The Pittsburgh Pirates have been significantly less aggressive this off-season compared to last off-season. But why has that been the case thus far?
It’s been a frustrating off-season to be a Pittsburgh Pirates’ fan, especially considering they were fairly aggressive in acquiring players last off-season. By New Years 2023, the Pirates had already signed Carlos Santana, Vince Velasquez, and Austin Hedges, traded for Ji-Man Choi, Connor Joe, and Dauri Moreta, and drafted Jose Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft. They would then go on to add Rich Hill and Andrew McCutchen via free agency after the start of January.
Overall, the Pirates had upped their off-season spending from just $16.025 million the previous winter to over $34 million the next off-season. But so far this off-season, the Pirates have only acquired two noteworthy players, that being Marco Gonzales and Rowdy Tellez. Gonzales is due to make $12.25 million next year, but the Atlanta Braves are paying some of the cost. Tellez signed a one-year deal at $3.2 million with the potential to make $4 million in total through incentives. Ali Sanchez also signed a Major League deal, but the finances of that contract are unknown.
But why has this off-season felt so much different than last off-season? Why has this off-season been so much slower, and why do the Pirates seem 10x more passive than they were last off-season? There has to be a good reason, other than Nutting cheap.
Nutting has put out significantly more money in the past. Just look at last year. The Pirates committed nearly $35 million to the additions of McCutchen ($5 million), Hedges ($5 million), Hill ($8 million), Joe ($735K), Choi ($4.65 million), Santana ($6.75 million), Velasquez ($3.15 million), and Hernandez ($720K). Sure, I never expected the Pirates to all of a sudden go out and spend like the Dodgers, but it certainly wasn't unreasonable to expect the Pirates to spend the same, if not maybe 10-15% more.
But why is this? Why did the Pirates go from $34+ million of new additions and acquiring seven Major Leaguers prior to January 1st, to now maybe three or four Major Leaguers and significantly less in money spent? Part of it may have been because of the TV deal. The Pirates didn’t finalize their TV deal until just recently. The other thing is slightly more in arbitration. Last year, the Pirates paid out about $9 million to players in arbitration. As of right now, they are projected to hand out about $16 million in arbitration. The off-season for free agents as a whole has been mostly slow as well, compared to last off-season. I am not saying these are good reasons, but potential reasons nonetheless.
But this doesn’t excuse the Pirates from at least being more active on the trade market. If Ben Cherington must work in a budget constraint, then there are potential trades he can make with his current farm system. They don’t have to trade Paul Skenes, Termarr Johnson, Anthony Solometo, Jared Jones, Bubba Chandler, or Thomas Harrington to improve the roster. Guys like Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, Hunter Barco, Mike Burrows, Jack Brannigan, Mitch Jebb, Michael Kennedy, Yordany De Los Santos, or Tony Blanco Jr. would definitely attract some suitors if the Pirates dangled them in trade.
For what it’s worth, if the Pirates sign Andrew McCutchen at the start of next week, which Jason Mackey predicts will happen based on current talks, it will mean that they will have signed two noteworthy Major League contracts in the same week as the TV deal was finalized. Maybe that’s a sign of better things to come for the rest of the off-season and the Pirates will finally start doing more things, but only time will tell.
I don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of this off-season. I don’t have a Deloran with a flux capacitor to travel to March 2024 and share with everyone what the Pirates did the rest of the off-season. But with the TV deal done and in the past, they don’t have any good reason not to at least pursue guys on the trade market.