While all hope of the Pirates contending in 2017 isn’t gone I find myself on the side that believes this team just isn’t good enough right now. Who knows maybe they get hot win 9 out of the next 10 and find themselves right on the division door step but until they get and stay above .500 for a little while I’m going to go on thinking this season is over.
With that in mind I figured I’d play with the the potential 2018 roster a little. None of this is to be taken as anything more than just some slightly educated guesses on my part but it should still be a fun exercise. So let’s start by breaking down players by their status heading into next year.
Free Agents: Juan Nicasio, John Jaso, Joaquin Benoit
Players With Team Options: Andrew McCutchen, Chris Stewart, Wade LeBlanc
Under Contract: Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison, Ivan Nova, David Freese, Daniel Hudson, Starling Marte, Sean Rodriguez, Gregory Polanco, [Jung Ho Kang]
Arb Eligible: Jordy Mercer, Gerrit Cole, Drew Hutchison, George Kontos, Felipe Rivero, Phil Gosselin, [Wade LeBlanc]
League Min – Out of Options: AJ Schugel, Nick Kingham, Elias Diaz
League Min – With Options: Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Adam Frazier, Josh Bell, Trevor Williams, Jose Osuna, Jordan Luplow, Max Moroff, Edgar Santana, Tyler Glasnow, Gift Ngoepe, Johnny Barbato, Jacob Stallings, Steven Brault, Chris Bostick, Dovydas Neverauskas, Clay Holmes
Notable Rule V Eligible: Edwin Espinal (MiLB FA), Angel Sanchez (MiLB FA), Austin Meadows, Luis Escobar, Eric Wood, Adrian Valerio, Tyler Eppler, Dario Agrazal, Jake Brentz, Montana DuRapau
Now lets go through the categories one by one and speculate on what the Pirates may do.
Free Agents – I could see them making a play to retain Nicasio but in the end I think we will see all three players move on
Players w/ Options – Regardless of if he is with the team next year picking up McCutchen’s option is an easy call. As for the other two I think we are looking at the end of the line for Stewart and while I’d like to see them pass on LeBlanc they have a dearth of left handed bullpen arms and he is cheap so I bet they pick it up.
Under Contract – Though we’d probably all like to see them cut bait on Hudson chances are everyone under contract, save Kang, will return and be a part of next year’s roster.
Arb Eligible – These all appear to be fairly easy calls. Cole, Mercer and Rivero are important players on the Pirates so all will be tendered. Kontos looks good so far so I expect them to tender him as well. Hutchison hasn’t played in the majors yet this year so tenderin him doesn’t seem likely. LeBlanc only becomes an issue if they decline the option and if that were to happen they will obviously non tender him. That leaves Gosselin who to be honest I’m not even sure is arb eligible yet but a September call up would erase any doubts with that. Regardless with Rodriguez back I can’t see him returning.
Out of Options – Diaz and Kingham are high pedigreed enough that the Pirates just aren’t going to let them go. Bet on them being on the Opening Day roster next year. As for Schugel he has been solid enough that the Pirates should at least hang on to him and let him compete for a bullpen job.
The Rest – Cheap guys who can easily be stashed in the minors. These guys remain on the roster unless a roster spot is needed. Looking over the list it would appear Barbato, Ngoepe, Stallings and Bostick represent the bottom of the group so they may be in danger but the rest will likely stay.
Rule V – I listed the 10 players I feel are the biggest decisions facing the Pirates here. Obviously all won’t be added to the roster but expect a lot of them to be. Austin Meadows is the one no brainer in the bunch. Outside of him Luis Escobar appears the next most likely. He is a bit far away but is a good enough prospect the Pirates likely won’t risk losing him. Outside of those two I’m going to say they keep 4 more and my guesses are Sanchez, Valerio, Brentz and Eppler. Sanchez and Eppler look like they could help as bullpen depth options next year and Brentz and Valerio look like prospects with some upside who could be fairly easily hidden by someone.
