Last season was a step back for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club did not factor into the playoff equation, finishing with a sub-.500 record of 78-83. That was good for third place in the NL Central, but still a distant 25 games behind the division and World Series winning Chicago Cubs. They did not fair too well in terms of the Wild Card either, finishing a solid eight and a half games back of a playoff spot.
Now we enter the heart of the offseason, and the club have some serious questions to answer. Chief among them revolve around the face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen. The 30 year old outfield is coming off a down season, and has two seasons remaining on his deal (one is a club option) at reasonable prices. So trade rumors have been swirling, and that decision could very well determine what direction the club takes as they enter the 2017 season.
Now with the Winter Meetings nearly upon us, let’s take a closer look at where the Pirates stand moving forward.
Positions of Need
Shortstop: Simply put, it is time to move on from Jordy Mercer. The 30 year old is an average at best shortstop who is better off as a bench type of player. He has a little bit of pop, hitting 11 homers a season ago, but overall, the club needs to make an upgrade here if they want to take a step forward.
Outfield (based on one key factor): This need solely depends on the fate of Andrew McCutchen. If he stays, the club will not need to pursue any outfield help. If he goes, they will have an opening in center field. There is also the chance a deal would bring back a man capable of being the starting center fielder, making this a moot point anyways
Starting Pitching: The team’s rotation will be headlined by Gerrit Cole, with James Taillion right behind him. After those two, the team has a mix of young guys and some journey men types. Basically there are a few spots up for grabs, and given the club is known for bringing arms back from the dead, this should be an attractive option for any free agent starter.
Bullpen: Likely closer Tony Watson enters a contract year, and may end up being dealt. Antonio Bastardo has had his ups and downs. Overall, the unit could use a shot in the arm. Look for the Pirates to go out and add a few arms to flesh out the pen a bit.
Shortstop: Overall, the market for shortstops is not super attractive. The free agent market does not offer anyone who stands out as an upgrade over Mercer, meaning a trade is the likely route if the team feels it is time to move on. Given the team is looking to bring in prospects and not move them, that may be a long shot too. So if the team does anything here, it will be for a cheaper trade target, like defensive types Jose Iglesias or Adeiny Hechavarria.
Outfield: Given the team will only need a center fielder if they move McCutchen, they will not be seeking one out actively. The most likely scenario would see them bring one in in the same deal for their star. Victor Robles of the Washington Nationals is the most likely name to watch here.
Starting Pitching: The club will likely be bringing in a free agent or two that is looking to rebuild some value. One name that has expressed interest in joining the team is former Ranger Derek Holland. Jason Hammel could find himself in the Steel City, or maybe Colby Lewis. Two former Angels, Jered Weaver or C.J. Wilson could find their names attached to the Pirates as well.
Bullpen: The team will not be going out and spending big on any of the major names. Instead look for them to dabble in the realm of guys with closing experience who will come much cheaper. Drew Storen is a name that comes to mind immediately. Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo may draw the team’s eye. Or maybe they decide to turn to someone like Brad Ziegler.
Possible Trade Pieces
Andrew McCutchen: Talks with the Washington Nationals appear to have increased, with a deal possible as soon as today according to some reports. While I do not expect a deal to happen that fast, I do think it gets done. The Pirates need some young talent, and Robles would be a great fit. The Nationals also have a plethora of young pitchers who should interest the Pirates.
Josh Harrison: With such a weak free agent market, someone like Harrison is sure to draw interest. He is still in his prime, at 29 years old, and is under team control for four more seasons. He is extremely versatile, and can play a handful of positions. The market for him should be pretty large given the starting utility role type of player he represents. Some possible destinations include the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
Jung Ho Kang: Kang was recently arrested over in South Korea, which is not his first run in with the law. The Pirates may be growing tired of his antics, and simply look to move on. He was good for 21 homers a season ago, despite not getting 400 at bats. If a team is willing to look past his off the field mishaps, they may be able to pluck him away from the Bucs. Possible fits are the Dodgers or the Orioles.
Tony Watson: Entering the final year of his deal and a pretty solid 2016 season, Watson may be seen as a cheaper alternative to other options out there this winter. He is a lefty who has closing experience, and could easily draw the attention of plenty of clubs if made available. Teams like the Mariners, Marlins, Giants and Blue Jays could get involved in talks for the lefty.
One Bold Prediction
Based on recent rumors, this one is not the boldest of bold predictions, but it is a blockbuster, so I have to go with it. The deal of the Winter Meetings will go down on Tuesday between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. McCutchen will be wearing a Nats uniform, with Joe Ross and Victor Robles coming to the Pirates as the headliners.
And be sure to check out all of our Winter Meetings coverage here at INSC! You can check out more team previews and other MLB Winter Meetings pieces here!
So what do you think? What will the Pirates do during the Winter Meetings? Tell us in the comments!