Well. That was an uneventful couple of days.
The Winter Meetings are usually the time of year where most teams decide on a direction and go forward. The White Sox went in looking to rebuild and left with the best hitting and pitching prospect, along with other wonderful party favors. The Nationals and Red Sox decided that it was time to go all in. The Giants and Rays addressed their biggest needs, and the Yankees felt satisfied leaving as a sleeper team.
And then there were the Pirates, who ended up not doing anything besides taking a player in the Rule 5 draft and talking to a few players. No signings, no trades, no riots in the streets over a potential departure of a certain center fielder.
So. Now what?
These meetings were supposed to show which direction the Pirates were heading in for 2017. They could have traded McCutchen, conceded it as another bridge year, braved the haters and been in great position for 2018. They could have gone after a Sale or Quintana and entered win-now mode.
Instead, they opted to go into limbo, and now we have more questions about the team than we did a week ago. For example:
I might have been a little presumptive with my latest piece on the five stages of grieving once McCutchen leaves. Throw it into your favorites. Keep it there for a couple weeks/months/years, because it’s pretty obvious that McCutchen will not be a lifer.
And this past week may have set the table for a very ugly divorce.
It looks like Cutch is coming back. Considering most of Pittsburgh had a panic attack when the rumors started to circulate, that’s a good thing. They are a better team in 2017 with him. A trade may have been good for the organization down the road, but they were by no means obligated to unload him.
So what happens with Cutch? Do they try to move him again at the trade deadline or next offseason? There are still a couple potential suitors who could still value him now (the Dodgers and Blue Jays come to mind).
Do they finally move him to right? If he was to stay in center, he would have to at the very least back up to a normal depth.
What happens if last year was not a fluke and he has another sub-1 WAR season? Do they dare not pick up the option? $14+ million is a lot for any club for that level of production.
And perhaps most importantly: will the two sides be able to reconcile before spring training? It looks like both Huntington and McCutchen are willing, but there is no more mystery between the two. Cutch found out the hard way how valuable his GM thinks he is. He may have to go through this fiasco every couple of months for the next two years. Hopefully it does not take a toll on him.
Yes, the Pirates checked in on Tyson Ross and there is still hope for an Ivan Nova reunion, but it looks like if the Pirates only get one starter this year, it probably will be Derek Holland.
Please, try to contain your excitement.
The days of the Pirates being able to pick the best reclamation projects are probably coming to a close, especially in a pitching market like this. Still, you would have to hope that they could do better than Holland.
The rotation was the weak part of last year’s team. It should improve with age and health, but they probably need at least one veteran arm.
Is Holland enough? What about Ross? Can either one of their arms even handle a full season’s workload? Are they even planning on using them for a full year, or just as gap guys for when Glasnow is ready?
Where does Hutchison fit into all of this? The Pirates gave up a lot to get him in the Liriano salary dump. Is he destined to be a AAA guy/swing-man?
If the Bucs do get Nova, what does that do to the rotation down the stretch? He would likely sign for at least three years. Does someone like Chad Kuhl get booted to the bullpen or dealt, or does someone like Mitch Keller become a trade chip? Also, what does that do to the Pirates’ payroll for years to come?
Remember last year when the Pirates didn’t pick up a lefty in free agency so they had to open the year with Cory Luebke? Huntington obviously does, and has been collecting southpaws ever since.
Now they may have too much of a good thing.
Right now, the bullpen has five lefty options: Watson, Rivero, Bastardo, LeBlanc and rule five draft pick Tyler Webb. As it stands right now, Juan Nicasio and Jared Hughes would fill out the rest of the ‘pen, but they will probably need to add at least one more righty to have a better balance.
A.J. Schugel and Lisalverto Bonilla are already under a major league contract and are probably the next in line, but they do not appear to have a spot available. If the Pirates were to add another starter, it might push Hutchison into the bullpen. Competition is good, but there is no clear direction on which way they are heading at the moment.
Rivero is the only one who is guaranteed to come back. Webb is a coin flip to make the major league roster at the moment, but he may have an inside track to the opening day team because he cannot be optioned.
Watson could have a lot of value to the teams that come up short on Kenley Jansen or do not trade for David Robertson. Bastardo could also bring back a decent prospect and free up some cash. Both are entering the final years of their contract as well, so there is motivation to move them. On the other hand, they both have experience pitching late in games, and most of the rest of the bullpen does not.
So should they field offers for Watson and Bastardo? What could they realistically get in this reliever-desperate market?
If they do trade someone, do they feel confident in their internal options of Schugel, Bonilla and Neverauskas, or would they need to spring for a free agent like Joe Blanton?
The Direction Of The Franchise
Kevin has recently contended that a return to normal health and performance is the biggest pickup the Pirates can make this offseason. Now that McCutchen is staying, it appears that this strategy is their new tack. If the Pirates can pick up a starter (or two) to augment the existing strong core, the Pirates can be right back in the playoff hunt.
Neal Huntington and Company have one overarching principle that they stick to: A Sustained Model For Success. He may as well have it tattooed to the inside of his arm, like he’s Leonard Shelby from Memento. He knows that the only way to beat the house with the financial cards he’s dealt is to keep the farm system percolating talent at a consistent rate.
This whole McCutchen thing has caused even semi-rational people to lose their minds. Last week, Bob Pompeani called into the Poni and Cook showed on The Fan. During the interview, he implored owner Bob Nutting to “step up” and “do the right to sign him to an extension”. At that point, he may as well have been Bobby from Blawnox calling in. The financial limitations of revenue are real and palpable, yet people refuse to acknowledge them. It is not a level playing field, like in hockey or football.
At TPOP, we aren’t calling for an investment of money that doesn’t exist. We know roughly how much there is and how much is spent — there’s about $15M more that can go in to the team and that can be the tipping point on a playoff team or not. Will ownership “step up” to that true revenue-to-payroll number?