The 2017 season was the second straight sub-.500 showing by the Pirates, who finished 75-87 and continued to distance themselves from a 2013-15 stretch in which they made the playoffs three straight times. It has now been three-plus months since the Pirates last took the field, though it’s not yet clear which direction they’ll take heading into 2018. While owner Bob Nutting would like to both buy and sell this winter, the Pirates have neither acquired any established major leaguers nor traded any away during what has been a plodding offseason across the majors. With spring training set to commence next month, action figures to pick up soon in Pittsburgh and other big league cities. If the Pirates do indeed sell players in the coming weeks, they have at least a few who would garner respectable returns, as evidenced below…
Andrew McCutchen, OF ($14.5MM): Getting rid of McCutchen would be agonizing for the Pirates, who have seen the center fielder develop into a star and a beloved figure in their city since drafting him in 2005. Nevertheless, considering the Pirates have taken inquiries for him this winter a year after nearly trading him, it’s quite possible he has played his last game with the club. Given that he’s entering his last year of team control, McCutchen’s value now is likely higher than it’s going to be during the season. And the 31-year-old helped his stock in 2017 by hitting .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs in 650 plate appearances, thus rebounding from a mediocre 2016 at the plate.
While McCutchen isn’t any kind of a defensive asset at this point, his bat still carries plenty of value, which has led to interest from the Mets and Giants. Getting McCutchen’s money off the books would appeal to the low-payroll Pirates, but that alone wouldn’t suffice – unsurprisingly, they also want a legitimate return for their longtime franchise face.
Jordy Mercer, SS ($6.5MM projected arbitration salary): The Pirates are reportedly content to keep the 31-year-old Mercer, who likely wouldn’t bring back much in a trade anyway. Mercer’s a lifetime .256/.316/.383 hitter who has only drawn up-and-down reviews from advanced defensive metrics since he became a regular in 2013.
Sean Rodriguez, UTIL ($5.75MM): Rodriguez was part of an August 2017 trade with the Braves in which he returned to the Pirates for struggling first base/outfield prospect Connor Joe. If Rodriguez’s value was low then, it’s in an even worse state now, given that he closed the season by hitting .168/.255/.274 in 106 PAs in Pittsburgh. Between the Braves and Pirates, Rodriguez batted an ugly .167/.276/.295 and struck out in 37.3 percent of PAs. In fairness to Rodriguez, it’s worth noting that an offseason car crash and the shoulder surgery he underwent thereafter likely played a part in his forgettable year.
Daniel Hudson, RHRP ($5.5MM): The hard-throwing Hudson didn’t produce to the level the Pirates hoped when they signed him as a free agent last winter, as he logged a 4.38 ERA with 9.63 K/9 and 4.82 BB/9 across 61 2/3 innings. More than half the league showed interest in Hudson in the weeks before he joined the Pirates, though, and that was off a season in Arizona that came with some rough patches. So, perhaps Hudson would be able to bring back something of a worth in a trade in the wake of last year’s unspectacular output.
Two Years Of Control
Francisco Cervelli, C ($22MM through 2019): Cervelli was a revelation for the Pirates in 2015, leading them to extend him the next year, but he hasn’t been nearly as effective recently. Injuries helped limit Cervelli to 182 games during the previous two seasons, including 81 in 2017. While Cervelli, 31, slashed a respectable .249/.342/.370 in 304 trips to the plate to continue a solid offensive career as a Buc, the excellent pitch framing he showed off in prior years was not on display. Now, considering Cervelli’s price tag, injury issues, 2017 defensive drop-off and the lack of contenders looking for a starting catcher, this doesn’t seem like the ideal time to move him. Interestingly, though, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review suggested that there were some trade rumors about Cervelli during the Winter Meetings last month.
Ivan Nova, RHP ($17MM through 2019): The unexpected success Nova experienced as a Pirate in late 2016 after coming over in a trade with the Yankees didn’t quite transfer last year. Still, in the first season of a three-year, $26MM deal, Nova ate innings (187) and posted a playable 4.14 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 1.73 BB/9 and a 45.7 percent groundball rate. On one hand, you’d expect plenty of teams in need of a capable back-end starter to have interest in the reasonably priced 30-year-old if the Pirates shop him. On the other, we were among many around the game to overestimate his market when he was a free agent in a weak class of starters a winter ago.
