Pirates Offseason Notes 11/24/15

19 weeks until Opening Day…

You can check out last week’s offseason notes HERE.

2016 Schedule

— To accommodate ESPN’s effort to televise a number of 2016’s Opening Day games, the Pirates-Cardinals opener has been moved up a day to Sunday, April 3rd. First pitch will be at 1:05 at PNC Park, marking the first game of the MLB season. Opposed to just the traditional Sunday night game on the season’s first day, Pirates-Cards will be one of three (Blue Jays-Rays at 4:00; Mets-Royals at 8:00).

— It was also officially announced that the Pirates and Marlins will play two games in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 30 and 31 to honor the legacy of Roberto Clemente.

— The Pirates’ spring training schedule was released. Grapefruit League play begins on Tuesday, March 1st. The Pirates will wrap-up spring ball with an exhibition against the Reds in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 2nd.

Continue reading “Pirates Offseason Notes 11/24/15”

Winter is Coming: Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason Outlook

First, a word on Wednesday: sighJake Arrieta and the Cubs completely shut down and killed the Pirates’ 2015 season, a result that was not totally unexpected (considering what Arrieta has done this season) but so crushingly sour. To again reach the postseason only to be eliminated as quickly as possible is… frustrating. It unfortunately overshadows 98 wins; the past three playoff exits overshadow 280 victories since 2013. 

Can they take the next step? Is a division title in the cards? A full postseason series? Dare I say a World Series? This was a good team. A great team, even. But there will be questions about the “window” of potential success closing, especially as the guy who plays center field gets older and draws closer to free agency.

This offseason should be an interesting one. The Pirates are losing quite a few names, and could part with other familiar ones. There’s still a solid core in place, but the front office will have to fill a few voids left around the roster.

Here’s a look at where the Pirates stand heading into the offseason.
Continue reading “Winter is Coming: Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason Outlook”

Top 10 Pirates Moments of 2014

Another year in the books, and another memorable one for the Bucs. While it didn’t quite have the storybook script of 2013, the Pirates surely enjoyed their second consecutive trip to the postseason.

Looking back, you may remember some not-so-fond moments — the 10-18 start, the seven-game losing streak in August, Cutch getting beaned in Arizona, the Easter Sunday brawl (maybe you liked that one).

But there were still plenty of memorable moments in the team’s 128th season. Here’s our Top 10 in chronological order…

1. Neil Walker‘s Opening Day Walk-Off Winner — 3/31/14

What better way to start the season? A Francisco LirianoJeff Samardzija duel kept things even through nine frames, but Neil Walker sent the fans home happy with a walk-off home run and a 1-0 victory on Opening Day.

2. Sweet 16 Innings — 4/2/14

If the first game of the year wasn’t dramatic enough, how about the second?

It looked like it was going to be the Cubs’ turn to take an extra inning W, as Anthony Rizzo‘s solo shot put Chicago ahead in the 12th. But the Bucs battled back in the bottom half, with Starling Marte providing the tying single. It looked like they’d finish ’em there — Andrew McCutchen stepped in with the bases loaded, but old friend Jose Veras struck him out to end the inning.

The Pirates failed to capitalize on yet another bases loaded threat an inning later. But they finally got it done in the 16th, as Tony Sanchez slipped a dribbler through the left side to score Jose Tabata and end the marathon game.

Behold FanGraphs’ win probability chart:

Source: FanGraphs

3. Starling Marte drops the mic — 5/2/14

Coming off a brutal doubleheader sweep @ Baltimore, the Bucs welcomed the Blue Jays for the first home series of May. They had been struggling to that point, winning just 10 of their first 28 games and looking for a spark. They finally got it with one of the more exciting games of 2014.

Like many early season games, they squandered an early lead and failed to fight back. But… the switch was flipped in the ninth inning. Starling Marte will get the credit, but it couldn’t have been done without El Toro. With Neil Walker on first, Pedro Alvarez put one in the center field seats to tie the game at 5 runs a piece. Two batters later, Marte annihilated Sergio Santos‘ 3-1 pitch into the bullpen for an unbelievable comeback win.

