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Knowing Nothing Is Knowing The Pirates’ Offseason

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You know nothing, Jon Snow.

I feel like Jon Snow this offseason in regards to the Pirates.  I know nothing…for certain.  This offseason has the potential with possible trades, major and minor league free agents signings, DFA’s, Rule 5 draft, etc. to have many different 25 man rosters.  Let’s start with the things I know for sure.

The Six Fielders

There are only six of 12 position players I feel certain will be on the 25-man roster come spring:

  1. Josh Bell
  2. Gregory Polanco
  3. Starling Marte
  4. Elias Diaz
  5. Adam Frazier
  6. Sean Rodriguez

That’s it…that is all I’m sure about.  Bell will be the 1B.  Marte and Polanco will play somewhere in the outfield as much as their health and performance determine.  Diaz will be a catcher; he might be the starter, but will probably be the backup.  Frazier is a key cog for the Pirates going forward regardless of where he plays or if he starts.  Rodriguez is revered, plays many positions, and is OK coming off the bench.

The others:

  • McCutchen, Harrison, Freese, Mercer and Cervelli all could be traded — more on this $48M group of players to follow.
  • Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff could be starting ML players come Spring Training or could be back in Indianapolis providing depth.  They are the like some starting pitchers to be named later.

Clay Holmes is the easiest

Like the position players, there is a great amount of uncertainty with the pitchers.  See my handy Venn diagram below:

Many people speculate that the Pirates will trade Gerrit Cole and/or Ivan Nova in the offseason and I think that is wrong.   Cole needed a breakout 2017 season for that to happen, which didn’t and Huntington knows he could potentially carry a rotation in 2018.  The perfect scenario would be a 5+ WAR 2017 season for Cole with a trade next offseason.  As for Nova, he’s cheap for a starter and might work well as a swingman, which is the future of pitching to be sure.

Steve Brault is probably the player that could have the biggest extremes in 2018.  He could be a fifth starter in the majors.  He could be the number one starter in Indianapolis.  He could also be the LOOGY in the major league pen who morphs into the next Tony Watson for the conceivable future.  Nick Kingham’s role could be similar to Brault’s, but a newly issued fourth minor league option almost guarantees him time at AAA this year, as he’s not Brault-like with his polish.

Tyler Glasnow’s future should be easier to visualize after watching Lance McCullers, Jr. pitch in the playoffs (he of the 28 consecutive curveballs).   McCullers has the similar story to Glasnow and is why we need to be patient.  Glasnow will probably be in AAA to start the season, but if it clicks he’ll be in the major league rotation.

My buddy Edgar Santana and Lithuanian bouncer Dovydas Neverauskas are the Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff of the Pirates’ bullpen.  Both Santana and “Dovy” could man the 7th inning for the Pirates in the 2018 season or could marinate with their minor league options in AAA to provide additional depth.  Clay Holmes will be in AAA, making one decision easy.  He’s a solid AAA starter a year away from being a ML starting option and a failed AAA starting year from being converted to a potential dominant reliever.

Mad Libs with current starters


Would __(current starter)_____be a better than _____(younger possible starter)___ or would we be better off trading (current starter) for a ____(prospect type)___ and save ____(amount of money)_____?


  • McCutchen,  Luplow,   A- or B+ prospect,  $14.5M
  • Cervelli,  Diaz,  B+ prospect,   $11M
  • Harrison,  Moroff,  B prospect,  $10M
  • Mercer,  Moroff/Frazier*,  C prospect,  $6M
  • Freese,  Frazier,  C prospect,  $6M

First all of the possible starters are ready to start.  All of the current starters might be at their highest value going forward.   All of the current starters are tradeable and would return something of value, possibly a lot of value.  All of them would relieve salary.

With the real payroll ceiling believed to be $120M the Pirates could have $75M+ of payroll to spend this offseason, if they jettisoned all these guys.   I don’t think it’s good for a clubhouse to have a mass exodus, but this offseason is a good time to have extra cash.  Let’s look at 5 scenarios:

Scenario A – keep the vets players (green), add $10M worth of Free Agents, keep payroll near $100M

Scenario B – keep the vets players (green), add $30M worth of Free Agents, raise payroll at $120M

Scenario C – Trade vets players (green), add no Free Agents, payroll under $60M

Scenario D – Trade vets players (green), add $50M+ worth of Free Agents, payroll near $100M

Scenario E – Trade vets players (green), add $70M+ worth of Free Agents, payroll near $120M

Scenario A seems most likely, but B is not out of the question.  If Huntington wants to trade some of these veterans at their high points (you know he wants to) it will probably be some hybrid of Scenario A and D.

