Offseason Outlook: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates will look to add offense and acquire pitching depth in the hopes of ending their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Contract Options

Free Agents

There’s no easy fix for the Pirates, who enter the offseason with many needs and limited resources. Yet there’s some hope, even after consecutive late-season collapses, that 2013 will be the year the Pirates end their streak of 20 straight losing seasons. For the streak to end, GM Neal Huntington will have to pursue upgrades on the pitching staff and at multiple positions around the diamond.

Joel Hanrahan - Pirates (PW)

Pirates president Frank Coonelly has publicly expressed support for his team's front office executives. But the question persists: how long can upper management support the unconventional, military style player development methods which led to at least one injured prospect? Rival executives have said they consider these methods unacceptable and excessively risky.

The Pirates, who spent $52MM on payroll in 2012, have committed $28MM to next year's team with another $22MM or so projected to go to arbitration eligible players. Unless they unexpectedly increase payroll they aren't going to be signing elite free agents this coming winter.

The Pirates have lots of questions in their starting rotation in the short and long-term. A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are in place atop the rotation for 2013, and James McDonald will be a welcome addition if he can replicate the form he showed in the first half of this past season. Beyond that there’s Charlie Morton, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, non-tender candidate Jeff Karstens, and a number of rookies. The Pirates have some intriguing young rotation candidates such as former first overall selection Gerrit Cole, but that’s not necessarily enough to keep them in games for the duration of a six-month season.

Kevin Correia's not expected to re-sign in Pittsburgh after losing his rotation spot late in the regular season. The Pirates could explore free agency for potential bargains such as Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, Scott Feldman, Francisco Liriano, Chris Young and Kevin Millwood. Perhaps they can follow the template that landed them Burnett and Rodriguez and acquire Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang from the Dodgers with Los Angeles taking on some salary. Huntington has had success with this type of deal in the past and might look to replicate it this winter, with his club still in need of pitching.

The Pirates could obtain some starting pitching by trading their closer, Joel Hanrahan (pictured). The right-hander’s salary projects to jump to the $7MM range, so it’s time for Huntington to complete a trade. It doesn’t make sense for the Pirates to allocate 15% of their budget to a reliever who pitches 4% of their innings. The Dodgers, Angels and Tigers are among the large market teams that could be seeking shutdown relievers this winter. Perhaps Huntington can move Hanrahan to one of those clubs while getting useful, controllable pieces in return.

A trade would prompt the Pirates to pursue relief help, especially since free agent right-hander Jason Grilli has a case for a multiyear deal, and could be priced out of Pittsburgh. Huntington has had past success finding effective relievers without overpaying for them. Grilli and Chris Resop, for example, were acquired for next to nothing. Replicating this success won’t be easy, but it’s one way for the Pirates to avoid spending $5MM per season on relievers. Whether it’s a Rule 5 selection, a late-winter bargain or a waiver claim, the Pirates must seek affordable bullpen help.

The Pirates also have significant needs on offense after ranking 24th in runs scored among MLB's 30 teams. They’re expected to seek a starting catcher at a time that a number of starting backstops are eligible for free agency. Mike Napoli's power would be a welcome addition to the Pirates' offense, so it makes sense to check in and see if a deal could work for both sides. However, top options such as Napoli and Russell Martin might not be affordable for the Pirates.

If that's the case they could simply seek a part-time backup for Michael McKenry, the 27-year-old who posted a .233/.320/.442 batting line in 275 plate appearances this past season. There’s “zero chance” the Pirates will exercise Rod Barajas’ option at $3.5MM according to Rob Biertempfel. Yet Barajas has said he'd be interested in re-signing at a lower figure, so that's a possibility (by the way, the team's other option, a $700K club option for Pedro Alvarez, will definitely be exercised).

Catcher was just one of the positions at which the Pirates struggled offensively in 2012. The team’s first basemen (24th in OPS, .693), shortstops (26th in OPS, .604) and left fielders (28th in OPS, .635) were among the least productive in MLB at their respective positions. 

Garrett Jones figures to start at first base again after hitting 27 home runs and posting a .274/.317/.516 batting line in 2012. Jones struggles against left-handers, which means Gaby Sanchez, a noted lefty masher, could add value in a complementary role. For all of his offensive struggles, Clint Barmes remains a highly-regarded defender. The Pirates should explore trades for shortstops in case there’s a deal to be had, but the trade value of shortstops who add value on offense and defense figures to be extremely high, especially when there’s not a strong class of free agents.

