Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates locked up star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and added some decent veterans to the infield and rotation.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

  • Andrew McCutchen, CF: six years, $51.5MM. Includes a $14.5MM club option for 2018 with a $1MM buyout.

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Pirates GM Neal Huntington did his usual tinkering during the offseason, but he accomplished his biggest goal in March by locking up McCutchen potentially through 2018.  The Pirates acquired two of McCutchen's free agent years with an option for a third, also saving money on his arbitration years.  They gave McCutchen the same guarantee Justin Upton and Jay Bruce received, and the only contract of the three with a pair of club options, despite McCutchen's superior bulk credentials.  The team's timing was excellent, as McCutchen improved defensively last year and would have required more money had they waited.  I know there were intangible benefits to McCutchen's contract, but I'm mostly concerned with the value side, and the Pirates did well.

At 5.63 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011, the Pirates' rotation ranked last in the National League.  To remedy that deficiency, Huntington imported a pair of starters who were hot commodities four or five years ago in Bedard and Burnett.  The Pirates essentially gave Maholm's money to Bedard, likely trading innings for performance.  Bedard's shoulder surgeries have made him a comeback favorite for many years, but he actually didn't have to spend this offseason rehabbing an injury.  If the 33-year-old can find a way to provide 180 innings for the first time since '07, the Pirates will have found a huge bargain without risking much.

Before the Burnett trade pursuit began in earnest, Huntington placed multiple bids on free agent starter and Scott Boras client Edwin Jackson.  Jackson reportedly spurned a three-year offer from the Pirates in the $30MM range, as well as a one-year proposal worth less than $11MM.  Like many Boras clients, Jackson became focused on the idea of taking a one-year deal and re-entering the market after a year.  Three years wasn't his goal, and the Pirates didn't offer the largest one-year pact.  The Pirates don't have confederate money — they simply didn't make Jackson the best offer.

By late February, Huntington found a suitable alternative in Burnett.  The Yankees were probably desperate to unload him, especially with private knowledge that Andy Pettitte would join the crowded rotation. In a reversal of roles the Yankees dumped two years and $13MM worth of Burnett's contract on the Pirates for a couple of non-prospects.  Burnett's Pirates debut will unfortunately be delayed due to a freak Spring Training injury, but the logic behind the acquisition was sound.  Burnett can provide innings and strikeouts with a touch of upside, at the reasonable cost of two years and $13MM.

Low-strikeout Pirates starters such as Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia will benefit from the addition of Barmes, one of the game's best defensive shortstops.  Barmes replaces Cedeno, who is something of a defensive enigma.  Barmes anchors a Pirates infield that will otherwise be populated by average or below-average defenders.

After throwing to eight different catchers in 2011, Pirates pitchers will also enjoy the consistency of having Barajas and Mike McKenry behind the plate.  Barajas will provide his usual blend of average defense, poor on-base skills, and some power.  Huntington hopes McLouth will rediscover some of the 2007-08 magic with a return to his original team.

The Bucs traded a quality reliever in Veras, but McGehee's right-handed stick pairs well with Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez at the infield corners.  Veras was a hard-throwing minor league signee with control problems a year ago, just as Juan Cruz is now.  The Pirates pen retains plenty of strikeout artists and could be a solid in 2012, especially if Evan Meek is fully recovered from last year's shoulder injury.

The Pirates had a decent offseason, though I'm not sure the 2012 team will be above-average at anything.  Rather than expecting to finish what they started over the first four months of 2011, a more realistic plan is to tread water until the farm system produces star-caliber players to surround McCutchen.


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