SOUTH HILLS – Yahoo! columnist Jeff Passan reported last night that the Pirates are one of seven teams to have interest in Tampa Bay ace David Price. That would shake up fanfest, no? The Mariners are thought to have the most interest in the power left-hander.
Any team would have interest in a 28-year-old lefty, who is 71-39 in his career with a 3.38 ERA. Any team would have interest in a former No. 1 overall pick whose control has improved (1.3 walks per nine) and who has rare velocity for a lefty with a plus breaking ball.
They Rays are motivated to move him because he is two years from free agency and he could earn $30 million over the next two years in arbitration. The Rays moved another pitcher with two years of control remaining in James Shields last season.
Of course the price that Shields fetched, and the fact that the Rays don’t lose too many trades, makes this extremely unlikely for the Pirates to execute particularly given their reluctance to part with prime prospects.
The Royals traded an elite prospect in Wil Myers and a very good prospect in Jake Odorizzi for Shields last offseason. This is a clear win for the Rays, who figure to command another ransom for Price. I just cannot fathom the Pirates trading say Gregory Polanco and Nick Kingham for two years of control. But perhaps the Pirates can’t move off the thought of having Gerrit Cole/Francisco Liriano/Price headlining a playoff rotation. It’s probably unlikely but it’s something to keep an eye on over the next two weeks. Fanfest is Dec. 14-15.
HOW TO ADD WINS WITH $15 MILLION TO SPEND
Colleague Rob Biertempfel projects the Pirates have about $15 million to spend in free agency. That seems like a plausible number. After all, owner Bob Nutting indicated in October he will increase payroll and president Frank Coonelly said earlier this year the Pirates are attempting to incrementally increase payroll:
Here are the payroll percentage increases over the last three years:
2013: + 29% (figure subtracts dollars Houston and New York sent to Pittsburgh)
2012: + 19%
2011: + 8%
A $15 million limit might also explain why the Pirates are asking AJ Burnett to take a significant pay cut even though he led the NL in strikeout rate and groundball rate last season. (And it might explain why Burnett is balking at returning to date).
As we know the Pirates need to be creative in stretch their dollars. Here is one modest proposal in how to do so:
Move No. 1: move Pedro Alvarez to first base. Some analysts believe this move is inevitable (Alvarez committed 27 errors last season) and the Pirates don’t have an impact 1B prospect in the upper-levels of the farm system.
Moves No. 2 & No. 3: create a new third base platoon on the cheap. Meet, Mark Reynolds who is something of a right-handed Alvarez, offering cheap power that can play on either corner, and veteran Eric Chavez, who committed just one error last season while posting a .850 OPS against right-handed pitching. While Chavez is a shell of what he is, this platoon still might offer a slight defensive upgrade while producing an aggregate .800 OPS. Total cost: $8 million.
Move No.4: Sign LHP Chris Capuano. I’ve had to go far down my pitching preference list here, but Capuano’s velocity was up last year and I mentioned earlier week how the Pirates should focus on a left-handed free agent starting pitcher. Cost: $5.5 million,
Move No. 5: Sign SS/2B Rafael Furcal. Look, Furcal is a significant injury risk and I’m told the Pirates have not touched base for “a while.:But Furcal would give the Pirates infield depth, some bench speed, and perhaps a platoon partner for both Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker. Cost: $1 million
So for $14.5 million the Pirates could create four infield platoons: at 3B (Reynolds/Chaves), SS (Mercer/Furcal), 2B (Walker/Furcal), 1B (Sanchez/Alvarez) and a left-handed rotation option Capuano.
That’s stretching dollars which the Pirates figure to have to do this season and every offseason.