The Pirates have an assortment of corner outfield options in Travis Snider, Alex Presley, Jose Tabata and Starling Marte. Unfortunately Tabata's coming off of a disappointing year, Snider and Presley have had trouble against lefties and Marte remains an unknown commodity at the MLB level. Adding a prominent outfielder via trade or free agency seems unlikely given the Pirates' needs and resources. Hopefully for manager Clint Hurdle two of these players emerge as capable regulars in 2013. The group includes some players who began their professional careers as highly ranked prospects, so the potential for breakout seasons seems to be there. 

As I suggested earlier, the Pirates have a relatively large arbitration class that includes some non-tender candidates. Karstens could be cut loose with a projected salary approaching $4MM. There also appears to be a chance that Morton and Sanchez will be non-tendered. The group includes at least one extension candidate in first time eligible second baseman Neil Walker. The Pirates would do well to lock Walker up if they can limit costs for his four arbitration years and obtain control of at least one free agent season.

Huntington has at least one more chance to end the Pirates streak of losing seasons. If the first four months of this past season are any indication, the Pirates might be able to do even better than .500 in 2013. First things first, though. The Pirates must use their limited resources to find pitching and improve their below average offense.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

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26 Comments on "Offseason Outlook: Pittsburgh Pirates"

2 years 10 months ago

Snider vs Lefties last year


small sample size, but encouraging

Jonathan Briggs
2 years 10 months ago

What up Travis.

Justin Gray
2 years 10 months ago

adding one or two of those starting pitching bargains, going hard after Napoli, and an emergence of some combination of Snider/Marte/Presley/Tabata could make for a strong ballclub. This team collapsed, but it still did win 79 games. Everything is all doom and gloom with the fanbase these days because of the collapse and this big deal about the Navy Seals training for prospects. The pirates will have more than 79 wins next year, and guys like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon should make their debuts. the good times are starting now, not ending.

2 years 10 months ago

Divisional play will be tougher in 2013 with no more Astros to beat up on.

2 years 10 months ago

Correct-20 of those 79 wins came against the Astro’s ( 12 ) and Cardinals (8 )…

2 years 10 months ago

and the Cardinals will still be there to beat up on, they just need to turn things around against the Brewers, and not collapse against the Cubs like they did, the Reds can be beat

2 years 10 months ago

The team looks promising with Marte and Cutch. Pedro will keep putting up Adam Dunn like #s if he keeps getting at bats. But the catchers are a concern as well as starting pitching. McDonald fell off the map, and that needs to be solved. I do agree that there is a lot of upside. I am a firm believer that when a team gets that close and they lose some tough games and could taste playoff pressure, they will adapt to it eventually. 2013 looks great. These guys have never been winners, but behind Burnett’s second year with the club I see a cohesive team standing strong past the .500 mark with Hurdle (who can be argued as one of the best managers in baseball if this team does not fall apart, 3rd times the charm for Clint)

2 years 10 months ago

Also, trade Hanrahan. As much as I love having the best closer in baseball, we need to get to the point of closing a season before we can afford that… Grilli can do it for cheaper.

2 years 10 months ago

“Hurdle (who can be argued as one of the best managers in baseball if this team does not fall apart”

This can’t be serious? One of the best managers in baseball? He might be one of the worst. His in game strategies and tactics are by far one of the worst in baseball, his bunting, hit and runs, trying to steal bases, use of the right bullpen arms at the right times was all executed extremely poorly last season. The Pirates as a lineup have no clue what to do when their in the box (Their situational hitting was pathetic) and have no clue what to do on the base paths (Atrocious). Their Pitchers have no clue how to hold any runners on and their catchers were the worst at throwing anybody out in baseball (largely because of that). Just a complete lack of care for holding the opponents running game in check was a big reason for the collapse, huge difference having a guy on first instead of always in scoring position.

2 years 10 months ago

without looking at the contract, would the pirates be willing to trade hanrahan straight up to detroit for a rick porcello or drew smyly type?