So all in all there we lose 3 to free agency, decline one option and non tender two guys. That leaves 6 open roster spots and conveniently we have 6 additions to the roster. I highlighted four potential guys to drop from the roster but obviously there are a couple more who could be (Schugel and LeBlanc come to mind) and there are of course trade possibilities.
In my next post I’ll discuss whom I see the Pirates potential trading and who I could them potential signing as a free agent (with maybe a trade target or two included).
To begin I must state that I am not saying the Pirates are approaching a problem where they have too many good pitchers as quite honestly the reverse is true and they have too few good pitchers. The upcoming crunch isn’t about good pitchers but rather useful ones. The Pirates have a plethora of “useful” pitchers who going into next year will have all spent significant time at AAA or MLB in the past year. I’m using the term “useful” to describe a back of the rotation starter or middle/long relief option. A competing team should have a max of 6 of these guys and honestly should try to keep it limited to 3 or 4.
The pitchers I’m speaking of are: Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Steve Brault, Drew Hutchison, Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, Daniel Hudson, Wade LeBlanc, Jhan Marinez, Edgar Santana, Dovydas Neverauskas, AJ Schugel, Johnny Barbato and Angel Sanchez.
Obviously some of those names will and should continue to be depth options out of AAA but for six of them that isn’t an option: Hutchison, Kingham, Hudson, LeBlanc, Marinez and Schugel. It is also difficult to imagine the Pirates sending Kuhl or Williams down after the pair spent the entire 2017 season in the majors but that remains at least a possibility.
Once you add in the four actual good pitchers on the team: Cole, Taillon, Nova an Rivero you may notice the staff starts to get a little tight and nothing has been done to try to improve it. Its obvious the Pirates just can’t keep everyone in that group and in a related problem with pitchers ready to move up from AA some starters are going to have to convert to relief roles.
I’m not sure how the Pirates are going to approach this nor do I even have any ideas on how they should but they are going to have to start sorting out who they want to keep and soon. I do have some suggestions on how they should begin though.
Hutchison has performed decently at the AAA level and has some past success in the majors so he should be given a shot at starting down the stretch to see what he can do. If he struggles it is an easy decision to DFA him. Kuhl is an ok starter but it is difficult to see him remaining in the Pirates rotation long term so having Hutchison replace him and Kuhl converting to relief would be a good idea. Kingham is out of options next year and isn’t ready as a starter but his arm is too good to give up on right now so the only option is to break him in as a reliever.
Taillon has been struggling lately and looks like he could use a break. A brief DL stint for some sort of discomfort sounds like a good idea for him and this opens up an opportunity for Brault to audition. Edgar Santana should really be up here as well but the spot for him was in place of Tony Watson but the Benoit trade complicates matters there so maybe try and find something to place Daniel Hudson on the DL with and recall him.
There are still a lot more arms to go through but you can’t really look at most of them until September. I have some thoughts on the rest … decline LeBlanc’s option, drop Barbato, try to sneak Marinez through waivers this off season … but really the Pirates find themselves in a tight spot here with no real right answer. Some usable major league caliber arms are going to have to be let go in order to try and add some better arms to the mix. The Pirates aren’t going to be able to add all the better arms they need so choosing the best of this bunch takes on a lot more importance than it ordinarily would and time is running out to evaluate them all.
The trade deadline is behind us and the Pirates had a fairly boring time of it. I think it is impossible to be critical of either of the two small moves they made but I’ll give my opinion of them anyway.
Trading Watson was predictable and the infielder they got back, Cruz, seems rather interesting. I don’t keep a running prospect list anymore but he seems like he would be a safe bet for my personal top 30. The pitcher they got in the deal, German, looks like he has some upside but is a complete wildcard. So essentially two lottery tickets for a struggling relief pitcher who would have been gone at the end of the year. Fairly standard move here.
Adding Benoit to essentially fill in for Watson the rest of the year was a bit puzzling but at a cost of just McGarry I don’t see it as much of an issue. McGarry is not completely uninteresting but an older relief pitcher in A+ is nothing to fret about trading. I think I’d have preferred to see the team try one of their internal options in the Watson role but overall this is no big deal either way.
