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Is the Pirates’ focus beyond 2014? A closer look at McGuiness, and remembering Roberto


EAST OF THE ROCKIES –  Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette were talking Pirates’ offseason on MLBNetwork on Tuesday  morning and Ferrin  and Duquette were understandably less than overwhelmed by what the Pirates have accomplished to date. I didn’t catch the segment but Rob Biertempfel did:


You can make an argument that the Pirates should have been more aggressive to date this offseason. Perhaps they should have gone to a third year on James Loney, or matched the package for Logan Morrison, or maybe they should have made AJ Burnett a qualifying offer (or at least pushed more money in the center of the table). Or one can argue 2y/22 million for Scott Kazmir would be a better investment than 1y/5m for Edinson Volquez.


Twenty-fourteen might present something of a critical window. Some key contributors from 2013 will be free agents after the 2014 season: Russell Martin (who is no longer going to be a bargain play), Francisco Liriano (another year like ’13 will allow him to buy a small island in the South Pacific) and closer Jason Grilli.


That’s 9 WAR production that will be tough to replace after ’14 if it’s roughly duplicated.


Perhaps those realities mean there should have been more urgency to upgrade  the current roster given that the Cardinals, Nationals, Dodgers and maybe the Diamondbacks have improved this offseason.


But maybe the Pirates’ brass does not have its collective eye on 2014. Maybe the focus and the priority is on 2015-2019 — and no moves will be made that potentially compromise that extended window whether it be through spending treasure or prospects.


Maybe Huntington is concerned about keeping a Gerrit Cole-Andrew McCutchen-Jameson Taillon-Gregory Polanco-Nick Kingham-Alen Hanson-Starling Marte-Tyler Glasnow core around together for five-plus years. Maybe, because the front office is off the hotseat , they have the comfort to not make a short-term, risk-reward play, rather playing for sustained long-term success.


Maybe that’s why things have been so quiet.




The Pirates are accumulating a wealth of lottery ticket left-handed hitting options 


The Pirates made a minor trade earlier this week in acquiring Chris McGuiness from the Rangers for Miles Mikolas. McGuiness gives the Pirates’ another left-handed hitting option. Most likely he adds depth as a Triple-A or bench option. Important to note: McGuiness has considerable reverse platoon splits in 2013. I’m not sure if that was a fluke or a career-long trend.


Huntington said the trade doesn’t mean the Pirates’ are done shopping for a 1B upgrade, but the market is thin.


“Chris provides us with another option at first base and allows us to remain patient as we continue to explore the first base market,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “We like the offensive production potential as well as his ability to handle himself around the base.”


If the Pirates do not make another acquisition, they’ll go into spring training with Travis Snider, Andrew Lambo, Jaff Decker, and McGuiness competing for at bats on the right side of the field. And I think that order represents the initial pecking order.


I think a healthy Snider has more than we’ve seen, and I think Lambo deserves a look, though I’m a skeptic. Decker and  McGuiness are both guys who have the ability to control the strike zone, so they’re interesting. Right now the Pirates appear to be searching for right-side quality through rolls of the dice on quantity.



Perhaps the greatest Pirate of all, especially when considering off-the-field contributions, died 41 years ago on Tuesday on a humanitarian aid trip. Rather than trying to do Clemente’s legacy justice with words here how about a great color pic:



Just a really, great photo.


– TS




  1. Jim S. says:

    Happy New Year, Travis! Love the Clemente pic!

    I do believe the Pirates are following the Tampa model, which has proven effective over the last bunch of years. Pirates’ fans may not like that for this year, but I believe their goal is to remain competitive and hope to break through with a deep playoff run or two every handful of years. If you make enough playoff appearances, although there is no guarantee of a WS victory, you definitely might get on a roll at the right time and pull it off. Few would say the Cardinals were the best team in MLB when they won their last title, and a lot of people would also say San Fran was not a juggernaut either time they won. Teams like the Tigers, on the other hand, seem stacked a lot of years and can’t solve the WS puzzle. The “go for it” strategy of big, short-term acquisitions doesn’t seem to guarantee a WS title.

