Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason: Payroll Flexibility
The Pirates current payroll, using these projections, is short about $27 million to reach that $10 million increase in opening day payrolls. Expecting them to spend on the lower side is much more reasonable, and they’ll likely spend $23-$29 million this winter. With the four major spots, one starter, two relievers, a backup shortstop, the team should easily fill those holes. They could even tune up more flexibility by trading Jaso away for another utility player in Alen Hanson. They could trade away Josh Harrison, but that leaves second base open. They could even move Tony Watson, a relief pitcher who has been used heavily over the past few seasons to open up a bit more payroll.
Regardless if they make any trades are not, they are still going to be able to sign pieces that fit. With Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham waiting, the typical cheap veteran starter will almost be a forgone conclusion to fill out the number five-spot. Ryan Vogelsong could potentially be that guy, or even a Colby Lewis or Edinson Volquez. All three pitchers are far from ideal, but the cheap option would make sense if they can build a super bullpen.
Two spots in the bullpen and a considerable amount of money could allow Neal Huntington to sign solid bullpen arms instead of questionable, high upside ones. Mark Melancon will certainly garner interest from many teams, and Pirates fans, it may not be that far-fetched, but still unlikely. Former friend Joe Blanton would fit in perfectly, even if the team signed Melancon, which once again, don’t bet on it. Despite having a FIP that is 0.72 higher than his ERA in his career, Joe Smith seems to be the ideal Pirate ground ball reliever. They’ll have money to play with for the pen.
The backup shortstop should not be too hard to find. They’ll have the funds to bring back Sean Rodriguez, which would allow for more flexibility. After struggling heavily in 2014 and 2015, in which his BAbip was extremely low at .194 and .201, left handed hitting Stephen Drew is having a nice year. He is making $3 million this year, so a slight raise is likely in order. With his ability to play short and second fairly well, he has the potential to be the teams signing.
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If the Pirates really wanted to, however, Yunel Escobar could hit free agency. The Angels have a 7 million dollar team option for him in 2017 with a 1 million dollar buy out. Esobar has hit .309/.365/.403 with a 114 wRC+, but he has had a .343 BAbip those two years. In the previous three years, Escobar hit .256/.318/.350 with a wRC+ of 88, as he had a much lower BAbip of .279. If the Pirates buy the bat, he would be an improve over Mercer both offensively and defensively. The one downside, would worse relievers, meaning more high upside arms than established, but the lineup and bench would be stronger.
For this offseason, look for a starter, two relievers, and a bench bat. They’ll likely spend mid-20 million dollar range. I expect the payroll to be about $100 million based on past increases.
*Numbers from fangraphs and salary from baseball-reference