I didn’t expect the Pirates to make any major moves but I was hopeful we would see a little more action. The soft sell/soft buy approach was probably the way to go here but more should of been done. I would of liked an outfielder and a different relief pitcher who was under control next year brought in. I would have also liked to have seen Nicasio and Jaso traded away.
The Pirates should of been looking to better position themselves for next year and maybe they were but the execution of such failed. I’m not going to harp on these moves excessively but the action certainly didn’t feel appropriate for the given situation and considering they had several lanes that would of worked (big sell, big buy, a better buy/sell combo) it is disappointing.
The deadline didn’t change the fact that the Pirates are not a good or bad baseball team. They are merely ok and that makes things rather boring. The time is rapidly approaching where the Pirates are going to have to pick a lane and I hope they are better prepared for that decision than they were this trade deadline.
The trade deadline is fast approaching and how the Pirates should handle it is becoming a very popular topic. There are reasonable arguments that they should buy, sell, stand pat and even buy and sell at the same time. The division appears winnable but this iteration of the Pirates doesn’t seem to be a strong club. I’ve gone back and forth many times but barring a massive hot streak coming out of the break I think I have settled on a strategy.
Deal Anyone You Can Not Controlled Beyond 2018
Players fitting this criteria are Tony Watson, Jordy Mercer, Chris Stewart, Juan Nicasio, John Jaso, Daniel Hudson and yes even Andrew McCutchen. Now obviously a lot of these guys have basically no value but even a lottery ticket could be worth it in a lot of cases. As for McCutchen I do not want to see him traded and would be looking for a fairly big deal but I know sadly it is probably in the organization’s best interest to move on.
Listen On The Guys Controlled Through 2019 (And Josh Harrison)
This is Josh Harrison, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Cervelli, David Freese and Ivan Nova (Drew Hutchison, Wade LeBlanc and Jung-Ho Kang technically are here too but none have enough value to move at this point). It would be insanely difficult to pry Cole away for me but a high end prospect like Gleyber Torres from the Yankees would be difficult to pass up. As for the rest a good offer and getting the contract off the books would be enough.
The Rivero Question
There has been some speculation that the Pirates should trade Rivero and see what type of massive haul they could get. While I don’t doubt they could get a massive haul I’d shy away from moving him unless the offer was insane. Relievers have limited shelf life so I don’t think any team would really view it as getting him for 4.5 years and teams like relievers with long track records. For those reasons I think Rivero won’t be valued highly enough to move so keeping him and building a bullpen around him is a good idea.
With my apparent willingness to sell pretty much every short term asset you would think I’d be against the Pirates buying but that isn’t really true. The team despite its flaws is close enough to contending this year and next that I don’t want to simply pass up those opportunities. Because of this I’d look into buying but likely only flawed assets. I’d be willing to look into productive players controlled beyond this year who have contracts that are make them slightly overpaid. For example Ian Kinsler is a 35 year old 2B who has really fallen off but he is still productive. He has a 10 million dollar option next year that while not terrible is far from a bargain. If he could be had for a small return bringing him makes a certain amount of sense.
I think the Pirates are better than they have been playing but the facts are the deck is stacked against them this year and things just aren’t breaking right. The bottom line is with the trade deadline fast approaching the best move is likely going to be them being sellers. Yes that means likely trading away Andrew McCutchen. I’m going to hate that move when it comes and it won’t be do to whatever the return is but as a baseball fan its going to be a hard day but as a realist I know it is the right thing for this club to do.
In addition to McCutchen the Pirates are going to have to consider shipping off other short term assets including yes even Cole (though unless blown away I’d keep him for the start of 2018). Its going to be disappointing but shouldn’t really be unexpected a run of 3 very good years is about all a small market team usually has in them before the cycle needs to restart.