Source: FanGraphs

This game kicked off a solid homestand and symbolized a turning point for the Bucs. They shook off their rocky start and went 78-56 the rest of the way — second-best in the NL behind Washington during that span.

4. The First Walk-Off Replay — 5/6/14

Four days after his walk-off bomb, Marte provided more magic — this time in much different fashion. Charlie Morton (0 earned runs, 3 hits in 8 innings) and Tim Hudson (1 earned run, 5 hits in 8.2 innings) absolutely shoved in this one, keeping both lineups at bay.

But with two away in the ninth, Marte drove a deep ball off the Clemente Wall, ultimately bouncing far enough away from Hunter Pence that #6 wanted to go for three. Then when the cutoff was overthrown, Marte wanted to win the game all by himself. The throw beat him to home plate by quite a few feet, but Buster Posey bailed at the last second, allowing Marte to slide his hand in before the tag was applied. Home plate ump Quinn Wolcott called him out on the field, but hey! We have replay now. A challenge was in order, and the call was easily reversed — that’s your first ever walk-off replay.

5. Welcome to The Show, Gregory Polanco — 6/13/14

On June 10th, 31,567 witnessed the highly anticipated debut of Gregory Polanco at PNC Park. Three days later, he enjoyed one of the best games of his young life.

It was Friday the 13th, but El Coffee took care of business. He went 5-for-7 with his first MLB home run, two runs batted in, and three runs scored in the Pirates’ 8-6 defeat of the Marlins in 13 innings.

6. The Rundown — 6/27/14

In many ways, 2014 was the year of Josh Harrison. This was one of those games he took over all by himself.

Standing on second base in the 10th, J-Hay got caught in a pickle when Polanco chopped one back to the mound. Fortunately, Harrison is an absolute beast and evaded one of the most ridiculous rundowns of all time. Unfortunately, he was stranded at third, despite there being no outs at the time. Fortunately, he came up to bat the very next inning and laced a walk-off double. Ho-hum.

If that rundown wasn’t good enough, he did it again a month later.

7. The Comeback vs. D-backs — 7/1/14

Another great pitchers’ duel that wasn’t decided until the ninth. A pair of southpaw starters, Jeff Locke and Wade Miley, both cruised through eight innings.

Trailing 2-0 in the ninth, Neil Walker and Gregory Polanco poked back-to-back singles, chasing Miley from the game. Addison Reed replaced him, and with one out, was welcomed by Starling Marte who crushed a ball off the center field wall. Walker and Polanco both scored to tie the game. Cutch was understandably intentionally walked, but Ike Davis sent us home with a single to score Marte. A quick game, a quick comeback — this put the Bucs at 43-40, which actually tied their high water mark for the season at the time.

8. The Triple Play — 9/14/14

The Pirates almost needed to win-out after being swept in St. Louis to start September. Kicking off their final homestand of 2014, they desperately needed to avoid a series loss vs. Chicago.

Edinson Volquez found himself in a fourth inning jam, losing 3-0 with two men on base. Well, how about a triple play to fix that? Matt Szczur hit a perfectly placed ground ball to Josh Harrison at third, who flipped it to Neil Walker at second, who relayed it onto Andrew Lambo at first for a beautiful 5-4-3 triple play. It was the team’s first triple play since 2009, and first one in Pittsburgh since 1993.

It proved to be a huge turning point in the game as well. The Pirates scored seven runs in the following two frames, holding on for a 7-3 win and starting a five-game winning streak.

9. Russell Martin Brings the House Down — 9/19/14

Entering the final home series of the year, the Pirates were in a good spot — winners of 11 of their previous 13. Meanwhile, the Brewers were in an absolute tailspin — it was time to finish them.

But, for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Bucs looked lost. It seemed like they were once again going to come up short of the elusive five-game winning streak they had been searching for all season. Yovani Gallardo was nearly unhittable through seven, but fortunately Ron Roenicke thought it was a good idea to put Jonathan Broxton in to start the eighth. LOL.

Marte and Walker both singled, and the rally train left the station. Russell Martin stepped to the plate with one out — this was their chance. Broxton was throwing nothing but fastballs, and insisted one putting another right down the pipe on his 1-1 offering.

