Pitching at forefront of Pirates' Meetings agenda

Bucs could address rotation, 'pen; teams expected to inquire about McCutchen

December 1st, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have only a few major holes to fill this offseason, so there's no guarantee they will make a flurry of moves at the Winter Meetings. But they should be active, and their moves may be significant.

The baseball world is scheduled to gather under one roof Monday, giving the Bucs' front office an ideal opportunity to discuss trades and consider their free-agent options. Among the most interesting storylines to follow: the availability of franchise player and the Pirates' search for starting pitching, especially if they're active on the trade front.

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. ET.

• Bucs' slow offseason may speed up at Meetings

The Bucs were fairly involved at last year's Winter Meetings, swapping for , then signing . Here's a rundown of what may be in store for the Pirates next week.

Club needs

Rotation: This is their most obvious weakness, and it's unclear how they will address it. They need a No. 3 starter behind and . The Pirates targeted controllable starters at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but they could use an innings-eating, groundball-inducing veteran. Worst-case scenario, the Bucs will lean on their supply of young starters: , , , , , and by midseason, .

Bullpen: Pittsburgh likes its back four of , Felipe Rivero, Nicasio and , but there is room for improvement. Specifically, the Pirates could use a right-handed setup man between the lefties Watson and Rivero. The market is full of those pitchers, but 's four-year, $30.5 million deal with the Cardinals may have set an untenable expectation for relief deals.

Bench: The Pirates' strong bench was a huge asset this past season, due mostly to general manager Neil Huntington's offseason acquisitions: , and . The Pirates have plenty of bench options as it is, but expect Huntington to scour for hidden value -- especially in the outfield.

Who they can trade if necessary

McCutchen: Yes, it very well may happen next week. The Pirates have been actively discussing potential deals involving McCutchen, the face of the franchise, and they could find a suitable deal during the Meetings. Such a move would shake up their roster, possibly prompting them to look for a short-term replacement in the outfield while likely stocking their farm system or bringing in a young starting pitcher.

2B : This became less likely when Rodriguez signed with the Braves, but the Pirates could still look to move Harrison and the remainder of the four-year, $27.3 million contract he signed in 2015. Harrison, 29, was one of the game's best defensive second basemen last season, but his OPS has fallen from .837 in 2014 to an average of .707 the past two seasons.

Watson: With one year of control remaining before he enters free agency, Watson is at least a nominal trade candidate. Watson should return as the Pirates' closer, but if another club overwhelms the Bucs, they'll at least have to consider their options. The potentially costly free-agent market could push other clubs to pursue proven veterans such as Watson and Bastardo.

1B : Jaso is entering the second half of a reasonable two-year, $8 million contract. His patient left-handed bat would benefit the Bucs, especially if he adds third base and the outfield to his defensive repertoire, but they're pretty well set at first base with . Jaso would be indispensable, however, if McCutchen is traded and Bell is asked to play more outfield.

Top prospects

The Pirates' top 10 prospects, per MLBPipeline.com, are Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Bell, Kevin Newman, Mitch Keller, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker, Will Craig, and Kingham.

The Pirates have shown a willingness to move mid-level prospects, but it's hard to see them dealing one of their top 10 for anything less than an elite return. Half of that group -- Glasnow, Meadows, Bell, Diaz and Kingham -- could contribute in Pittsburgh next season. Newman, a high-end shortstop, has reached Double-A. Keller has emerged as a potential frontline starter.

Rule 5 Draft

The Pirates' 40-man roster is full, though that figures to change before Friday's non-tender deadline. Either way, it's unlikely the Pirates will add anyone in the Rule 5 Draft; they haven't done so since 2011. They'll run the slight risk of losing a few mid-level prospects, depending upon other clubs' evaluation of third baseman Eric Wood and outfielder Barrett Barnes.

Big contracts they might unload

The Bucs only have one player set to earn more than $9 million in 2017: McCutchen, due $14 million, with a $14.75 million club option for '18. That's a reasonable salary given McCutchen's pre-2016 production and wouldn't be the primary motivation behind a potential trade. Harrison's $7.75 million is not costly by conventional standards, but they could replace him at second with league-minimum earners such as and .

Payroll summary

Several players are due raises, either through increases built into new contracts (like 's $9 million and Freese's $6.25 million) or through arbitration (Cole's projected $4.2 million and Watson's $5.9 million). The Pirates' estimated payroll, around $87 million, gives them about $13 million to reach their expected mark of $100 million.