A rebuild is on the horizon and though the Pirates have enough of a core that they could probably justify waiting until next year to start it I don’t think this GM is going to play it that way and honestly I think that is the right move. A rebuild done correctly doesn’t have to be a long death sentence and the Pirates aren’t at a point where they have to burn it all to the ground. I do think we are in for a rough next two years though as the team transitions towards their next period.
The inevitable rebuild is going to be tough but I’ve stuck around through much worse than what it is going to throw at me. The team has some exciting young talent in the majors and coming up through the system so it is always possible they surprise us but as of right now I am coming to terms with the fact that my attention is going to start to shift slightly away from the present and more towards the future.
It goes without saying that Tony Watson needs removed from the closer role and probably needs the Daniel Hudson treatment of being sent to the middle inning for a while or even the Antonio Bastardo treatment of disappearing to the DL. However that is not what I am writing this little blurb about.
Watching Watson on the mound last night made me sad. Of course sad that the Pirates blew a late lead but just in general a sadness for Tony Watson. Watson was a tremendous pitcher for the Pirates to an extent where I think most fans don’t understand just how good he really was. I’m not going to bore you with stats but from 2013-2015 Watson was pitching at a level of one of the top 10 relievers in all of baseball. He was that good. Things started to fall apart a bit last year and have obviously continued this year.
The success of the Pirates is correctly largely accredited to guys like Andrew McCutchen, AJ Burnett and Russell Martin but it was the back end of the bullpen that really solidified those clubs as legitimate contenders. Seeing Watson fail is as hard for me as it is watching McCutchen struggle. It is just difficult to watch these once great talents play like shells of their former selves.
The Pirates must do what is best for the longevity of the club which is letting Watson and McCutchen both go in the near future but even though I fully agree those are moves that need to be made I’m not going to be happy about them. As for now Watson at a minimum needs removed from the closer role.
As for how I’d structure the bullpen. I’d move Nicasio to closer and promote Hudson back to a set up role where he and Rivero would be used in the 7th and 8th innings. Watson would take on Bastardo’s old role of middle inning lefty. Santana or Schugel should come up to replace Marinez. The final spot I would give to Kuhl once Taillon returns.
This gives the team LeBlanc and Kuhl for long relief (though I’d like to see Kuhl get a few shorter outings as well). Watson and Santana/Schugel for middle relief. Hudson and Rivero for late inning relief and Nicasio closing things up (perhaps let him try a few 4-6 out saves).
There are many reasons for it and many people to blame but the Pirates just aren’t a good baseball team and while there were some legitimate reasons to think they might be good enough to compete for a wild card at the beginning of the year we have enough evidence now to know that probably isn’t happening.
The first reaction of a lot of fans is to blame the ownership and the front office and they deserve to share some of the blame. One of my biggest pet peeves with this group is that they haven’t done enough insulating. What I mean by that is they always seem to be lacking depth in a key area. This year there were three or potentially even 4 areas including outfield, back of the rotation, right handed relief and depending on how you choose to view it shortstop (if you want to count Kang there they were probably fine).
The blame doesn’t simply stop there nor is that the primary reason the Pirates are struggling. The Pirates two best position players find themselves banned from the league right no because of their own actions. It is inarguable that the absence of these two has had a huge negative effect on the offense and will continue to do so. Very few teams can survive let alone thrive if they lose two players as good as the Pirates have.
There is more to the story then simply the front office failures and the poor decision making of a couple excellent players. Injuries are currently preventing the team from using the primary backups to those two great talents and another great talent finds himself with a potential scary medical diagnosis. Clint Hurdle has also made his share of poor managerial decisions and players the Pirates are counting on (and had reason to count on) are struggling.
The bottom line is the Pirates are lacking some of their top end talent, missing some capable guys due to injuries, have other guys struggling, have made a few poor personal and managing decisions and just aren’t getting any favors from the baseball gods. It is an organizational failure and there really isn’t much that can be done to fix it at the moment.
The team is not doomed to years of non-competitiveness though. Currently the roster has 9 rookies (a number even the Steelers struggle to reach) meaning they are an exceptionally young group that will grown. Brighter days are likely ahead but man is the present ever going to be rough.