Author Topic: Pirate Off-season and 2018 preview  (Read 146 times)

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  • Larry Waters
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Pirate Off-season and 2018 preview
« on: 2 Apr 2018 11:32:13 AM »
Pirates Off-season review and 2018 preview

The 2017 season was another successful campaign in Pittsburgh. After being chum for most of our existence in DMBO, the Pirates have reeled off three successive playoff appearances; winning 280 regular season games since 2015. In the NL, only Washington can claim more wins over the same time frame.

The planning for 2018 began in July when we shipped our bulkhead Corey Kluber to the Dodgers. Corey was headed to free agency at seasonís end. The decision was made to move him for the best available offer. Additionally, we allowed Justin Verlander and his $27mil AAV salary (through 2019) to pass on waivers.  We hit the jackpot when even after trading our two best pitchers, we still qualified for the NL wildcard game; which we lost. Maybe we win that game with Kluber; but who knows.

The first order of business of the off-season was to fulfill our promise to the Mets when we acquired the aforementioned Justin Verlander. We promised the Mets our 2nd round 2019 pick in that deal. This caused such a stink we were forced to re-work the deal. After the firestorm was extinguished, we (the Mets and Pirates) made exactly the same deal we originally agreed to in January of 2017.

At the start of this off-season we had but one middle infielder on the roster and our best SP were a couple of #3/#4 guys at best. When the Royals made Rougned Odor available, we decided to take a chance. Considering the dreadful actual season Odor had in 2017, the major surprise is he was permitted to play in all 162 games for Texas.  We dealt away Travis Blankenship and a 3rd pick to acquire Odor. Rougned is two years older than Blankenship. Two years ago Odor had a .780 OPS in 470AB for Texas. Travis, at the same age as Odor was in 2015, also had a .780OPS - in Low A ball. Could Odor continue his decline? Absolutely. He could wash out and be a bust. Blankenship might turn into Jeff Kent or Ryne Sandberg. We know that. The Pirates had a hole at 2B now; Odor fills that hole. Lance could not do that for us in 2018.

The other trade to shore up the middle infield was to acquire Cesar Hernandez from the Marlins in exchange for Keona Kela. Ironically, Cesar & Kela were both winter draft selections. Over two seasons, Kela saved 49 games and was the DMBO NL Rookie of the year in 2016. Because we have other capable RP on the roster, Cesar was more valuable to us for  2018.

Next we turned our attention to the starting rotation. Kluber & Verlander needed to be replaced. The Giants let it be known Carlos Martinez could be had. Because we could LTC Martinez, we were very interested. The Giants accepted Trey Mancini + Twins AA pitching prospect Zack Littell for Martinez. We love Manciniís offensive future, but longterm we thought his best position might be DH. Yes trading Mancini opened a hole in 1B or LF, but we felt acquiring a SP of Martinezís caliber (and youth) for five years at $16mil per was worth it.

Then began Tier 1. The last Tier 1 signing the Pirates made was for Nick Johnson in 2008. This year we actually had enough free cash to participate. Looking at our potential financial obligations for 2020, 2021 & 2022, we realized LTC deals for Buxton and Conforto were certainly possible. Therefore we needed to minimize financial obligations beyond 2019. We could offer large AAV contracts but for two years max. This realization is when Rich Hill became a prime target. Hillís advanced age made it seem we could get him for a large AAV for two years. The hope was nobody would go big and also offer 3+ years for a 38 year old. Thatís how it happened when Hill was signed for $35 mil for two seasons.


About a week later we were flabbergasted when Ryan Braun agreed to a two year offer at $17mil AAV. We fully expected Braun to receive a 3 or 4 year offer that would top ours Ė it didnít happen. Braun replaces Mancini as our LF guy.

With Carlos Martinez, Cesar Hernandez, Odor, Hill & Braun on board all our primary spots were occupied. Tier 2 was about filling secondary roles and shoring up the bullpen.

Geovanny Soto is now the #2 catcher. Brandon Guyer is the #4 outfielder while Adam Lind & Yasmany Tomas give us power bats off the bench and fill our DH slot in the handful of games we need one. Sean Rodriguez had such a dynamite year for us in 2017, we decided to bring him back as a play-anywhere utility guy. The bullpen was fortified with Wade Leblanc, Blake Parker, Jacob Barnes and Fernando Salas.

Offensively this roster has the potential to be the best run-producing team in our tenure.  In 2017 we were 4th in the NL in runs, but fewer than 20 runs behind the #2 run scoring team. In 2018 we could be better than 4th place. The 2018 lineup returns Lucroy at catcher, Wil Myers & Mike Moustakis will again man the corner infield spots. Up the middle besides Cesar Hernandez and Odor, Tim Beckham is a holdover from 2017 acquired when Brandon Crawford was traded in July. Our OF boasts newcomer Braun in left; Byron Buxton returns to CF next to Michael Conforto who moves to RF.

In 2017 Pittsburgh led the NL in run prevention. Will we again lead the NL in fewest runs allowed? Likely we wonít be #1, but the rotation of Carlos Martinez, Rich Hill, Brandon Woodruff, Andrew Triggs and Jamie Garcia figures to be good enough considering the strength of the bullpen plus what the bats should produce.

The outlook for 2018 is bright & shiny. The primary and overwhelming challenge continues to be the quality of the competition in the NL Central. Since 2009 Milwaukee was won fewer than 88 games only once. The Cubs with Joey Votto, Justin Verlander, Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, Andrelton Simmons and Jackie Bradley Jr are re-tooled and ready to challenge. St. Louis has an outstanding rotation along with Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich & Buster Posey. Cincinnati is good enough to win 85 games and finish last.

It would be fabulous if the Pirates were able to win their first NL Central division crown. But considering the competition, that canít be guaranteed. Another 90+ win season is not unrealistic.  The division title will go to whichever club can push the win total to 95 to 98. It will be fun.
Larry Waters
Assistant General Manager, Pittsburgh Pirates


Avoiding disasters with occasional brilliance