Where do the Pirates go from here?

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The Pirates, in the words of general manager Neal Huntington, prefer to publicly ‘stay vague’ on personnel matters. That’s a wise course of action. There’s little or nothing to be gained by publicizing your strategies.

Which means the only hints we have on how the team might proceed in free agency is its history under the current management group.

Thus far, the Pirates' free-agency scorecard reads like this:

* The marketplace apparently has put A.J. Burnett, a mainstay of their rotation the past two seasons, out of reach. Unless he offers a home-town discount, unlikely, Burnett is due to make more than $12 million on a one-year contract and close to $25 million on a two-year deal. Those are places the Pirates have never gone and are not likely to go.

* Outfielder Marlon Byrd, a key acquisition in last August, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. There was no speculation the Pirates were much of a player in trying to keep Byrd, who signed for two years and $16 million.

* They were a so-called finalist for starting pitcher Josh Johnson, who signed with San Diego for one-year, $8 million.

So where do the Pirates go from here?

Shortstop Jhonny Peralta would be a splendid fit for the team. For starters, he would not only upgrade their offense at shortstop, but his career track record as a middle-of-the-lineup bat is better than Byrd’s.

For seconds, a Peralta signing would allow tentative starting shortstop Jordy Mercer to be used primarily as a platoon option at second base to Neil Walker and also occasionally as a backup to Peralta and Pedro Alvarez.

Here’s the glitch: Peralta has been estimated by MLBTradeRumors.com to be in line for a three-year contract valued at $36 million. There are two things about that deal that go against the Pirates historical grain: three years and $36 million. They been known to do neither.

The average of such a deal would give Peralta the highest salary -- paid fully by the Pirates -- in franchise history. It would also, to the best of my knowledge, be the longest free-agent contract ever given out by Huntington. He has steadily stuck with one and two-year deals.

That’s been the case for two reasons: Most of the free agents signed by Huntington didn’t deserve anything longer than two years; the organization -- highly risk averse -- is not ready to take on the financial dangers that come with deals longer than two years.

Stephen Drew, the other top shortstop available in free agency, is projected to receive a four-year, $48 million deal. It looks like Mercer will be the starting shortstop.

That leaves the Pirates with these in-house options in right field and first base, perceived areas of weakness.

* Jose Tabata quietly had a good season in 2013. If he can continue to supply that level of offense, he might be part of the answer in right field. But one season does not make a career and prior to 2013 there was little indication Tabata was an answer.

* Gaby Sanchez is another piece as a right-handed hitting first baseman. His .987 OPS vs. LHP was 10th best in the National League.

* Andrew Lambo, off his stellar minor-league power season, deserves a look in right field and possibly at first base. Teams like the Pirates cannot afford to ignore the kind of cheap production Lambo might offer.

They’ll have to add to that mix at least one free agent -- a Corey Hart-type player.

Additionally, the Pirates will come up with at least one candidate for the starting rotation. Perhaps not as high a profile player as Francisco Liriano but someone who can challenge for a job.

Early indications and also based on their stated strategy of being ''patient,’’ the Pirates don’t figure to be big players in free agency. That’s should surprise no one. But it doesn't mean they can’t find some significant upgrades.


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