What many Pirates fans don’t know is that some teams are payroll strapped this offseason.   Some have to cut overall payroll, some have been told to get under the luxury tax threshold or not to spend to go over the threshold.

This means:

  • free agents will take very low salaries
  • there will be free agent bargains due to lack of competition (see: Zack Cozart)
  • free agents will take one year contracts to wait until next year
  • other clubs will be looking to unload contracts

This situation coupled with the Pirates advantageous situation with Qualifying Offer free agents could lead to a big name free agent landing in Pittsburgh.  Stranger things have happened.

About Michael Bradley (63 Articles)
<p>Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.</p>
Contact: Twitter

38 Comments on Knowing Nothing Is Knowing The Pirates’ Offseason

  1. mark delsignore // November 20, 2017 at 7:46 AM // Reply

    “Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff could be starting ML players come Spring Training”

    If these two are staring ML players come APRIL 1, Pirates fans are in big trouble for 2018.

  2. mark delsignore // November 20, 2017 at 7:48 AM // Reply

    “McCutchen, Harrison, Freese, Mercer and Cervelli all could be traded”

    If you mean this winter, I disagree 100%. Put him in the “known” column.

    If you mean the possible upcoming fire sale in July, then maybe.

    Unless he packaged with others, he will bring nothing of use by himself.

  3. mark delsignore // November 20, 2017 at 7:53 AM // Reply

    “Some have to cut overall payroll, some have been told to get under the luxury tax threshold or not to spend to go over the threshold.”

    I have heard this rumor too.
    So the $220MM teams have to cut to $190MM
    Boo Hoo

    What that really means is that there will be even MORE competition for the cheap guys that the Pirates usually go for.

    How is this helpful?

    • Mark Gaudiano // November 20, 2017 at 8:59 AM // Reply

      Mark, I would trade Mercer in a heartbeat, but he would only have value as a utility player on a contender and the Pirates would not get much in return, he could not start for most teams in mlb.

      • mark delsignore // November 20, 2017 at 10:13 AM // Reply


        Who would play in his place?

        If he would not bring much in return, why trade him in the first place?

      • Why don’t you tell that to Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley. They were traded to contenders in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and despite both being somewhat deficient on defense, found mostly starting roles for other teams. Not sure why the Marks brothers don’t like Mercer, but he is a solid performer by any realistic major league stats and could easily start for a number of contenders. If you think guys like Addison Russell are better just because they are younger, you are mistaken.

        • Bob Stover: I don’t want to disrespect Mercer, but your suggestion that he is as good or better than Addison Russell is simply not correct.

          • Bob Smizik – it’s tough for me to admit that Mercer’s $6M may be better spent elsewhere because it seems as though he’s a tremendous person/teammate. If we could transition him to a platoon player that could make a lot of sense but at $6M that’s probably not realistic.

          • Bob Stover // November 20, 2017 at 3:58 PM //

            Mercer had a .733 OPS to Russell’s .722 in 2017. Career-wise. Mercer has a .700 OPS and Russel a .719 OPS. Mercer probably doesn’t cover as much ground as Russell does, but age is the main factor there. They both have an OPS+ OF 91. Neither one of them has double digit stolen bases. Mercer’s career BA is .256; Russell’s .240. So I don’t think that my comparison of the two was that far off base.

          • Bob Stover // November 20, 2017 at 4:00 PM //

            By the bye, you can call me Stover or Stovie to differentiate between us at the two Bobs on the site so that no one thinks your talking to yourself. I don’t take offense at that names. My nickname as a kid was Smokey because my dad was a big fan of some comic strip by that name.

  4. I am pulling for Max Moroff to be our starting 2bman and JHay our starting 3bman.

    • That certainly will have the opposing pitchers quaking in their boots.

    • I like Max Moroff, but it is naive to think that he can be the starting second baseman going into 2018 if the Pirates want to contend. Mad Max may continue to improve as a hitter in coming seasons, but the Pirates are not in a position to wait and see if that occurs for 2018. He will continue to be a defensive replacement and designated pinch runner late in games, but he will not be a starter.

