Offseason Outlook: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have money to spend this offseason, but their team has more holes than free agency can possibly fill.

Guaranteed Contracts

Contractual Options

  • Paul Maholm, unranked SP: $9.75MM club option with a $750K buyout
  • Chris Snyder, Type B catcher: $6.75MM club option with a $750K buyout
  • Ryan Doumit, Type B catcher: $7.25MM club option for 2012 and $8.25MM club option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
  • Ronny Cedeno, unranked SS: $3MM club option with a $200K buyout

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Free Agents

The Pirates hired GM Neal Huntington in November 2007, and this year we finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.  The team won 72 games for the first time since '04, and was enough of a contender to justify acquiring Lee and Ludwick while taking on their salaries.  In September, the Pirates rewarded Huntington with a three-year extension that included a club option for 2015.

Huntington's first order of business will be making decisions on the options of Maholm, Snyder, Doumit, and Cedeno.  Snyder and Doumit are easy choices to decline.  Maholm's $9MM net price seemingly doesn't work for the Pirates, but they can check with other teams before making that decision official.  Just by virtue of his ability to play shortstop for 130 games Cedeno is worth $2.8MM in a technical sense, but the Pirates might prefer to use those starts in an attempt to find a long-term answer.  The safe move would be to pick up Cedeno's option but leave the starting job as an open competition.

Look for the Pirates to make more cuts at the non-tender deadline, with Pearce, Wood, and Ohlendorf on the bubble.  The five arbitration eligible Pirates relievers figure to stay, so the team's bullpen is in good shape for 2012. 

The Pirates have four favorites for the rotation, though the group features a low-strikeout trio of Karstens, Correia, and Morton after James McDonald.  SI's Jon Heyman says the team is looking for starting pitching.  I'd expect another stopgap acquisition like Correia.  The Pirates need bulk innings after their rotation provided the fewest in the National League in 2011.

The Pirates' search for a short-term first base solution led to $5MM spent on Overbay and a few million more on Lee.  The team has interest in signing Lee, otherwise Huntington can look into Casey Kotchman, James Loney, or outside-the-box options like Raul Ibanez or Josh Willingham.

Questions don't stop there:  the Pirates have needs at catcher, third base, and right field.  Huntington will likely be thinking short-term at catcher, so maybe someone like Ramon Hernandez or Rod Barajas could draw the Pirates' interest.  A new, more affordable contract for Snyder would also work.  Michael McKenry and Jason Jaramillo are internal options.

The Pirates hope Alvarez can shake off his awful season, and again, they won't be adding any big names at his position.  Right field is likely to be handled internally, as Alex Presley has earned a shot and Jones may still be in the mix.  The Pirates have money to spend and needs to fill, but I'm still not sure free agency offers much for them.  They could afford Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder, but the best remaining years of those prime free agents will not coincide with the Pirates' window of contention.

The importance of Huntington's tinkering pales in comparison to the importance of locking up Andrew McCutchen.  The center fielder has a case for a six-year deal in excess of $50MM.  Additionally, the Pirates also have interest in locking up Neil Walker, though that would be a much smaller, team-friendly type of deal.

The first two-thirds of the Pirates' season was different and fun, and it resulted in a 20% increase in attendance.  Otherwise, the playoff bid didn't change much, as the team faded well before the stretch-run and is still is years away from transforming into a serious threat.  The team is still trying to get to .500 for the first time since 1992, though I don't think .500 should be any kind of goal.  Huntington has expressed a willingness to trade prospects, but I'm guessing he'd only do so to fill a long-term need.  It's taken too long, but he's building the team the right way.  It would be a shame to see hard draft slotting instituted, as it would severely limit the Pirates' best route to sustained success.