Martin knew exactly what to do, sitting on the heater and driving it to the opposite field. He planted a fastball in the center field seats just three days earlier, and brought the same approach to his at-bat vs. Broxton. This time, it felt like the ball was never going to come down.

The best way to judge a fly ball when you’re at a game is to watch the outfielders, not the ball. When Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun charged the warning track, the PNC crowd held their breath. But when they both started running out of room, it was clear where the ball was going to land. Not in Gomez’s glove. Not in Braun’s glove. In the seats.

Even though it was a high school football Friday night in western PA, PNC was jam-packed with 37,974 on hand to witness an unbelievable game.

Definitely going to miss Russ in 2015 and beyond, if only for the fire he brought every single night.

russell martin0001

10. Clinched — 9/23/14

For the second year in a row, September 23rd was very kind to the Pirates.

With a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves, they officially clinched a spot in the postseason. It wasn’t an easy ride, which made it that much sweeter.

playoffs 100

tony sanchez

A few honorable mentions: Andrew McCutchen’s inside-the-park home run, Travis Snider striking out Joey Votto, Cutch starting the All-Star Game (and leading off with a single), Russell Martin’s 1,000th hit, Sunday Night Baseball at PNC Park…

Let us know what we missed, and what some of your top Bucco moments were.

Thanks to everyone who made it another awesome year.

Go Bucs

What might a Neil Walker extension look like?

“We would love nothing more than to have Neil Walker end his career as a Pirate.” — Neal Huntington

We hear it all the time: will the Pirates sign Neil Walker to a contract extension? The common answer is “not yet,” as the Pine-Richland product is still under team control for two more seasons. You can let him go through the arbitration process two more times, and still have time to work something out. However, with Walker getting more and more expensive in arbitration, now might be the time to get something done.

Word out of San Diego on day #3 of the Winter Meetings: the Pirates have had “preliminary discussions” about a possible extension for their second baseman.

Forget about the hometown stuff for a second. Take Walker for what he is: a good-hitting second baseman who’s average at best on defense. He consistently hits around .270 with a .340 on-base percentage and flashes of power. In 2014, he became just the 21st second baseman to post 20+ HR/.340+ OBP/130+ wRC+ in a season — a great mix of on-base ability and power. Defensively, he doesn’t have much range, but is pretty sure-handed on the balls he can get to (he made 98.9% of sure plays in ’14). Obviously there are the injury concerns, which is a big factor as creeps closer to his 30’s. There are other discussions to be had — maybe moving him to a corner infield spot as he ages, the progression of infield prospect Alen Hanson, etc. but let’s worry about Walker for right now.

So, what might he be worth? Using FanGraphs’ WAR and their dollar value metric, one win (above replacement) was worth roughly $5.5 million in 2014. This is the going rate on the open market, and I’ve seen this estimated between $5 and 7 million per year. We’ll stick with $5.5 and add 5% for inflation each year. Walker just had his best year to date in his age-28 season — with what we know about aging curves, he’s probably at or near his peak production. Steamer projects Walker to be worth 3.1 WAR in 2015, down from 3.7 in 2014 — we’ll be conservative and go with a 0.5 WAR subtraction in each successive season. Let’s take a look…

Season WAR $/WAR Value
2015 3.2 5.78  $18.48
2016 2.7 6.06  $16.37
2017 2.2 6.37  $14.01
2018 1.7 6.69  $11.36
2019 1.2 7.02  $8.42
2020 0.7 7.37  $5.16

This can be a decent model. I’m sure it fluctuates player-to-player, but using this method, Francisco Liriano‘s worth around $36 million for the next three years (he got $39), Jon Lester‘s worth around $145 million over the next six (he got $155), and Giancarlo Stanton‘s worth about $323 million for the next 13 (he got $325). Those, of course, depend on your future projections for each player and also the approximate dollar value. For our purposes, it’s good enough.

Now, I do not believe the Pirates will be this aggressive with Walker; they will certainly go for a cheaper extension. However, it does prove what he could be worth on the open market in another team’s eyes. It’s also why — if they really want to pursue an extension — they should get it done now. Obviously they have him under control for two more years, but he’ll only be looking at more money (arbitration or otherwise) if he succeeds in 2015.

Using the model above, $60 million over the next four years could certainly be market value for one of the top hitting second baseman. However, for the Pirates, it’s all about the hometown discount.

He’s projected to earn $8.6 million in arbitration. How about something like this?

2015 – $8.5 million

2016 – $9.5 million

2017 – $10.5  million

2018 – $11.5 million

Total: four years, $40 million

The Pirates buy-out his last two arbitration years and first two free agent years, keeping Walker through his age-32 season. Walker takes a hometown discount, and the Pirates could see almost $20 million in surplus value.

This actually might not be totally out of the question — Bill Brink’s initial report associated it with Howie Kendrick‘s four-year, $33.5 million extension in 2012, adding that “A rival executive said a Walker extension could exceed Kendrick’s deal.”

I could see the Pirates going for a discount like this ($40 million), Walker’s camp asking for market value ($60 million), perhaps even a middle ground (4 years, $50 million). It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, but for now, it seems like there’s interest on both sides.

Go Bucs

Pirates’ Winter Meetings News & Rumors: Day 3

Some notes from the third day of baseball’s Winter Meetings…

Yesterday, it was reported that the Pirates were scouring the trade market for potential left-handed relievers. Tonight, they have their guy: Antonio Bastardo. They acquired him from Philadelphia in exchange for LHP prospect Joely Rodriguez.

The Bucs were interested in acquiring Bastardo (and A.J. Burnett) this summer, so obviously they kept tabs on those guys. Bastardo is 29, has one year of team control remaining, and replaces Justin Wilson as your high K rate/high BB rate left-hander in the bullpen.

Season G IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP xFIP
2009 6 23.2 7.2 3.4 22.7% 6.46 5.08 5.05
2010 25 18.2 12.5 4.3 31.9% 4.34 2.76 3.70
2011 64 58.0 10.9 4.0 25.4% 2.64 3.30 3.56
2012 65 52.0 14.0 4.5 27.7% 4.33 3.34 3.18
2013 48 42.2 9.9 4.4 31.4% 2.32 3.00 4.09
2014 67 64.0 11.4 4.8 30.2% 3.94 3.10 3.81

via FanGraphs

They were looking for a reliever — preferably a lefty — who could get hitters out on both sides of the plate. Bastardo’s not a bad choice: career .185/.284/.337 slash line vs. left-handed batters; .211/.308/.336 vs. right-handed batters.

Last three years overall: 3.63 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 11.9 K/9, 4.6 BB/9 … He sits in the low/mid 90’s with his fastball with a sharp slider, which he threw 35% of the time in 2014.

antonio bastardo

Joely Rodriguez, who was named to the Arizona Fall League’s prospect team earlier in the day, goes to Philadelphia. He was added to 40-man roster a year ago to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, but didn’t do a whole lot in Altoona this year.

– Before adding Bastardo, the Pirates almost landed a different bullpen piece: Pat Neshek. We heard about their interest in him yesterday, and he already had several offers lined up today. He was really close to being a Pirate: “I was probably seconds away from signing with Pittsburgh. I told my agent [Barry Meister], ‘Let’s sign with Pittsburgh, let’s get it done.’ We were on the phone and Houston called. We told them we were going to sign, and they raised the offer.” Welp… He gets two years, $12.5 million with an option for 2017; no chance the Bucs would’ve matched that.

– One more bullpen rumor from earlier in the day: they discussed a Brian Matusz-for-Travis Snider trade with the Orioles at one point. I think they were better off in swapping Bastardo for Rodriguez.

According to Bill Brink, the Pirates have had “preliminary discussions” about an extension for Neil Walker. He’s still under team control for two more years, so still plenty of time.

– From last night: Edinson Volquez is looking for a two-year, $20 million deal; he and the White Sox have mutual interest. Even if he gets a little less than that, I think the Pirates are out.

– If you haven’t heard, Jon Lester signed with the Cubs for six years and $155 million. Should be fun facing him until 2020.

– Pirates are unveiling a new alternate jersey this Saturday at PirateFest…

More to come.

Depth Chart & Winter Meetings Primer
Winter Meetings Day 1
Winter Meetings Day 2

Go Bucs