    Tampa has not yet broken all the way through, but they keep showing up every few years for another run at the big prize. I honestly believe the Pirates feel they must operate that way. So, I don’t expect them to ever trade away what they consider to be long term key pieces to increase their chances marginally. They have methodically built a strong minor league system, and that is what they expect to sustain their success going forward.

    I believe the Bucs feel they have the team to at least compete this year, but their eye is on remaining competitive for the forseeable future with the currently controlled core and the advancing prospects that will flood the pitching staff over the next few years. They don’t want to jeopardize that, and I have to say I agree with that philosophy for the most part. I will say, though, that I believe they need to be a bit more aggressive financially than they have been this winter. I would like to see them stretch a bit more than they seem willing to do right now, given that they already have a contending team. Overall, though, I believe they have a sound operating model.

  2. The Gunner says:

    That is a great photo of The Great One. I honestly believe baseball in Pittsburgh over the last 35 years would have been different had #21 lived.

    As far as the Chris McGuinness acquisition, I see him as this year’s version of Clint Robinson.

  3. BostonsCommon says:

    It’s been my stance that I don’t care if they don’t spend their available dollars on FAs… As long as they spend it in their own guys when the time comes.

    Basically as long as we see that core receive deals deals that provide cost certainty through arbitration and buy out a couple FA years. I think it’s better to invest in the talent you know and have groomed than it is to trade it away, or spend those dollars on mediocre players like Loney.

    Happy new year everyone. Health and happiness!

  4. Donald says:

    As good as AJ Burnett pitched last year, with 209 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.30, he only represented 10 W’s in the win column. I think that’s how the organization is looking at it. If Volquez starts in the rotation and gives way to Taillon midway through, that could combine for over 10 wins right there. And I’d still like to see them take a $2-3Million gamble on Johan Santana, with incentives. When healthy, he would be the best pitcher on the staff. The big questions would be if he’d ever be 100% and for how long. But a potential upside even better than Liriano.

  5. Jim S. says:

    To your point, Bostons, it would be nice to think they could do more “Cutch-like” extensions as their core players grow and improve. Is that what you meant? Cole is a nice target for that. Certainly there will be others in the next few years. But, Cole’s agent is Boras, right? So, that won’t happen unless Cole replaces him.

    I mentioned over the weekend on DK’s blog that I heard on MLB Network Radio that Ryan Madsen was approached by the Phils on a 4/$44 or thereabouts extension 3 years ago, right before he needed TJ surgery. That is an insane deal for a reliever. Boras apparently advised against signing it, so he could go to the open market – not knowing, of course, that he would have TJ surgery. Great advice, huh? I’m sure plenty of teams were looking to give him more $$ than that even if healthy. That is just a crazy lucrative deal that he passed on.

    Anyway, he still managed to ink an $8.5 deal in 2012 with the Reds, which brought him a guaranteed $6 million when he had to sit out the season with setbacks. The Angels, I think, signed him last year to a guaranteed $3.25 deal, and once again he never saw the field. He has made $9.25M the last 2 years for not pitching. Even still, had he not listened to the world’s greatest agent, he could have made much more.

    Sometimes, extensions are not the worst thing in the world.

    The Phils are supposedly negotiating with him for this year. Ironically, he won’t make as much as the last 2 years, but he may actually be able to take the mound in 2014.

  6. Jim S. says:

    I don’t think this organization looks at win totals these days for starting pitchers very much to validate what sort of a season a guy had, Donald.

  7. BostonsCommon says:

    The Cutch deal is the crown jewel of baseball right now, so I’m not expecting that to happen again, but yea that’s the idea.

    Even if they stick to the Rays model and trade away established players for MLB ready prospects, IMO it’s easier to do that if there is cost certainty to the remaining contract..

    I think if they can get Marte to sign a deal that buys out a FA year or two, and tops out around $20M over the last two years, he could be a guy that they move.

    And I’m not totally opposed to trading away prospects, but I would hate to see Taillion moved after they invested $7M to draft him and another 4 years to develop him.. Herrera was a good prospect, but they weren’t nearly as invested in him, so I was fine when he was moved.

