s blocked at DH by a poor performing veteran, I might transform into Randy Quaid from Major League.

leefieux

We have similar ideas about these guys, just differently stated.

SouthernBuc

I’m a broken record on these comments but I will share my opinion again.

I think Bae and Mitchell (who you did not mention) deserve some regular MLB looks based on their AAA performance. I guess I consider that a key part of this building process. Master (or at least succeed) at a level and move on and I think they both more than checked off the AAA box. Mitchell admittedly had more of a run last year and is very dependent on the bat. I have higher hopes for Bae.

I am also more hesitant on anointing Suwinski as a starter. That is completely based on his 2nd half performance. He just looked so lost / bad in MLB and for a while in AAA when he was demoted. He showed a glimmer in a small sample late in the year. For a guy who moved from AA to MLB really because of his being on the 40 not because he had mastered AA I am worried MLB caught up to him. I am not down on his future, I just think he needs to show he is not 2nd half Jack. If he is, going to AAA is not a terrible thing.

NMR

The hesitancy to accept Suwinski as a big-side platoon bat is so odd to me. He’s Garrett Jones with a better glove. They’re wasting at bats letting him get shoved by lefties.

Put guys in a position to succeed. Errybody wanna be Tampa, nobody wanna axct like Tampa.

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
leefieux

Can Andujar play RF AND hit? Will Vilade be a platoon OF’er?

NMR

The only year Miguel Andujar has hit he was way, wayyy over his skis on luck.

Only one other player in all of major league baseball, Scooter Gennett, posted a greater differential between actual wOBA and expected wOBA in 2018 than Andujar.

Gennett promptly fell back down to earth the next season, posted a 43 wRC+, and hasn’t earned a big league job in the three years since.

Andujar will soon join him for the same reason. This game is hard!

ArkyWags

Additionally with Andujar, that good season will be half a decade ago in 2023. It’s not exactly recent luck.

leefieux

Which is why I compared him to Chavis.

BonDrone

Chavis also had a little help from some biochemistry.

tventimiglio

It seems that the media consensus is Suwinski earned the position with his power output. I agree that he needs more polish and that Bae and Mitchell have earned spots.

leefieux

I wouldn’t say they earned spots….just shots.

tventimiglio

When you perform like they did at AAA I think you have. Suwinski hasn’t done that.

leefieux

Neither has Mitchell or Bae, altho both hit well at AAA and I like them. But Mitchell is a one dimensional type. Bae has the better ‘shot’.

melkel

I hope they hand Mitchell a first base glove on his arrival at spring training. I don’t think he can play there but I know he’s not good in the outfield. I do like his approach and potential with a bat.

leefieux

I think his future is DH. LIKE YOU, I like the best potential.

NMR

The first 10 additional wins will be easy, any amount of effort towards building an actual major league roster will get you to 72 wins.

The next 10 wins will get them back to square one.

Those last 10 wins will determine if this whole thing was anywhere close to worthwhile.

JoeNastasi

The next 10 IMO will come from the Pitchers taking a step foward. Keller & Contreras has to show #2 ability & 2 of Oviedo, Ortiz, Burrows, Priester & Brubaker have to show #3 ability. All of which are possible. Will they do it, we’ll just have to grab a Beer, Nachos & Popcorn & wait & see

NMR

For the sake of discussion, I’d call those the last 10.

To build a consistent 90-game winner – those last 10 wins – they’ll need to do a better job than last time at maxing out the talent they have. This restart to the org from the ground up has been all about doing just that. In my mind, they’ll have to get there in order for it to be worth giving up all these seasons of intentionally bad baseball.

I think you nailed it with where that talent exists and I can’t wait to find out with you!

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
steve_zielinski

Nate Silver made a similar argument to yours when he wrote for Baseball Prospectus.he concluded that good teams win about 85 games. Great teams have star/superstar players (> 5-wins) who push the team past the 90 win mark. From what I can recall, he used marginal utility theory to define his claim.

That’s why I do not care if the Pirates tank. The mid-teens Pirates had Cole and Cutch as the > 5-win players who elevated the team past the 90-win mark.

Last edited 1 month ago by steve_zielinski
ArkyWags

This is probably unspoken and captain obvious territory, but I also think they need to luck into someone being an above average regular for a few seasons among the prospects/young guys. They need someone(s) to exceed the expectations, like Marte/Walker did, from this prospect group.

DangerWilRobnsn

Or find someone willing to pay to get rid of another AJ Burnett.

NMR

Appreciate that Tim!

leefieux

He’s obviously been smoking and doing shots again.🤓🤓🤓

Last edited 1 month ago by leefieux
leefieux

Get well, soon!!!

ravidesai1984

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Aurorus

What they have this year at DH is actually a downgrade from the position last year. Last year, they started the season with Vogelbach, who is better than either Choi or Santana, and certainly so against right-handed pitching. It would be better to say that they downgraded this position for a cost of $4 million (since they had Vogelbach for 2 years at $1.3 million) and upgraded the bullpen via Holderman. Of course, they could have just paid a reliever market-rate, stayed with Vogelbach at DH and come out ahead at both positions for this year, but Holderman has years of control and options. I would call the whole thing a wash, unless Holderman either fails apart or is lights out.

tmcgowan

I don’t mind replacing Vogelbach with Voglebach prime, or prime minus since it seems the market doesn’t value that type if we get an under appreciated asset. Holderman is someone who I thought could be an asset. He went from a top groundball pitcher in the upper minors to being classified as a ‘flyball pitcher’ by AI on baseball savant. Something tells me he is not up to his potential.

…Now if only I felt we could unleash his potential….

tventimiglio

Choi and Santana provide value on defense as well. Between Choi and Santana the article notes that they gave 2.3 WAR last year while Vogelbach only had 1.4.

NMR

Gonna be the super annoying stat nerd and note that they put up double the WAR by accumulating double the at bats.

WAR is cumulative.

I’ll accept the tossing of tomatoes now.

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
tventimiglio

Okay, so look at who got the other ABs in PGH at 1B Yoshi, Chavis and Van Meter. I’ll take the cumulative of Choi, Santana and Joe.

b mcferren

Bring on Cutch and Danny Duffy and lets go win the division

joebaseball

Hope to see TSwags get on track this year and show up in the Buc’s outfield as a legitimate player.

GlypheNotes

Has anyone done a deep comparison of the depth changes from year to year in Cherington’s time with the Bucs? Most of the roster analysis looks at the 25 and 40 man rosters. I haven’t seen anything that looks at the
MLB-ready players who are available but not on the 40 man roster, as a contingency entering the season.

We’ve seen in the past, both with Cherington and Huntington and definitely Littlefield, some times when the team has to make some regrettable moves when they just don’t have a legitimate contingency to a wave of injuries, or where they’re desperate to overpay a player because they’re over a barrel when no one else would sign.

Cherington seems to love picking up players off the waiver wire, but more and more it seems they make moves looking ahead to not having to pass their own guys through waivers, or to do it at a time when other teams are least positioned to steal from the Pirates’ depth. I would love to find a measurement of how that kind of depth has cumulatively changed, as well as how the kinds of players they keep (skills, option years, etc) has changed throughout the rebuild.

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