Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thoughts on Pirates' free agents

The Pirates don't have many notable free agents heading into the 2015 offseason. Even the minor league free agent crop isn't very exciting. However, this almost makes things easier for the Pirates, as there's not a huge risk of losing anyone really essential to the club's present and the future. The focus this offseason will be on free agents from outside the organization. This is a breakdown of the guys they have departing, and whether they might be brought back or not.

courtesy of goerie.com

courtesy of wtop.com

First, I'll start with the two players that are retiring. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has already formally announced his retirement, as was intended when he was traded to the Pirates at the end of July for minor league pitcher Yhonathan Barrios. Starter AJ Burnett has yet to make such an announcement, and it could be because he could return to the Pirates in the future, a la Roger Clemens. He wouldn't be much of a risk to sign anywhere else if he does choose to return, so we'll safely assume he will retire.

courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A third player who could choose to retire is Corey Hart. The 33 year old first baseman only had 54 at bats for the Pirates in 2015 before going on the disabled list and did not return to the active roster even in September, as the Pirates went as far as to send him home. That creates a safe assumption his one year, $5 million deal will not be re-upped, and as Hart hasn't really had a successful season since 2012, he may not gauge any interest on the open market. A minor league deal somewhere for Hart wouldn't surprise me. However, it will not be with the Pirates.

courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The most notable Pirate free agent is lefty J.A. Happ. Happ, also 33, had possibly the best two months of his career in August and September with the Pirates, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA. This can most likely be chalked up to yet another Ray Searage revival, and it could be the one big chance Happ has at a big contract. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicts Happ will get a 3 year, $30 million contract, which isn't very far off from what the Pirates gave Francisco Liriano last offseason at 3 years and $39 million. If the Pirates do believe that Happ's numbers were more than just a fluke and sustainable in future years (as was the case with Edinson Volquez when he went to Kansas City in 2015, pitching two games in the World Series) then a contract such as this would be smart for the Bucs to give out. One might say that the Pirates pitching depth may make a longer commitment to Happ unreasonable, especially considering his age and past struggles, there's really nobody solidified in the 2016 rotation outside of Gerrit Cole and Liriano. An ideal scenario would have one of Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton out of the rotation, and none of the prospects or normal filler guys like Brandon Cumpton or Casey Sadler will be ready to start 2016 in the majors, with the previous two and Nick Kingham likely to miss nearly all of '16 as it is. The Bucs will need to bring in at least one starter, so why not bring back the guy you're already familiar with? The gamble on having too many reclamation projects (and oh, there are a lot of them) is not sustainable for a team who had 98 wins in 2015 and will have to chase Chicago and St. Louis. Bringing back Happ would be a big step in the right direction.
Edit: Happ signed a 3 year, $36 million contract with Toronto on 11/25. 

courtesy of dailyherald.com

Sean Rodriguez, or Serpico, as many Pirate fans came to know him over the 2015 season, is also a free agent. Rodriguez was acquired over the winter from the Rays for Buddy Borden, a fairly decent pitching prospect. Rodriguez didn't have a great season with the bat, hitting .246 (I actually didn't expect it to be as high as it was) with 4 homers and 17 RBIs. However, the 30 year old utility man brought great defensive value and flexibility to the Bucs, mainly as the late game substitute at first base, logging 102 games at the position, along with seeing time at second, third, shortstop and in the outfield, not to mention being Clint Hurdle's emergency catcher. It's unlikely that Rodriguez would command a long or expensive deal, and the Pirates bench could really use someone like Rodriguez, so I believe the Bucs could easily bring him back, and I think they should.

The final three major league free agents the Pirates have are all in a similar boat. Lefty Antonio Bastardo and righties Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton all provided good value to the Bucs in 2015, but it's likely that none of the three will return to the Shark Tank for 2016.

courtesy of rantsports.com

Starting with Soria, who was acquired at the trade deadline for JaCoby Jones, the right hander made a decent mark with the Bucs, pitching in 29 games earning a 2.03 ERA. Soria would only make sense for the Pirates if they were to trade Mark Melancon (which is a bad idea in and of itself and I'll explain why in the future) and place either Tony Watson or Soria in the ninth inning. While Soria worked well for the Pirates as a seventh and eighth inning guy, I don't know of many people in the organization who would trust him enough to pay him what he's likely to command in the open market as a free agent "proven closer" kind of guy, and Soria would prefer to be racking up the saves himself rather than setting up for someone else. The Pirates' reps haven't even approached Soria yet, and I don't believe they should.

courtesy of kidsportsmagazine.com

Blanton was a surprising waiver acquisition from the Royals in July to take the long reliever spot in the Shark Tank, and the 34 year old continued his career resurgence with the Bucs in the second half of the season, pitching in 21 games, racking up 5 wins and putting up a sparkling 1.57 ERA. It's not completely out of the question that Blanton could return, as the Bucs bullpen looks somewhat uncertain other than the back end at this point in the offseason and Blanton shouldn't command a large guarantee. However, Blanton himself has been among speculation that he could retire, and he may look for an opportunity to start again as it is. That makes the status of Blanton very much in question for a possible return to the Pirates, but don't be surprised if they bring him back.

courtesy of USA Today

Last but not least is the lefty Bastardo, who had a fairly decent season in the black and gold after coming over from Philadelphia for Joely Rodriguez over the winter. 66 games for Bastardo saw him go 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA, pretty solid numbers for a relief pitcher. That makes him a very attractive name for teams looking for solid relief pitching. I think someone on the open market will give him a better offer than what he could get from the Pirates, and Bastardo has even said himself that he'll likely take the best offer. That means he may not be back with the Bucs in '16.

What are your thoughts on what may happen to these free agents? Comment below!

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