Gerrit Cole, RHP ($7.5MM projected salary): As a Scott Boras client whose team control is running out, it seems to be a matter of when – not if – the Pirates trade Cole. The 27-year-old fireballer has drawn widespread interest this offseason from teams seeking a mid-/front-of-the-rotation starter. The Yankees, Cubs and Twins are among many clubs that have inquired about Cole, who’d very likely bring back an impressive haul in a deal.
David Freese, 3B/1B ($4.25MM in 2018 and either a $6MM club option or a $500K buyout in 2019): There hasn’t been much trade buzz this offseason regarding Freese, who may lose playing time in Pittsburgh in 2018. The soon-to-be 35-year-old offered unexciting production for the fifth straight year in 2017, when he hit .263/.368/.371 in 503 PAs, though a roughly average player on an affordable salary shouldn’t be seen as valueless.
George Kontos, RHRP ($2.7MM projected salary): There doesn’t seem to be much value here – the Giants gave Kontos to the Pirates for nothing last August, after all – yet the 32-year-old has held his own in the majors. Kontos’ ERA ranged from 2.33 to 3.39 from 2014-17, and he has typically limited free passes in his career (2.62 BB/9). Further, while Kontos was a below-average strikeout pitcher in past seasons, he did register a career-high 9.5 K/9 and a personal-best 16.4 percent swinging-strike rate in 2017. He also recorded a .269 xwOBA against, beating out newly minted $52MM man Wade Davis (.289), among others.
Gregory Polanco, OF (controllable through 2023 for $54MM): Hamstring injuries helped limit Polanco to 108 games and just 0.5 fWAR in 411 PAs last season, when he batted a meager .251/.305/.391. While the 26-year-old has never been an offensive dynamo, his baserunning, defense and contract have combined to make him a valuable player. Barring a shocking trade, he’ll attempt to bounce back in Pittsburgh next season.
Starling Marte, OF (controllable through 2021 for $41.5MM): Marte was among the most valuable assets in the sport from 2013-16, when he hit, ran and defended his way to 16.4 fWAR, but the shine came off to a degree last season. Not only did Marte sit 80 games on account of a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but he wasn’t any kind of force during the 77 contests in which he did appear. The 29-year-old hit a career-low .275/.333/.379 and experienced a dramatic decline in the power department, which has never been a major strength for him anyway. Like Polanco, though, there’s nothing to suggest the Pirates are interested in moving Marte or his still-appealing contract.
Josh Harrison, UTIL ($10MM salary in 2018 and club options totaling $22MM from 2019-20): As with McCutchen and Cole, Harrison has been a popular name in rumors this winter. Perhaps the Pirates should part with the 30-year-old Harrison now, given his recent inconsistency. Harrison broke out in 2014, but he followed that up with subpar showings from 2015-16 before rebounding to enjoy a quality season last year. The Yankees, Mets and Blue Jays are a few clubs that have pursued the infielder/outfielder this winter.
Felipe Rivero ($3.1MM projected salary; controllable through 2021): As an elite, flamethrowing reliever who’s under wraps for the foreseeable future, the left-handed Rivero is clearly one of the most valuable players in the Pittsburgh organization. The 26-year-old is now coming off the best full season of his career, during which he tossed 75 1/3 innings of 1.67 ERA ball and notched 10.51 K/9, 2.39 BB/9 and a 52.9 percent grounder rate. Rivero also converted 21 of 23 save chances, and if he remains in the ninth inning for the Pirates, it’s only going to drive up his price in arbitration. There is a case to be made that the Pirates should shop Rivero now when his value’s at its zenith, especially if they don’t expect to compete in 2018, though it seems highly unlikely to happen.
While Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Tyler Glasnow are among other Pirates with trade value, there’s no reason to expect the team to market any of those pre-arb players.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Images.
get ready for no. 3
Just bc I’m bored
Cole for headley
so.. they have a ton of valuable players… Shouldn’t they be able to win some games?
with the cubs red birds and brewer’s on the rise where our they going to be
Then these players aren’t worth that much Cole is not worth Torres
brewers overplayed last year.
Yes…..as always “They Will Win SOME Games”……but not enough to be in contention, and too many to look like they are “Tanking”. Middle-of-the-road team…..Again.
I guess ownership is happy with “Being OK”, or they would make a move in one direction or the other. They must be making money, if they’re afraid to blow up the team and rebuild.
Absolutely true. Mediocre team yet still profitable. No changes forthcoming. I’ve stopped going to spring training and to PNC. Also no more gear. Don’t know what else to do. I’ve been a fan since the 50’s. I feel we are being robbed.
You’d think so, but ownership, and FO can’t decide whether they want to contend or rebuild. Plus, they add nothing to a solid core.
What players make up this solid core
Bell, Marte, Polanco, Taillon, Nova, Williams,….Add in McCutchen, Cole and Harrison. Pretty solid. Not World Series contending but solid. Not much behind, which is the problem
They could add to it, but they decide not to. If they did, they could be a contender.
This off season is not over yet. No idea if they will do anything or not. Now if this were the end of March, you would have a point about them not doing anything.
McCutchen’s defense doesn’t rate well as a CF, but wouldn’t that be erased with a move to LF?
Mets take cutch and Harrison and their salaries for lagares, and gesselman (sorry about the spelling) and a mid tier prospect.
The salary exchange is valuable to the pirates plus the prospects involved. Mets get their infielder and outfield players while not giving up to much of the diminished farm system. I know pirate fans will think it’s not nearly enough, but what are you really going to get for them? Of what would you expect to get?
We don’t need Lagares for anything. Marte will move to center, Lagares doesn’t hit well enough to be useful
3 team trade.. Cole/Harrison/Cutch for Torres and Frazier from the Yankees.. Who then flip Cutch and Ellsbury plus $30 million to the Giants for a low A lottery ticket or 2.. Yankees would have to give up Torres but they unload Ellsbury.. Giants get their outfield fixed basically for just cash (its not the super defense they say they want but its way better offense).. The Pirates get 2 top notch prospects but they are just prospects.. This trade would hurt and help all 3 teams.. Seems to solve all of their current problems.. Yankees could then re-sign Frazier and have plenty of cash to throw at Machado next year..
The Yankees will not deal Torres for salary relief or a damaged pitcher.
AGREED! Why don’t you all realize that they are not dealing Torres for anybody! He is untouchable at this point and a key to their infield for 2018 and hopefully beyond.
Once again, just because the Giants need a center-fielder, it’s overly simplistic to see them as a fit for Ellsbury. The Giants have better, cheaper options in house. Span was a better option than Ellsbury and they got rid of him. They aren’t replacing Span with a similar player that comes with a longer commitment.
The Pirates aren’t trying to move salary though. They have no reason to simply give away players. They need to decide what they are doing (rebuild or go for it) and plan accordingly. It must be mind-numbing to be a Pirates fan. Finally after 20+ years of mediocrity the team gets into the playoffs, but management doesn’t give nearly enough to put them into the big show. Now they are meandering along and dangling assets but not committing either way.
Although McCutchen will be still quick enough to reach most baseballs hit to left field, he has an incredibly weak and often inaccurate throwing arm.
In PNC Park the move would be to Right field, not Left, and that was the plan last year until Marte’s suspension. PNC is cavernous in left-Center but has a shallower right field wall and Cutch does have a weak arm. I wonder if that’s the plan again for 2018: Cutch moves to RF, Polanco moves to LF, Marte to CF.
Nor Aoki is of more use than Lagares and he has to spend the entire winter it seems begging for a job every year. Nobody wants lagares at 2/15m. 4th OF at best and for 1/4 of what he’s guaranteed.
Aoki is the exact meaning of a league average player (bat and glove).. Lagares can’t hit, get on base or provide any power at all but he provides excellent defense.. He is best suited as a 4th OF defensive replacement.. I doubt anyone wants him at 2/$7.5m let alone 2/$15m.