  5. Given that Huntington has stated he wants to “compete” in 2018 I believe he will choose Option A, make minor moves and then have a real sell-off if they are out of it heading into the trading deadline. I agree that trading McCutchen this Winter will bring back 1 or 2 pretty good prospects however the loss of his production would kill them. Probably only get one prospect in July but the chance to compete will have been enhanced. Mercer won’t bring much back but the Pirates get salary relief and Moroff is a good fielder who hit well in the second half last year. Cervelli will be very hard to trade at $11M with his health issues. Will probably have to eat salary to move him and the Bucs don’t have much behind him. One has to hope he stays healthy and is a trade candidate at the deadline. All of these scenarios still revolve around Kang. I feel that Harrison becomes a very strong candidate to go this Winter if Kang returns. I think you trade him for a young outfielder who has power, say Pederson given that the Dodgers need a second baseman, which sets you up to eventually trade McCutchen and put Pederson in left. With Kang back then Freese becomes a bench player and one of Moroff, Frazier and Rodriguez play second, Without Kang, Harrison stays.

    • The Dodgers have exercised their 2018 option on Logan Forsythe, which would indicate they are not in the market for a second baseman and not interested in trading for Harrison.

      • Harrison would be a huge upgrade over Forsythe. Forsythe put up a .678 OPS this year. J-Hay put up a .771 ops. I don’t think that signing means much. He is viewed as a oft used backup.

        • Forsythe fought injuries for a good part of the season, Chris. Broken toe and then hamstring issues.

          The Dodgers look at him as their starter there, as they did going into 2017.

          • His career numbers are worse than Harrison’s as well. Forsythe did have an excellent post season so there is that. Harrison is a clear upgrade is my point.

          • One which the Dodgers most likely have no interest in pursuing which was the original point.

          • Bob Smizik // November 20, 2017 at 1:16 PM //

            I mentioned Forsythe only because he clearly is going to be the Dodgers second baseman in 2018 and the Dodgers were not going to trade for Harrison as someone suggested. They would not have picked up his option if that were not the case.
            Whether Harrison is better or not is a moot point.

          • Bob it would hardly be the first time that a team had a guy penciled in only to turn around and trade for someone better.

            I don’t think the Pirates are going to move Harrison, but if they offered him to the Dodgers and the Dodgers liked the cost, he would be a Dodger.

        • I’m not sure what the difference is between an oft-used back-up and a platoon starter. You’ll have to clarify that for me.

          In that respect, although Jay-Hay would be a huge upgrade over Forsythe at the plate, his versatility is a reason that many other teams may view as an oft-used back-up; jack-of-all trades, Mr. Versatile kind of player. It all depends on who else is on the roster.

  6. Great article Michael, I believe it accurately portrays the Bucs’ off season situation. I think that Scenario A is by far the most likely.

    If the Pirates did trade one of their veterans (Cutch, Harrison, Mercer, etc.) it would seem to me they might as well do a total rebuild. In my judgment they are a team with a small chance for the playoffs. Trading one of their veteran starters would reduce their chances that much more so it would seem logical to go the full distance and trade as many as possible and build for the future.

    The one exception might be Gerrit Cole. The Bucs could reckon that their young starting pitchers will improve enough that they could trade Cole for a player (like a third baseman) that would help them this season. However, as the article stated Cole’s last two season have not been stellar so he would not likely bring enough in a trade so it probably won’t happen either.

  7. Nice work by Mike Bradley as always, and I liked the Venn Diagram in particular. My guess is that Neal Huntington goes in neither direction, because he has proven he is incapable of making strong decisions to either

    A) vault the club into consistent contention
    B) truly tear down and rebuild the club

    Once again, we’re going to be stuck right in the middle of both, and thus not really be good at either. The fact that he’s the longest-tenured GM in the National League is a shame. But he deflects heat from ownership, and sadly that has become the most important aspect of a Pittsburgh Pirates’ GM.

    • How, pray tell, did the Pirates get torn down and rebuilt into a three-year playoff participant if Huntington is incapable of doing so?

      Also, I believe Brian Sabean is the longest tenured GM in the NL.

      • You’re assuming they are “rebuilt.” They are not. We are stuck in some quasi-purgatory between contending and rebuilding, and if we stay here (spoiler alert: we will), the 2018 results will be much the same as 2017.

        PS Brian Sabean is no longer the GM of the Giants, hence Huntington now having the longest current tenure.

        • I’m not sure then what your definition of “rebuilt” is. Stripping down a roster, revamping a minor league system and turning a moribound franchise into a three-time postseason team seems to be compelling evidence of his ability to do so.