  8. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, Bostons.

  9. 21sthebest says:

    But the Pirates won 13 of the games he started and his run support wasn’t very good at 3.73.

  10. Donald says:

    Oh, I’m not saying that the major factor in how they determine pitchers worth is by wins. Obviously they saw things in guys like Grilli, Melancon, Liriano, to bring them in knowing what they could become. But as a team that places high emphasis on every dollar they spend, I think not extending that $14.1Million quality offer may have been more about what his value per dollar was versus just assuming he would only be back with the Pirates.

    They have a number in mind… whether it’s $10Million, $11…. that they aren’t going to go over. And I think part of that is they see a season where they won 94 games but a guy who only represented 10 of those in the rotation. So they can duplicate that number for a whole lot less. Even if you factor in that they won 13 of Burnett’s starts… they won 15 games Jeff Locke started for $497,500.

  11. Jim S. says:

    What I meant is their way of evaluating pitchers doesn’t take into account individual pitcher wins as much these days, Donald. Sometimes a guy pitches great all season and doesn’t have many wins to show for it because of his lack of run support. Other times a guy doesn’t pitch very well and gets bailed out because a lot of runs were scored for him. I think they believe AJ pitched just fine last year.

  12. LeeFoo says:

    “Just a really, great photo”


  13. LeeFoo says:

    I think St Louis has arguably improved, but the Reds, esp if they don’t sign Arroyo, have regressed.

    They lost their (quasi) CFer and 200+ IP.

    We haven’t done much in RF/1B/SP, but some question if we really need to. Sure, I would’ve loved Loney, but…..

    We won 94 games with lousy production from 1b and RF (vs RHPs). Polanco will be up soon in RF, and, altho he may bust, he appears to be one of the surer bets in all of baseball to make it big. At first, we have Gaby and some suspects, but will it be enough? Who knows, but what did GI give us last year? Sure, it’d be nice to improve, but doesn’t every team have a hole somewhere?

    AJ may still sign, but the longer it drags on, the more I doubt he is coming back. However, Frankie, Charlie, Cole, Wandy (maybe), Locke (maybe), Vasquez (maybe) are better than what we started with LAST year. Tim W at P2 did a real nice piece on that a week or so ago.


  14. Jim S. says:

    Wandy is pretty important now if AJ doesn’t re-sign.

  15. Bizrow says:

    The PBC will never ever go all in for one season

    Can’t say I disapprove, but I want another October

  16. LeeFoo says:

    Biz….define “all in”.

  17. LeeFoo says:

    yeh….I hope he isn’t ‘done’. We (maybe) gave up too much to get about 4 months worth of pitching from him.

  18. Nate83 says:

    Marte and eventually Polanco really are the best everyday position targets. Both come from backgrounds where they didn’t have much. Sure playing for 550,000 a year or whatever the minimum is now is some nice money but if they can sign a deal like Tabata did and probably higher that does a lot for them and their families.

    Pitchers are a different story especially with Tommy John surgery being so successful now. I would think it would be hard to buy out more then one year of free agency on any projected number 1 or 2 starter and even then the saving over the actual arbitration years probably won’t be that much. I would think the risk would be more on the team for a Cole extension then on the player.

  19. BostonsCommon says:

    Definitely more risk when extending a young pitcher.

    I’m not even saying that Cole needs to be extended… But if the Pirates aren’t going to spend their available dollars on FAs, then they better be readying and willing to at least pay Cole through arbitration.

    If they make a decision based on risk/reward that it’s going to be better to go year to year with Cole, that’s fine. I just want don’t want him shipped out of town because his salary is going to jump from $500K to $10M in a couple of years.

  20. NMR says:

    Important question, Foo.

    The guy responsible for bringing the “all-in” meme to Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevik, literally wrote last summer that the Pirates were in fact “all-in”.

    But I also agree with what I THINK Biz means. The Pirates, under Huntington, are never going to put all their resources into one season.