2 years 10 months ago

no one wants Porcello

2 years 10 months ago

If the Pirates are actually going to spend money and be aggressive this is what they should do. The Pirates don’t need power bats, they need guys to set the table for the middle of the order. Sign Michael Bourn. If Josh Hamilton leaves via free agency trade a package with Starling Marte for Elvis Andrus. A name I absolutely love and really want the Bucs to sign is Shaun Marcum. Then trade package with Hanrahan for Doug Fister. Resign Grilli if not to expensive.


Bourn CF
Andrus SS
McCutchen LF
Alvarez 3B
Jones 1B
Walker 2B
Snider RF
McKenry/Tony Sanchez



2 years 10 months ago

You’re dreaming if you think the Tigers would trade 4 years of Fister for one year of Hanrahan. Maybe Porcello, but no way Fister goes.

2 years 10 months ago

hey buddy, Marte is better than Michael Bourn because of his power potential, and there is no way McCutchen is moving out of CF

2 years 10 months ago

Hey buddy McCutchen is not that good defensdefensively

2 years 10 months ago

And Marte is terrible at getting on base which is the Pirates biggest problem

2 years 10 months ago

We should try and get Andrus, but I doubt we’ll get Bourn.

2 years 10 months ago

Joel Hanrahan for Rick Porcello straight up. Porcello would benefit from a better defense and Tigers need a closer…

2 years 10 months ago

I don’t see a reason why the Dodgers would need to pay any salary if they trade Harang or Capuano. Both pitched very well this season, and are worth more than they’re being paid. If the Pirates trade a top prospect, maybe…

Chris Vinnit
2 years 10 months ago

Huntington better get something good for Hanrahan. I’m sick of him blowing every trade he makes by going after another team’s top 10 prospect from 2009. We need legit major league talent to get us over the hump. Not more flawed prospects.

I’d like to see them talk to the Sox about swapping Hanny for Bucholz. Or, if Rivera is a question and Soriano opts out, see if the Yanks would go for Hughes.

I like some of those suggestions, esp the Napoli one. I’d rather trade for a SP, though, because they’ve tried dumpster diving for SPs two years in a row and ended up overpaying a 2 year deal for a mediocre 5th starter in Kevin Correia and basically flushing money down the toilet in signing Bedard. I understand you’re just going off what they’ve done in the past but 37 year old washed up noodle arm Kevin Millwood? They’d be better off spending that money on Navy SEALS training. Oh wait…

2 years 10 months ago

He blows every trade huh?

2 years 10 months ago

Correia actually was productive and exceeded expectations. I was thrilled with the Correia signing

2 years 10 months ago

While I agree leadoff/tablesetters was a huge issue, Bourn has seen his best season. If the Bucs had an opportunity to get Fowler, that would be a far better move. I think they blew it not going after Choo at the deadline. If Torii Hunter is non-tendered, I’d suggest talking to him about a 2 year deal. He’d be a significant upgrade as a #2 hitter and probably still better defensively at 37 than Snider is now.

Unfortunately I don’t see much help coming at C unless it was a bombshell move for Napoli. I don’t think Grilli can hold up over another full season with the same results – his Aug/Sept were pretty shaky and they’d likely have to pay him $10mil/2 yrs. Morris is likely the closer-in-waiting if Hanny goes.

As for Porcello, worth a look if Tigers want Hanny. He needs a third pitch other than the slider. Velocity was up last year and if Bucs are going to pay Barmes another year, might as well get him more grounders. Porcello probably a #4 on Bucs staff and so far healthy enough to do 175+ innings, which is better than what Bucs have been doing. It’s something. And moving to NL and Searage might help.

2 years 10 months ago

The Pirates need a hitter who can get on base at a .370 clip. I really want them to pursue IF/UTL Jeff Keppinger. He would be perfect for this team. Last season, only Andrew McCutchen got on base at a .360 clip. The rest of the lineup was over aggressive and tried to hit a 5 run homerun every time they came up to bat.

As for an additional starter, I would go after Ervin Santana or inquire to the Dodgers about Ted Lilly.

2 years 10 months ago

Wouldn’t mind seeing Hanrahan going to the Angels for Ervin Santana or Dan Haren. The Angels need a shutdown closer, and we need a good starting pitcher. Both had disappointing 2012 seasons, but look at Burnett when he came to Pittsburgh.

2 years 10 months ago

from his weak side, its enough