Aoki is atrocious with the glove. I don’t really know if you’ve seen it or not, but the routes he takes is awful and he looks like he just got off a marry go round and he’s dizzy as a result. And his arm is not good whatsoever.
Pittsburgh won’t trade the price they want is to high.
No urgency to trade now so that is why that are asking high prices. They can see if they are at least in contention by the deadline and they will at least move McCutchen by then. If they had to dump them they would have by now.
The Pirates should get what they can for Cutch bc he will walk as a FA and they will get zip. IMHO, the Mets do not need another corner outfielder. If we want another corner outfielder sign Jay Bruce instead.
They’ll get a draft pick when he rejects the QO. Which is more valuable than almost anything the Mets have to offer for him.
Did I just read Polanco and good baserunning and defense in the same article?
LOL… Agreed. I’d say more average, if anything.
If he is healthy he is good. Not great but good. Has not been healthy for a year and a half. Has an outstanding arm.
This was an excellent piece. Very informative. As a Pirate fan i worry about us right now. We had a couple impressive years but i fear that window is closing. We have caught lightning in a bottle with some starters. We have as good an outfield as any team. I’m not sure our issues is truly money but more a lack of aggressiveness by the general manager and owner. We are not at a level to compete with Chicago right now and we have to take some risks to catch up. I would not be in favor of trading Cole if it weren’t for the fact he is a Boros guy. I would like to sign Hosmer, keep Harrison for 3B. Trade Bell to the AL where he belongs.
I like your thought process on Hosmer. Love the guy but his money is way out of the range for the buccos.
“Way Out Of Range” for most teams, I think.
He’s a 6/120 player to me. GB rate is way too high. Think he’ll age well, but $150M+ is just too much for him.
Bell’s defense improved dramatically last season. He had 6 DRS. You must be one of those fans who don’t actually watch the games.
Wilbert must only listen to the Pittsburgh talk guys. He is parroting what they are saying.
Huntington: “We want to compete next year”
Does nothing to add to a team that lost last year, but still has a solid core.
Has the season started already?? Many teams have done nothing yet this off season. Ton of time to make moves yet.
Yea, but The Pirates aren’t even in rumors. All teams have been linked to free agents, or trade targets. Pirates haven’t even thought about adding anyone.
It’s classic Nutting to say they want to both buy and sell, and end up doing neither.
im still kinda surprised Huntington still has a job honestly. has been middle of the road for ages.
Huntington has the Pirates right where Nutting wants them to be. A 75-80 win team. Just enough to turn a profit for 2018.
Javier Baez & a couple lower level prospects for Cole…who hangs up first?
In division trades like that wont happen.
Here’s my bold prediction: PIT will NOT trade McCutchen now or at the deadline (for a litany of reasons we’ve all heard before). They’ll then extend the QO next winter which McCutchen will accept, and he’ll remain with the Pirates through 2019 when he’ll walk into free agency. Given the actions of the front office the past several years I totally see that as the most likely outcome.
Traded Melancon, if there’s enough demand at the ASB and the Bucs are out of it, he’s gone. Everyone’s expecting it.
Mccutchen isnt really a one year rental. the pirates can still make him a qualifying offer at the end of the season to at least get a drift pick. this site sets atrocious sometimes as it persists all small market teams trade their best players to the richer teams, yankees, red sox. no wonder there is competitive imbalance.
I am an avid fan of the Bucs, however this team is going nowhere but back to sub crap average probably worse. They have no direction and Nutting extended a GM and manager that will be the gas bags and vomit his agenda. Stay on the fringe just so he can thicken his pockets. The whole excuse of small market bs is tired and overstayed because we have an owner who is not a baseball owner. He is just there to make money period. He’s not a winner he’s shrewd cut throat and cheap is not even the beginning of how loud he squeaks. It’s bad enough that baseball has no even playing field with a salary cap. Then an insult to it you have baseball allowing owners like this decimate the moral of a fan base just when he had us believing again. The worst part is now there no direction. They say a lot without saying anything at all. Get rid of everyone. Move the team.