20Nov. Joshua Rogers
With October far behind us, it is a little easier to look back on the season objectively. While the loss to the Cardinals still hurts for some (most), there is less raw emotion behind it. As much as we all wanted to win that game, this season was far more successful and thrilling than any of us could have hoped. Hurdle wins NLMOY, Cutch wins NLMVP, Liriano wins NL Comeback Player of the Year. The success in terms of national exposure and publicity the team enjoyed this season will have far-reaching positive effects that I do not think anyone can grasp at this point. This season served to launch the Pirates into the national spotlight, not announce their dominance. MLB teams have been put on notice. Like McCutchen said, this is only the beginning.
All of that being said, the Pirates must now improve upon this year’s success. After 20 years of misery, it may seem ludicrous to suggest improving on a 94 win season, but it must be done. There are a ton of positives to take away from this team, but it also has some holes. Specifically, the team lacks options at first base and shortstop. The Morneau addition got a lot of stick outside of Pittsburgh, but he was serviceable. His footwork defensively is great and he got some timely hits to keep some important innings going. The Pirates need to make a concerted effort at resigning him, or their options at first will be even more limited than they already are. There are a few other guys available at first this offseason too, so Huntington and Co. need to find the right man for the job. Here are a few realistic options for the Pirates this offseason:
Pena’s career looks like it is just about over. That’s good news for the Pirates, because they have had repeated success with resuscitating failing careers. Pena would be cheap, extremely cheap. He spent a good portion of the 2013 season in Houston before being DFA’d and didn’t produce when signed to a minor league deal by Kansas City in August. No, he won’t hit for average and no he won’t get on base a lot. But he does have a lot of raw power in his bat, and the short left porch at PNC would suit his left-handed bat perfectly. The lineup needs production and Pena could provide that production.
Loney is the long-shot in this group. After leaving LA for Tampa Bay last offseason, he has played himself into a position to get a sizable contract. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, and hit .299 with 75 RBI this year after a hugely disappointing 2012 campaign with the Rays and Red Sox. He
would be another great left-handed bat for a Pirates lineup that, besides Pedro, lacks quality in that department. He won’t “wow” you with power, but he will provide consistent production. Unfortunately, if the Rays do not
resign him, the Rangers appear to be the front-runners for his services. If the Pirates can get him for the right price, I’d expect them to do it. But if the Rays and Rangers are bidding on him, it doesn’t look promising. He
would be a huge addition though and it appears the Pirates are also serious about getting him. This could be a good indicator of the front office’s willingness to go out and compete for player’s that other teams want.
Shortstop is an interesting dilemna. Barmes’ contract is up, and his glove will be sorely missed. Resigning him wouldn’t be popular because of his well-documented struggles at the plate, but it might be the right move if done for the right price. Mercer really grew into his role this season and proved he is a valuable member of the lineup. I think most of us consider him the shortstop of the future and the front office certainly does as well. The problem is, he isn’t quite good enough yet to start everyday. His glove, although improving, is still a liability. If the team decides not to resign Barmes, they need to find a suitable replacement. Possibly even an everyday starter. Here are some options:
Bloomquist is a perfect candidate for the Pirates. Although hurt for most of the Diamondback’s 2013 campaign, he hit .317 in 139 at-bats. Not a great sample size, but good enough. The Diamondbacks are also said to be encouraged by Didi Gregrious’ job filling in this season and will likely move forward with him. His two year, $3.8 million contract actually proved to be too much, meaning the Pirates could probably get him for a modest price. His glove isn’t quite as good as Barmes’, but his bat is good enough where he is worth paying everyday-starter salary for him. He’s not the only option, but he is arguably the best. He is also incredibly versatile, and can be deployed at just about every position on the field short of pitcher or catcher.
Peralta’s offensive numbers are clearly the best in the shortstop free-agent pool. That could also be because he took PEDs, but hey, he served his suspension and could undoubtedly provide much needed production at SS. Unfortunately, Buster Olney also said his sources expressed Peralta is looking for a deal larger than 3 years/ $45 million. Even if the front office had that kind of money to spend on free agent’s, Peralta isn’t worth that. He is good, but not great. That money would be much better spent extending Pedro’s contract, and the Pirates already have Mercer. Peralta is an extreme long shot, but never say never.
Drew is a real possibility. The Red Sox made a qualifying offer, but he said he is going to test the waters. His bat isn’t great, but it’s sufficient, and his glove is great. He is also an exciting name and would bring World Series experience to a relatively young lineup. The Red Sox front office has expressed interest in bringing him back, but he wants more than a one-year deal and the Sox have their superstar-in-the-making Boegarts waiting in the wings. The Pirates should take a stab at Drew, if they can get him for the right price.
Marlon Byrd also recently signed with the Phillies, but the Pirates should be set in the outfield. McCutchen and Marte are set as obvious everyday starters in left center and left. The front office and Hurdle have both shown that they still have faith in Tabata to be serviceable everyday starter, and Jones can still surprise with home runs now and then. If they can fill needs at shortstop and first base, the Pirates can probably make another trade for a right fielder with pop in his bat before the deadline next season if they are still competitive at that point (like we all expect them to be).
Note: This group does not include pitchers. Stay tuned for a post dedicated solely to the pitching staff.