The 2014 Major League Baseball season is in the books. Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on winning it all last night. Their postseason run began right here in Pittsburgh… It started and ended with dominant performances by Madison Bumgarner, who deservedly took home the World Series MVP award.
Now, the clock is ticking on 2015; the time to start building next year’s team is right now. The Pirates have made some minor moves already. Major League free agency begins on Tuesday… a huge offseason for the Bucs awaits.
Here are a few storylines.
– Free Agent: Russell Martin
Labeled as the “Lamborghini of the catching market” by Buster Olney, Russell Martin will be in demand this winter. We’ve written about the Russ situation many times, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it at some point since the season ended.
The Pirates plan on extending him a qualifying offer by Monday’s 5:00 pm deadline, which is a no-brainer. He’ll (likely) decline it and look for a multi-year on the open market, but it could give the Pirates some negotiation leverage and would bring them a draft pick if Martin goes on to sign with another team.
– Neal Huntington on attempting to re-sign Martin, 9/21: “We’re going to stretch. We are going to go way beyond our comfort level and hope it’s enough… We do recognize that this man and this player has been really good this year and projects to be pretty good going forward.”
– Bob Nutting on 10/1: “Russ Martin has been a priority for the organization. As we’ve made priorities, we’ve found opportunities to stretch. He’s an example of a player we’re going to need to do what we can. We’re going to need to stretch. We’re probably going to go beyond what a rational deal is. He’s a player who we love and respect and we hope he’s back.”
Will the front office really pony up the cash to retain Martin? The reality is that there might be a scenario where a team like Los Angeles offers an absurd amount of cash and years that the Pirates just can’t commit to. But if fair market value is on the table for Martin, this is one of the Bucs’ biggest opportunities to prove their commitment.
Pirate players saw Russ as the heartbeat of the team. Can they function without their heart?
– Life after Russ?
There will be a number of teams competing for Martin’s services this winter. If he lands elsewhere, having to replace #55 will be one of the most difficult things Huntington and staff will ever have to do in office.
They could roll with a tandem of Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez… something I do not want to see unfold. Stewart was good in the backup role last year, but that’s exactly what he is — a good backup. His .294 batting average (.364 on balls in play) and .362 on-base percentage will surely regress over a larger sample size (only had 136 AB in 2014). When he caught the bulk of Yankee games in 2013 (replacing Martin as their starter), he hit .211/.293/.272 with a wRC+ of 57. While he’s a very smart and well-read man, “power” is not in Stewart’s vocabulary. He had five extra-base hits last year; all doubles, twice having a multi-double game (when it rains it pours). Is Stewart’s sharp defense enough to justify him as a starting MLB catcher?
Sanchez, who will turn 27 next May, is getting awfully close to the point where he isn’t a prospect anymore (is he already there?). His offensive production fell at AAA in 2013, as did his defense (just 13% caught stealing rate). “The Sanchize” eventually started taking reps at first base when the apparently immaculate Elias Diaz was promoted to Indy. Sanchez hated the new position.
Speaking of Diaz, he gets more publicity than the president these days. He had a breakout year with the bat at Altoona, and those who have seen him in the Arizona Fall League are raving about his defensive abilities. However, he’s only played 10 games at Indianapolis. The front office is incredibly stingy with prospect promotion. If Neal Huntington hated calling up an uber-prospect like Gregory Polanco after 274 AAA at-bats, is it realistic to expect Diaz in Pittsburgh after such little time in Indy?
Turning to the free agent market is not even an option. The catchers not named Russell Martin are terrible; Chris Stewart would be a better option.
They could try to trade for a catcher. Preferably a young one, but that would require losing your own young assets and would potentially block Diaz (if they really are that high on him) and possibly Reese McGuire.
– Free Agents: Francisco Liriano & Edinson Volquez
Martin is the main talking point, but the Pirates have a couple other key free agents — Liriano and Volquez.
That leaves two pretty big holes in the rotation; I’m not sure either will be back. I’d prefer Liriano over Volquez, but Volquez will be cheaper/fewer years. MLB Trade Rumors predicts two-years, $18 million for Volquez. FanGraphs crowd-sourcing has 2-16 for Volquez and 3-36 for Liriano.
– Filling out the rotation
As of now, the Pirates have Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley, and Jeff Locke in the starting five. Charlie Morton had hip surgery at the end of September; the timetable for return was set at 6-8 months, meaning he could potentially miss the start of 2015. If he’s good to go, the Pirates will still need one more. If not, they could possibly add two. Keep in mind, Jameson Taillon and/or Nick Kingham could be called up at some point next summer.
– Arbitration cases
The Pirates have lots of arbitration cases lined up this winter. Here are the players and what they are projected to earn, via MLB Trade Rumors:
Neil Walker: $8.6 million
Mark Melancon: $7.6 million
Pedro Alvarez: $5.5 million
Ike Davis: $4.4 million
Vance Worley: $2.9 million
Gaby Sanchez: $2.7 million
Josh Harrison: $2.2 million
Tony Watson: $2 million
Travis Snider: $2 million
Chris Stewart: $1.3 million
Jared Hughes: $1.1 million
John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez were also eligible for arbitration, but the Pirates already designated them for assignment. Of the remaining list, Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez are the two likeliest candidates to be non-tendered…
– What’s going on at first base?
…which leaves the Pirates with more uncertainty at 1B. It’s a question mark every offseason, or so it seems.
The Bucs have another dilemma this winter. The combination of Josh Harrison’s All-Star season and Pedro Alvarez’s inability to accurately throw a ball across the diamond puts J-Hay at 3B next year. Pedro saw some time at 1B before injuring himself in August. Keep him there full-time? Try to trade him (he has no value)? Trade Ike? What do you do with Gaby? This will be interesting.
– Filling out the bench
Backup catcher: Depends on the Martin situation.
Backup/platoon 1B: Gaby again?
Backup infield: Bring back Barmes? Justin Sellers? Look for another minor signing or two.
Backup infield or outfield: Light hitting infielder or fifth outfielder (Jose Tabata)?
Backup outfield: Snider. Looks like the only certainty.
– New bench coach
Jeff Banister took the Texas Rangers’ managerial job, so the Pirates will have to fill his old role. Could happen soon.
Let us know what else you’re watching for and what you want to see the Pirates do this winter.
Top photo: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette