Editorial: Breathe, Pittsburgh Pirates fans.
It’s been a somewhat overwhelming stretch of a quarter-year for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Between the Buccos missing the playoffs and finishing third in their division, to the Chicago Cubs stealing the World Series in seven games from Cleveland, the club has had a lot of thinking to do.
So when the Winter Meetings kicked off in December and Neal Huntington and his crew began to assess the roster and what potential moves they could kick the tires on, national media seemed to assume that star CF Andrew McCutchen could have moved that week.
Huntington told reporters during the Winter Meetings that “Our intent coming in here was to have Andrew McCutchen in our lineup going forward. No one changed that… It’s unlikely someone changes that going forward. We’re certainly not going to close the door, but we’re not going to be making calls.”
Translation: McCutchen is not unmovable. We will move him for the right price. The right price is a very high price. We won’t actively shop him.
What’s Left of Cutch?
I don’t understand all of the takes regarding McCutchen as “washed” or “done”. The guy had one bad season. What I do understand is why the Pirates would or would not shop him, regardless if they are “actively” doing so or not.
McCutchen is due quite a chunk of change in 2017, the final year before the Pirates can choose to exercise or decline his team option. Cutch will make around $14.2 million after bonuses in 2017, and his 2018 club option is for $14.5 million.
We know the Pirates finished third in the NL Central behind the Cubs and Cardinals and the team finished under .500 for the first time since 2012. With that said, it’s easy to spark up pipe dreams of who Pittsburgh “should” go after in free agency. In a perfect world, the Pirates would have signed closer Aroldis Chapman, slugger Edwin Encarnacion, and brought back closer Mark Melancon.
The Stove Remains Hot
Another blazing rumor is the idea of Jose Quintana making his way to the Steel City in 2017. The asking price on the 27-year old southpaw is relatively high, as the White Sox are seeking a crop of prospects to add their already-growing farm system. Quintana had a career year in 2016, winning 13 games and finishing with a 3.20 ERA in a career-high 208.0 IP. Quintana’s walk rate has always been above average, which makes him coveted as a left-handed pitcher. He holds a career 3.20 K/BB and he clipped at 3.62 K/BB last season.
But the Pirates didn’t add the A-list free agent, and Quintana is still in Chicago. So what exactly did the front office do this offseason?
ADDITIONS: Daniel Hudson, Ivan Nova.
SUBTRACTIONS: Neftali Feliz*, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Vogelsong.
(*Feliz remains a free agent as of January 15)
The Pirates didn’t make the “splash” signing like fans would have liked them too. They also didn’t lose much, when you really think about it. Matt Joyce was a 1.3 WAR platoon player at best and Vogelsong went 3-7 with a 4.81 ERA in 14 starts. Rodriguez, though versatile with above-average fielding metrics and did reach career-highs in virtually every offensive category, was only a 1.9 WAR player.
What Did the Pirates Get?
We already have a small sample size of what Ivan Nova brings to the table to this organization. He went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts with the club following his trade from the Yankees. We have seen pitching coach Ray Searage work his magic with “washed” or “done” arms in the past (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke), and his magic seemed to rub off in the slightest on Nova in 2016. Keeping Nova in Pittsburgh was a good move for both parties, despite Steamer projections showing Nova with a 10-10 record and 3.95 ERA in 2016. With Searage on his side, those projections should prove to be skewed.
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Let’s get to know Daniel Hudson a bit. He was a 5th round selection of the White Sox back in 2008 and he is a pitch-to-contact guy, but he also has swing-and-miss stuff. Neal Huntington loved what Hudson brought to the table because of his 3.81 FIP and a K/BB ratio slightly below 9.0. His fastball hits the mid-90s and utilizes a slider and changeup. Hudson is a former Tommy John Surgery patient, as well. It will be interesting to see where Pittsburgh plans on using him, as early notions suggest he could compete for the closer’s job, which is assumed to be Tony Watson’s to lose, but Hudson figures to slide into the rotation along with Cole, Nova, Taillon, Glasnow, and Kuhl.
Did the Pirates do enough to surpass Chicago and St. Louis? In addition to Hudson and regaining Nova, let’s keep in mind that top prospects Josh Bell and Austin Meadows figure to work in sooner, rather than later, as well. With Andrew McCutchen’s contract expiring after one guaranteed season, is it time for the Pirates to think ahead? Or will they choose to do what’s possible to resign McCutchen following his expiring deal?
There is a lot swirling around the Pirates organization right now as far as rumors go, but remember that’s all they are… rumors. Did Pittsburgh out-do Chicago and St. Louis on paper in the offseason? (Remember- the winner of the Winter Meetings doesn’t always win the World Series. Here’s looking at you, 2012 Marlins and 2015 Padres.) We will examine those two clubs and their moves later, but keep in mind the Pirates did go 4-14 versus Chicago and 9-10 versus St. Louis. Versus Cincinnati and Milwaukee combined, the Pirates boasted a record of 20-18. The latter teams figure to be, for a lack of a better term, cellar dwellers, again in 2017, but Pittsburgh has to improve records versus those two, as well.
Did the Pirates make enough moves? Maybe. Maybe not. But only time and actual game action will tell. For now, Pirates fans need to cool it with the burning “Trade Cutch” Twitter takes and trust the idea that 2016 was just not his year.