Pittsburgh Pirates Shopping for First Baseman, Starting Pitcher


The Pittsburgh Pirates have some work to do on their 2016 roster. During the Winter Meetings, that focus is on first base and their starting rotation.

Just about anyone who follows baseball knows that the offseason shopping spree has begun; the news of David Price signing with the Red Sox and Zack Greinke signing with the Diamondbacks have been repeatedly tossed and turned through various analysis desks.

Although free agency technically begins a few days after the World Series concludes, the Winter Meetings in Nashville usually are responsible for getting the hot stove warmed up. Everyone in the industry – from players to catering staff – come to the meetings in Music City looking to find a franchise to fit in with and the Pirates are no different.

Looking to build off a very successful 2015 campaign, the Pittsburgh Pirates and General Manager Neal Huntingon have made it clear what aisles they will be shopping in this winter.

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The Pirates will be looking for a first baseman after finally pulling the band aid off their relationship with Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez was such a highly touted prospect that may have been rushed to the big leagues but in the end, his glove just made him too much of a liability for a true National League pennant contender.

Alvarez will be fine if he signs with an American League team to play DH, because he was quite literally one of the worst defensive position players in the league. He lead the league in errors from 2012-14 and cost the Pirates 25 runs in the field in 2015, according to Baseball-Reference.com, which is good for 5th worst in the National League. I don’t know if his 0.8 wins above replacement over the past two years says more about his heavily offensive-minded game or his putrid defense.

For the nearly $6 million he was being paid (heck, probably even cheaper than that), the Pirates can find someone who doesn’t have to be replaced late in close games but is still a power threat.

Some of the names that have been linked to the Pirates thus far are Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli. While I think Chris Davis would be the ideal choice for any team needing a power-hitting first baseman, Moreland and Napoli would be fantastic acquisitions.

Mitch Moreland probably wont bat .278 again, especially after leaving Texas, but his power is undeniable. A season of .250 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI would be well worth a few million. In fact, relative to Pedro Alvarez‘s salary and his 0.1 WAR last season, Mitch Moreland would be worth over $126 million next year although something tells me that deal wont get done.

Mike Napoli is a guy who people may think was a beneficiary of the friendly confines in Texas and Boston for the past 6 years but he has been a consistent hitter since coming up with the Angels in 2006. He can be counted on for 20 home runs, 80 RBI and the dirtiest helmet in the dugout year in and year out. The most overlooked aspect of Napoli’s game? He saved 24 runs in the field in 2015 (Alvarez COST the Pirates 25 runs!!). Acquiring one of these three names would be the best case scenario for the Pirates this offseason.

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Moving on with the shopping list, the Pirates need to refill their rotation after AJ Burnett retired and J.A. Happ signed with the Blue Jays. Currently, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are the only starters under contract and with Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke likely to secure new contracts, there is at least one spot open in the rotation.

Scott Kazmir is clearly the most lucrative name in a shallow pool of starting pitching talent and the Pirates have made their interest public, but will the contracts of Price and Greinke drive the price of pitching up to a point the Pirates pass on?

Kazmir may have never lived up to the potential that once surrounded him but he has turned himself into a serviceable major league pitcher. However, with the way pitchers are getting paid, I don’t think it’s necessary for the Pirates to break the bank for a guy like Kazmir. He no longer has the stuff that carried him to the league lead in strikeouts back in 2007. In fact, his strikeout numbers have declined every season from 2007 up until he got injured in 2011. He came back strong in 2013 and had an All Star season in 2014 but his strikeout numbers declined in ’14 and again in 2015.

Kazmir has become a contact pitcher who has always been vulnerable to walks and home runs. A soft tossing lefty in a division with guys like Kris Bryant, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier is just asking for the trouble – at least at the price the Pirates would have to pay.

There are some guys who could slot into that 3rd or 4th spot in the rotation for cheaper than Kazmir and aside from being a lefty (in some cases), would bring more to the pitching staff than he would. Some names I’ve heard are Mike Leake, Doug Fister, Ian Kennedy and Justin Masterson – any of whom would be an upgrade to the back of the rotation from last season.

Leake doesn’t have any quality that stands out but he gets the job done. After spending six years pitching in Cincinnati and maintaining a sub-4 ERA with average home run numbers and 10 wins a year, it is reasonable to think he may be slightly better than his stats. He pitched great in his first two games with the Giants and then was terrible – which could earn the Pirates a discount – but 10-12 wins and a sub-4 ERA from your 4th or 5th starter is  something every team would take.

Fister had an extremely underwhelming season after finishing 8th in Cy Young voting for 2014, so much so that he was moved to the bullpen. I’d guess the market for Fister will be very low but his potential returns are still very high. He posted the highest ERA of his career and struggled with command so it’s easy to see why regression to the mean – a good thing in this scenario – can be expected and for a small contract, he could be the steal of the offseason.

Kennedy will probably cost the most out of this group and he has earned that but I would avoid signing Kennedy if I were the Pirates. While his strikeout numbers were slightly up, so were his ERA, walks, home runs and hits per nine innings. While I expect him to have a solid season next year, it is hard to ignore decline in all of those areas. For the Pirates, Kennedy isn’t worth the money as a potential 4th starter.

Masterson is a very, very interesting target that I have to credit Jon Heyman for bringing to my attention:

Masterson was an All Star in 2013, his third consecutive solid season for Cleveland but for the last two seasons, he has been fighting injuries constantly. Due to his inability to stay on the field, he will probably be cheaper than he should be. To the contrary, we don’t know if he will ever regain the stuff that allowed him to throw three complete game shutouts that season; he completely lost his command and was allowing hits and home runs at the highest rate of his career.

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While there are many other options out there, only some of there are both economically and strategically viable for the Pirates. We may see the Pirates end up with somebody I left out but in my opinion, signing Mike Napoli and Doug Fister would be cheap signings that help the team more than you’d expect.