  21. NMR says:

    It isn’t possible to answer a question like “Is the Pirates’ focus beyond 2014″ without separating intent from result.

    The result of little improvement made thus far is very different, IMO, than the intent entering the off season.

    You cannot analyze this off season without starting with Josh Johnson. The Pirates were absoutely agressive in his pursuit as their top priority. Rumored to even beat the Padres offer.

    Given this fact and what we know now about the budget given to Huntington, the $14m qualifying offer simply couldn’t have been given to AJ without risk of going over.

    We also know the Pirates wanted James Loney, as he is the only free agent they’ve been realistically connected to. The result of him not signing with Pittsburgh is due to his contract demands, which can reasonably be concluded were more years and/or more money than Tampa was offering. Given that Loney eventually signed for more than just about anyone was predicting he’s worth before the winter, I’d say the lack of deal is more smart than focussing on the future.

    Otherwise, there just simply weren’t “all-in” moves out there to be made, barring increased financial committment from ownership.

  22. LeeFoo says:

    “The Pirates, under Huntington, are never going to put all their resources into one season.”

    Nor should they….it’s no guarantee….Brewers are Exhibit “A” for that.

  23. LeeFoo says:

    NMR….and the ‘do nothing’ critique doesn’t take into account our TRYING to do something.

    It takes two to tango…..whether a free agent or a trade.

  24. NMR says:

    Yep, that is my entire point.

    If we’re going to have a topic based completely on conjecture – which is exactly what this is – then let’s at least include conjecture based on what the team MAY have wanted to do and not just the result.

  25. NMR says:

    I go both ways on this, Foo.

    The Brewers problem wasn’t necessarilly that they went “all-in”, but that they have failed miserably in developing their farm system since then. Fact is that the Brewers wouldn’t be any better right now with the prospects they gave up, as none of the prospects they gave up turned out to be any good. Given that, I can’t see how their current failure should be tied to those trades.

    Teams have gone over budget in the short term and also given up serious prospects without ruining their future.

    I’ve said it before, but a true test of strength for the Pirates organization would be to go “all-in” and see what there is left.

  26. Nate83 says:

    I agree with this. The results don’t always match the intent. Obviously there is more then one way to go all in such as trading prospects for desired players but the Ike Davis’s of the world are not the targets you want to give up Kingham type players for. Players like that are not even the type of players that I would consider “all-in” type moves.

    Could they trade for Price or Stanton and be all-in? Sure, but they would be taking on future payroll and trading away cost controlled players. Having one of those guys may prohibit signing 2 other cost controlled players to extensions through some of their free agent years. I’m not sure I would be willing to give up Marte through 2020 or 2021 for 3 years of Stanton or 2 years of Price.

    At the end of the day the payroll limit is the payroll limit and how they slice that pie up and divide it up among each player has to be considered. It’s why they are not willing to go 3 years on a player like Loney who although good is still marginal and not an all-in type move. Having him account for 10% of payroll for 3 years when they know they have internal players that are better players they will have to make decision on in 2015 and 2016 may not have been wise. There are a lot better ways to spend 10% of your payroll then on a player that might not even out produce your much cheaper internal options by that much if at all.

  27. NMR says:

    One point in the whole 1B search that doesn’t get talked about, nearly at all:
    “…and allows us to remain patient as we continue to explore the first base market.”

    Patience is exactly what this kind of market requires. You’re aggressive when one or two potential players stand out from the field. Russell Martin, for example, was the best catcher available last winter.

    Not a single player in this group of potential acquisitions qualifies as even an average first basemen. Think about that. Whomever the Pirates get, if they even get somebody, will be a bad baseball player. What sense does it make to go out and get one of them while their price is apparently so high?

  28. LeeFoo says:

    NMR….precisely why we need to just let Lambo get the ABs. Sure Ike Davis MIGHT hit, but he MIGHT not….he’s done both.

    Smoak is my #1 1bman and ONLY because he can hit RHP (even tho he is a switchhitter).

    I’m not giving up a bunch for ANY of those 1bmen. They aren’t worth it.

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