As I await to see if Santa is going to bring me bituminous or anthracite coal this year, let’s take a look at what I would like to see the jolly big man leave the Pittsburgh Pirates this year on Federal Street.
1. A coupon to buy one Starting Pitcher for 33% off in January
There’s an incredible amount of free agents still on the board right now. With Christmas upon us and then the week after a little bit of a dead zone, it appears as if many more free agents than usual are going to linger into January. There are tons of quality starting pitchers on the board still. I refuse to believe that the Pirates, in one of Andrew McCutchen’s prime years (especially before he may have to be traded) are going with Jon Niese-Jeff Locke-Ryan Vogelsong as the 3-4-5 of the rotation on a hopeful playoff contender. Rather, I believe that Vogelsong is to be the 6th starter/long man and the Pirates are looking to get a bargain in January.
Michael has already laid out, according to his Value Factor stat, who he thinks the Pirates may target — the likes of Jerome Williams, Jeremy Guthrie, and Kyle Kendrick are on the board. I know a lot of people are clamoring for Scott Kazmir, but that would give the Pirates four lefties in the rotation (three, if you think that Jeff Locke would be moved out if Kazmir signs) and that’s just not something I see the Pirates doing. In a perfect world, Ian Kennedy would be willing to accept a 2 year deal at a lower annual rate, but he has a Qualifying Offer attached to him and the Pirates seem loathe to give up a 1st round pick, even if it is far down in the draft. They’ve got to get the next low upside college shortstop, I guess.
So if the Pirates don’t go for one of Michael’s targets, I’d rather just see them go pure upside on an injury-riddled guy like Brandon Beachy or Josh Johnson. If you can get one of them on a minor league deal, with a highly incentivized contract if they make the Majors, that’s a bingo. Otherwise, a low base on a 1 year deal (perhaps $4M) with a series of incentives based on innings pitched for a max of $9M may be the best route.
2. A left-handed bat for the starting lineup
The obvious addition is at 1B. Again, I find it hard to believe that the Pirates are willing to go with a mix of Jason Rogers and Mike Morse at 1B going into a playoff run. Yes, the Pirates have had some hot garbage at 1B in recent years and I actually like Rogers as a bench player, but they need to address this somehow. As it stands right now, the only left-handed bat in the starting lineup is Gregory Polanco and he’s most likely the leadoff hitter. Do you really see the Pirates going with seven righties (remember that the switch-hitting Walker is gone) in a row after Polanco?
My personal white whale for 1B was Adam Lind, but he is now shopping for condos that overlook Puget Sound in Seattle. Pickings are very slim on the 1B market. The Pirates aren’t going to sign Chris Carter, an even worse version of Pedro Alvarez. Right now the only quasi-appealing left-hander that I see is Kelly Johnson. He can be a super-utility guy, if needed, on a team already full of Swiss Army knife-type players. Just last year he played 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF for the Braves and Mets. He would probably be in the $3-4M dollar range, as well.
3. A willingness to go for it this year
Look, I’m a Pirates fan. I know there are financial limitations built in, based on market size and available revenue based on local TV contracts in comparison to other markets. But I do know that the Pirates have Andrew McCutchen, a top 5 player in all of baseball. They have a future Cy Young winner in Gerrit Cole heading their rotation. There are plenty of other great complementary players like Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison, and Francisco Liriano. Their bullpen is very solid across the board.
The front office has built the Pirates into a sustainable contender the past few years. At TPOP, we believe that there is enough talent to keep this train running, at present, for a few more. But there needs to be a recognition by this notoriously risk-averse group, primarily GM Neal Huntington of course, that the Pirates have a shot this year and next before a re-jiggering may be in order. The National League is down right now. Five teams (COL, PHI, ATL, MIL, CIN) are out of the playoff hunt before the first pitch is even thrown. The Cardinals seem to be waning a bit with the injuries and free agency losses. There are still plenty of moves to be made by the Dodgers and maybe the Giants, but it seems like the only strong team on paper so far are the Cubs in the National League.
Again, the Pirates have the misfortune of the presumed best team in the National League being in their division, but those are the breaks. Whether the Pirates surprise with a big free agent or trade in January or they make a move in July to bolster the roster, I’d like to see the Pirates acknowledge that it’s time to jump off the cliff and build the hang glider on the way down.