          I’m continually amazed at the lengths to which many will go to deny Huntington any credit for the accomplishments of the organization. Perfect? No. Capable? Absolutely.

          As for Sabean, I don’t believe the title change has done much to his overall responsibilities other than to take some day to day chores off his plate. But I will give you the point on that technicality.

      • Your assessment does not align with reality. The Pirates did not “strip down” a roster; they allowed more talented players to depart, and replaced them with far less talented ones.

        The Pirates have also had an incredibly poor draft record, which consistently goes overlooked. Once again, aside from maybe Tyler Glasnow getting it together, we have 0 quality prospects that are going to impact the MLB roster.

        When you compare a true rebuild- like that of the Houston Astros- verses a quasi-rebuild like that orchestrated by Huntington, there is literally no comparison. This team is going to spin its wheels around 10-15 games under .500 for years to come at this rate.

        • ” The Pirates did not “strip down” a roster; they allowed more talented players to depart, and replaced them with far less talented ones. ”

          If that were true, then Hurdle is simply the greatest manager of all time ( which of course, he is not ).
          Before NH took over, the Pirates had started a string of 95, 95, 94, 95, 99, 105 loss seasons. 3 yrs later, they had 94-win and 98-win seasons.

          JimK, are you really telling us that happened because the talent level decreased over that time?

  8. I’m not sure how by allowing “more talented players” to depart and replacing them with “far less talented ones” leads to seasons of 94, 88 and 98 wins.

    Apparently Huntington is also a magician.

    I would suggest you revisit the 2013-2015 rosters and compare them to the roster Huntington inherited. That should give you a dose of the reality you feel I’m missing.

    • Don, I think Jim is talking about what happened in 2016 and 2017. You are talking about the rebuild that led to 2013, 2014, and 2015.

      • Yes, Chris.

        He suggested that NH is incapable of a rebuild. I offer 2013-2015 as proof that he is incorrect in that assessment.

    • No, you’re missing the point. I am focusing on what NH has done since the 98-win season, and the answer is, “A whole lot of nothing.” He’s basically played it ultra safe- which is one reason the Pirates never got a single NLDS win to begin with- and to the author’s original premise, this offseason is going to be exactly the same.

      He’s scared to either contend or rebuild, so we’re going to get a hybrid of both that is going to result in another crap team.

      • If he is `scared to contend,’ 2013, 2014 and 2015 must have been living hells for him. Poor man!

      • i see what Jim is saying: history shows NH is not capable of completely rebuilding a team . . . if you ignore the time he completely rebuilt the team.

      • The 98 win team was capable of winning it all. That they didn’t is on them. You could throw in that MadBaum and Arietta pitched the games of their lives, but unless they had pitched against some other playoff team with the same result, you couldn’t say it was just because of them. MadBaum had an amazing playoff run, but Arietta was beaten by the Cards twice that year. So, maybe it was a combination of great pitching by our opponents and an all-around choke by the Pirates, or maybe the Pirates just choked, but you can’t blame to NLDS victories on N.H. The players were in place and didn’t get it done.

  9. It’s always a laughfest for me to see how people want to shower this organization with praise based on those great “glory years” of 2013 – 2015. You know, the wild card years (which followed 20 years of futility…shouldn’t such futility be destined to be followed by true playoff glory even if it’s based on just pure drafting luck?) in which they won a total of 0 division titles and 0 playoff series, and were one and done in two of those seasons. But, hey, they won 98 games in one of those years and they were “capable” of winning it all. They, boo-hoo, just ran into that darn Jake Arietta (you know, the now free agent who is a rumored target of rival Milwaukee….he’s too rich for the Pirates taste).

    Regarding NH, it’s hard for me to imagine that Kevin Colbert or Jim Rutherford would have been awarded with 4 year extensions after what has occurred with the Pirates during the past two seasons. Or for that matter, just about any other gm in mlb.

    Of course, I do agree that NH has heavy financial constraints imposed upon him. What is surprising is that such a supposedly great gm (how quickly we forget his abysmal drafting history…the lifeblood of this cheap organization) would sign a 4 year extension with the same team that handcuffs him with bottom feeder payrolls year after year after year. You would think such an esteemed, highly sought after gm (if you read some of these comments) would want to be free of such constraints and go to an organization more keen on doing all that it can to win.

    Just maybe this gm is more in touch with his value around mlb than are the commentators of this blog.

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