After a quiet start to the offseason, the Pirates have been quite busy over the last month.
On Christmas Eve, general manager Ben Cherington traded Josh Bell to the Nationals for two pitching prospects. Last Tuesday, the Bucs sent Joe Musgrove home to San Diego and received five prospects in the three-way deal. Out went another veteran on Sunday afternoon, when the Pirates picked up four prospects from the Yankees in exchange for Jameson Taillon.
In 32 days, Pittsburgh announced loud and clear that the club’s focus is on the future by dealing away three of the club’s most recognizable big league players and adding 11 prospects to the organization’s Minor League system, including eight now listed among their Top 30 Prospects according to MLB Pipeline.
So, now what?
Five days ago, we took a look here at what might take place after the Musgrove deal was completed -- a list that began with the possibility of more trades, specifically mentioning that the Yankees (and Rays) were checking in on Taillon. With Taillon traded to New York, here’s another look at what could come next.
Rounding out the roster
After dealing away established players in this recent series of trades, Cherington said the Pirates are preparing to bring in some veterans to fill holes on the roster.
“If I was guessing, we'll likely shift some energy toward, where are the opportunities to add, whether that's in free agency or trade?” Cherington said Sunday. “We would like to do that between now and Spring Training or now and the season, sometime between now and when we start playing games for real.
“We've had some oars in the water on that already, and I think even the last few days, we've been doing some work internally just to kind of strategize around that. What should we be looking for? What opportunities are still there? So [I] would expect we'd put some focus into that here in the short-term.”
Consider: What would the Pirates’ Opening Day rotation and starting lineup look like right now, with 26 players and no other moves? Here’s one guess…
Rotation: Chad Kuhl, Mitch Keller, Steven Brault, JT Brubaker, Cody Ponce
Lineup: 2B Adam Frazier, 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, LF Bryan Reynolds, 1B Colin Moran, RF Gregory Polanco, SS Kevin Newman, C Jacob Stallings, CF Anthony Alford, starting pitcher
It is rather difficult to imagine the Pirates reaching Opening Day without at least addressing their pitching staff. Depth is going to be critical this year just to survive the season after last year’s shortened schedule, and the most experienced arms in that provisional rotation are Kuhl and Brault, who have dealt with various injury issues over the years. Pittsburgh is in the market for a veteran starter to provide some much-needed innings and possibly serve as a mentor to the younger starters.
“I think there's a consideration to add back some Major League starting pitching experience -- somebody or [multiple pitchers] who have figured out how to do that at the Major League level and can be a source of stability,” Cherington said. “We’ll see where that leads us.”
The Pirates will also presumably be on the lookout for additional relievers, ideally multi-inning arms with Minor League options, along with at least one outfielder (preferably someone who can play center field) and possibly another catcher to provide depth behind Stallings and Michael Perez.
These won’t be big-name, high-dollar signings. They will most likely be veterans looking for guaranteed playing time and an opportunity to reestablish themselves. That arrangement could be mutually beneficial, as they can hold down spots until prospects are ready, and the Pirates can provide a platform for them to capture contenders’ eyes before the Trade Deadline.
Even more trades? Maybe.
Cherington offered an honest assessment when asked if there might be more moves on the horizon like the Bell, Musgrove and Taillon swaps focused on sending out big leaguers and bringing in prospects.
“We’ll definitely keep the phone on, if teams call and have interest,” he said. “There are other players on the team that teams have called on. We just haven’t gotten traction, for whatever reason, yet. But we’ll see.”
In other words: The Pirates are open if someone makes the right offer, but they haven’t been blown away by the demand for their remaining trade candidates. One phone call could change that, of course, so let’s consider a few players who still could move before Opening Day -- and why they may not be going anywhere.
2B/UTL Adam Frazier: He’s their most likely remaining trade candidate for two reasons. One, he’s been a useful player at the plate (career 100 OPS+) and a strong defender at second base. Two, the Pirates still have a logjam in the middle infield. But Frazier’s name hasn’t come up much in trade rumors this offseason, he’s coming off a rough shortened season offensively, and there are other interesting second basemen available, like Kolten Wong, Cesar Hernandez and Tommy La Stella. Maybe he’s more likely to move in Spring Training or during the season, when injuries begin to affect rosters and needs become more apparent.
RHP Chad Kuhl: MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported a week ago that the Pirates were getting calls on Musgrove, Taillon and Kuhl. Well … two down, one to go? Maybe. But someone has to pitch at PNC Park this season, and it’s probably fair to say that Kuhl has not truly displayed his full potential yet despite a solid return from Tommy John surgery last season. Teammates believe Kuhl is even better than he’s shown, and if that turns out to be true, he’ll be in greater demand this summer. Then again, interest in Taillon spiked after the Musgrove trade. Could the Taillon deal spark similarly strong interest in Kuhl?
RHP Richard Rodríguez: Put simply, Rodríguez is a trade candidate because he’s a good reliever on a team that’s not expected to win much while he’s under club control. He may not jump immediately into the closer role for a contender, but the 30-year-old right-hander could help a lot of teams’ bullpens right now without eating up much of their budget. Over the past three years, Rodríguez has put together a 3.02 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while striking out 28.2 percent of batters faced.
RHP Chris Stratton: His situation is mostly the same as that of Rodríguez. He doesn’t have quite the same level of recent surface-level success, but he makes up for that with his versatility as a former starter who’s worked in high-leverage situations. Stratton has strikeout stuff, and the spin rates on his fastball and curveball are considered to be elite. The point that the Pirates need pitchers like Stratton to get through the season might keep him in Pittsburgh a little while longer, but it would make sense if he’s available for the right price.