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Who Could Be This Year’s “David Freese” Pickup For Pirates?

Could Utley be a good fit at the right price? Photo by Arturo Pardavila III.

The Pirates will never be able to afford spending money on free agents like the Dodgers can. Heck, the Dodgers can’t even afford to spend money on free agents like they do right now.

Perhaps one day they will go all in on a free agent like the Indians did with Edwin Encarnacion, but for the foreseeable future Pirates’ offseasons will be a mishmash of lower profile free agent signings and trades. They’ve made a killing in the bargain bin, and sometimes $20 sneakers are better than Jordans, but it’s a boring time of year when the best pickups are reclamation projects.

However the tables start to turn late in the offseason. If the phones aren’t ringing, some players get desperate. That’s how the Pirates got David Freese for $3 million, even though his value was five times that amount (his 1.9 fWAR in 2016 translates roughly $15 million).

As a Dr. Mantis Toboggan once said, they feast on the scraps.

This isn’t like what the Pirates got with Matt Joyce, who had such a bad season the year before that he had to take a non-roster invite contract. Unless the hot stove becomes white hot, there will be some reliable veterans who had good years last year that are being forgotten.

It’s almost that time of year again. The offseason is over halfway done, Spring Training is starting in a couple of weeks and these guys’ markets are ice cold. Let’s cast a wide net and find an infielder, starter, outfielder and reliever who the Bucs should keep an eye on in case things don’t pick up.

Chase Utley

If the long discussed Brian Dozier to the Dodgers deal does not go through, Los Angeles is probably going to swoop in and take Chase Utley back. But if the deal does happen and Utley wants to keep playing, Pittsburgh would be a perfect destination, especially since it would be a return to the state he spent most of his career in.

Utley does not have the defensive versatility that Neal Huntington usually looks for in bench players, but if he plays second, it frees up Josh Harrison to move around the diamond. He is hardly a slouch with the glove though, posting a .989 fielding percentage and getting slightly above marks with his UZR. Considering defense is a young man’s game and he turned 38 in December, that’s impressive.

But Utley’s value comes from his bat. The Pirates have a pair of lefties on the bench right now in John Jaso and Adam Frazier, but neither one of them are a power threat. Utley can be that threat, clubbing 14 home runs with a .145 ISO in 2016. That also happened in spacious Dodgers Stadium. PNC Park’s short porch in right could help turn a couple deep flyouts into doubles and a couple doubles into homers.

He’s the type of player that Pirate fans gravitate to. The type of guy who shows up, does his job and does it well.

Jason Hammel

This year’s starting pitching market was/is downright baffling. Everyone is looking for starters, which is understandable. There was a lot of demand in the trade market for aces like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, which is understandable. There was a lot of demand for guys looking to bounce back on short term deals like Edinson Volquez and Andrew Cashner, which is understandable.

But pitchers who seem to have put their past struggles behind them and look like good middle of the rotation arms like Jason Hammel and Ivan Nova are getting nothing.

It seemed like the Cubs did Hammel a favor when they opted out of his contract following a 15 win season where he had a 3.83 ERA over 166.2 innings, but he has been left at the altar so far. A few teams have been linked to him, including the Orioles and Rangers, but Texas already has signed two starters and the Orioles may be out of cash after re-signing Mark Trumbo.

The 34-year old changed agents a month ago, so he might be getting antsy about not getting a chance to pitch. Like I said in my last story, the Pirates should add another starter to let Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham grow. Hammel could provide a one year stop gap.

Swiping away one of the Cubs’ starters from a year ago is also a nice perk.

Brandon Moss

It was a pretty weird offseason for power hitters too. Sure, Encarnacion and Yoenis Cespedes made bank, but guys like Trumbo and Jose Bautista got far less than what most expected. Still, it’s better than the currently unemployed, like Mike Napoli, Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter (who led the Majors in home runs last year).

A potential reunion with Brandon Moss would be tricky since the Pirates already have a lefty who plays first and outfield on the books (Jaso). If they were able to find a taker for Jaso (and there does not appear to be many teams in the market for lefty bats right now), they should upgrade to Moss.

As a right fielder, Moss had three defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 14.1 over 507.1 innings. He also hit 28 home runs in just 464 plate appearances, though it was somewhat overshadowed by him striking out 30.4 percent of the time.

But Moss might have been at his best last year as a pinch-hitter. In 24 plate appearances, he hit .286, clubbed three home runs and walked four times. That sounds Matt Joyce-like.

Joe Blanton

Blanton has retired once before, and I would not be surprised if he decided to hang it up if he does not get the offer he want. On the other hand, he’s pitching as well as he did a decade ago, so he may not be ready to go back fishing.

Pirate fans remember Blanton’s fantastic two months as a Bucco in 2015, and he was just as effective with the Dodgers last year. He was used in more late inning situations rather than just middle relief, and he rewarded his club’s faith with a 2.48 ERA and a strikeout per inning over 75 appearances.

The Pirates are already going to have a few arms battling for bullpen jobs next year, but Daniel Hudson is currently the only righty who projects as a back of the bullpen arm. Blanton could be another one, which may be necessary since Tony Watson or Antonio Bastardo may get dealt.

About Alex Stumpf (53 Articles)
Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.
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