Topic: 2017 Pirates...
Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates
By Charlie Wilmoth | March 1, 2017 at 4:52pm CDT
This is the first entry in MLBTR’s annual Offseason In Review series. We’ll be reviewing the other 29 clubs over the next several weeks as the season approaches.
The Pirates were at the center of multiple potential blockbuster trade rumors this winter, but none of the rumored deals came to fruition. Now, Pittsburgh looks poised to enter the 2017 with a familiar core while several young talents hope to cement themselves as big league contributors.
Major League Signings
RHP Ivan Nova: three years, $26MM (re-signed)
RHP Daniel Hudson: two years, $11MM
RHP Lisalverto Bonilla: Major League contract (later lost on waivers to Reds)
Notable Minor League Signings
Eury Perez, Jason Stoffel, Josh Lindblom, Casey Sadler (re-signed), Angel Sanchez (re-signed)
Trades And Claims
Acquired IF Phil Gosselin from Diamondbacks for RHP Frank Duncan
Acquired RHP Pat Light from Twins for PTBNL or cash
Selected LHP Tyler Webb from Yankees in Rule 5 Draft
LHP Wade LeBlanc: one year, $750K, plus $1.25MM 2018 option or $50K buyout
Neftali Feliz, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong
Despite being connected to trade talks involving star lefty Jose Quintana throughout the winter, the Pirates’ offseason was generally a conservative one, designed to retain and augment the team’s top assets rather than adding more top assets to join them. That’s not to say, though, that their winter failed to prepare them for the upcoming season. The Bucs will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to compete with the Cubs again this year — that would be a tough assignment for any team, really. Still, there’s reason to think they can improve on their 78-win 2016 total, perhaps dramatically so if things go right.
The Bucs’ 2016 season was full of disappointments, particularly in their rotation. Ace Gerrit Cole couldn’t stay healthy and failed to build on his outstanding 2015. Francisco Liriano was a disaster, and he ended up heading to Toronto in a dubious August trade. Jon Niese, acquired prior to the season for a quality second baseman in Neil Walker, was a mess, posting a 4.91 ERA in Pittsburgh before heading back to New York. And Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong, perhaps somewhat predictably, failed to pick up the slack. The Bucs’ rotation, formerly one of the team’s strengths, finished fifth-worst in the NL with a 4.67 ERA.
The disappointments extended to the lineup, where the Pirates got less than they were probably hoping for from Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison and John Jaso. By far the Bucs’ biggest disappointment, though, was Andrew McCutchen. The former MVP batted a mere .256/.336/.430 and looked markedly slower than he had in the past. His declining speed was a factor in his horrific -18.7 UZR and -28 DRS, with both statistics marking him as easily the worst regular center fielder in the game.
There’s reason to think the Pirates can avoid some of 2016’s troubles, even though they made few big on-paper moves. In the rotation, they re-signed Ivan Nova, who pitched better than he ever had after heading their way at the 2016 trade deadline. (More on Nova below.) They can also hope for a full, healthy season from Cole, and they should continue to receive help from a burgeoning group of young pitchers that includes Jameson Taillon (who had a strong rookie season in 2016), Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and, if he can improve his control, top prospect Tyler Glasnow.
Andrew McCutchenThis offseason, the Pirates first attempted to address the McCutchen issue by trading him. The superstar has only one guaranteed year left on his contract, plus a team option for 2018, and with top prospect Austin Meadows on the way and Starling Marte looking like a far better defensive center fielder than McCutchen, McCutchen seemed like an increasingly strained fit in Pittsburgh. The Bucs were repeatedly connected to the Nationals as a potential trade partner, with the Nats reportedly offering pitchers Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning, plus another player. Those plans were scuttled when the Nationals traded Giolito, Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez for Adam Eaton instead. It then appeared the Pirates would keep McCutchen, and though there were whispers about other teams (including the Mets and Blue Jays) having interest, the Bucs never seemed all that likely to trade him once their talks with the Nationals fell through.
So the Pirates will keep McCutchen, at least for now, and they’ll head into 2017 with a new plan for how to use him. While McCutchen’s 2016 season was disappointing, he did end it well, batting .284/.381/.471 over the season’s final two months. It remains to be seen whether he can retain that pace going forward, of course. But the Pirates also addressed his defensive struggles by changing their outfield alignment — the very capable Marte will man center field going forward, with Gregory Polanco in left and McCutchen in right. McCutchen has a weak arm, suggesting that right field is an odd fit, but right field in PNC Park is small. Also, McCutchen is better at going to his right than to his left, suggesting that he could fare decently in right by staying relatively near the foul line.
The Bucs also addressed their bullpen, which had been depleted by the losses of Mark Melancon at last year’s trade deadline and Neftali Feliz to free agency, by signing Daniel Hudson to a two-year deal. Hudson produced a 5.22 ERA with the Diamondbacks last season, but his peripherals were somewhat more promising than that, and his fastball averaged 96 MPH in his second full year back from his second Tommy John surgery. He shares his good velocity, extensive injury history and modest recent performance record with pre-2016 Feliz, who had a successful comeback season with the Pirates last year.