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


  • 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.

17 Responses to Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates Leave a Reply

  1. Dave Pierce 3 years ago

    Yamaico Navarro came over from the Royals, not the Red Sox (was in previous deal for Mike Aviles).

  2. Tacho Bill 3 years ago

    I wouldn’t call any of those losses “notable.” Beneficial, maybe. 

  3. gmenfan 3 years ago

    I fear that its going to be another very long summer in Pittsburgh.

    • Smrtbusnisman04 3 years ago

      Why is that? The Pirates signifcantly imrpoved last year’s roster, which was in 1st place going into mid-july.

      Veras struggled down the stretch, Cedeno is an offensive enigma, and Maholm is an average finesse starting pitcher

  4. goner 3 years ago

    it pains me that Jo-Jo Reyes was a “notable” minor league signing

  5. crashcameron 3 years ago

    is Clint Barmes “one of the game’s best shortstops” ??

    • notsureifsrs 3 years ago

      that isn’t a quote from this post

      • crashcameron 3 years ago

        uh, yeah, it is. 
        specifically it says “defensive shortstops” but point being I’m, uh, ‘not sure if’ I’ve ever heard that before, even as general/generic impression-turned-accepted-belief. You? haven’t seen him too much past early-on days (pre deer disaster) with the Rox. fer comparison, if someone dropped that about Jason Bartlett, yeah. just surprised since ‘solid all-around’ is more like the impressions I’ve always heard.

        • notsureifsrs 3 years ago

          “one of the game’s best shortstops” and “one of the game’s best defensive shortstops” are entirely different propositions though. and only one of them can be found in this post

          now, is it true? debatable, but probably. DRS has him at more than 60 runs saved in only 3700 innings (~3 seasons). TZL says 35 and UZR says 21. on a rate basis (e.g. UZR/150, his worst metric), his numbers are as good as anyone else in the game over the last 3 years

          he is not a productive offensive player and is not in the conversation for the best shortstops in the game. but it seems clear he’s elite defensively

      • crashcameron 3 years ago

        BTW, never been sure what the “srs” is!?

  6. goner 3 years ago

    Barring a slew of injuries (which applies to all teams), I think the Pirates will crack .500 and contend in the NL Central this year, though they likely won’t go to the postseason.  As the article notes, with fewer soft tossers in the rotation and better defense overall, their pitching staff (which last year gave up their fewest runs since the Pirates moved into PNC Park in 2001, and posted their highest bWAR in that span) could take another leap forward in 2012. 

    The bigger wildcard for 2012 is their bats… if Pedro Alvarez provides even league average production at 3B, their offense should be healthy enough. 

  7. Monsoon Harvard 3 years ago

    Ronny Cedeno has his head in the clouds, making one mistake after another whether at bat, running the bases, or fielding a routine ground ball. Barmes is a significant upgrade. Anyone who follows every Pirate game knows who the real Ronny Cedeno is.

    The bench is shaping up to be very good with Josh Harrison, Matt Hague, Nate McLouth, Yamaico Navarro and Casey McGehee.
    McLouth could take over the starting job of anyone not producing, and currently Jose Tabata fits that profile. McLouth, healthy now and intent on getting back a starting role, has out-played Tabata in every phase of the game this spring.
    It is expected that Starling Marte will take over Tabata’s job by next year, but Nate could take the job away even sooner.

    • leowalter 3 years ago

      Do you think Mc louth might have out played Alex Presley by an even wider margin than he did Tabata ? When I saw the Pirates in Florida for 3 games McLouth was getting a lot better swings than Alex,and not so much Tabata. Also,Marte is a better defensive center fielder than McCutchen with a more powerful arm and better instincts throwing to the correct cut off man.To me,that means someone is going to have to change positions if Marte continues to develope offensively. You take a guess who !

      • Monsoon Harvard 3 years ago

         No, definitely not. Presley leads the team in hits and has hit well above .300 all spring, and also has extra base power, something Tabata has shown none of. Tabata is a singles hitter.

        Singles hitting outfielders are a dime a dozen. Tabata has shown nothing the past year that would make him anything more than a fourth outfielder for any other team.

        • Monsoon Harvard 3 years ago

          I might add that Tabata has a knack for hitting very hard line drives, so that may have been the ‘good swings’ you saw. The problem though is that his line drives have no rise or loft to them, making them no more than 6-8 feet off the ground. Most of them result in outs.
          On the other hand Presley, though a small guy, has great strength. He has a tendency to hit balls off the wall, and his fly balls often fool the outfielders and carry over their heads. Last year Presley hit more balls off the wall and over heads of shocked outfielders than anyone else on the team, and he was barely in the majors for half a year.

          • leowalter 3 years ago

            Singles hitters are a dime a dozen ? I don’t know what you have been watching,but good leadoff men are not “a dime a dozen ” my friend. I am a fan of Alex Presleys also,but I will promise you this : when and if Starling Marte is ready for MLB,Alex will be wearing another uniform not long after. 

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