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5 offseason thoughts in wake of Bucs' moves

November 22, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- The offseason activity picked up a bit on Friday with a flurry of roster moves leading up to the deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates’ additions, righty Max Kranick and infielder Rodolfo Castro, weren’t shocking. Neither were their subtractions, Trevor Williams and José

PITTSBURGH -- The offseason activity picked up a bit on Friday with a flurry of roster moves leading up to the deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates’ additions, righty Max Kranick and infielder Rodolfo Castro, weren’t shocking. Neither were their subtractions, Trevor Williams and José Osuna, although both might have come earlier than expected.

Before teams take a few days off for Thanksgiving, here are five things I’m thinking about regarding the Pirates.

1. What comes next?
Friday’s moves provided some clarity. There’s one less internal candidate for the rotation, and Osuna’s decision to play overseas clears the way for Phillip Evans and maybe Will Craig to lock down bench jobs.

But there’s still a long way to go. The next big deadline is for non-tenders on Dec. 2. Williams and Osuna were non-tender candidates, but the Pirates have a few more to consider.

Will they move forward with shortstop Erik González or give that spot to Kevin Newman and/or Cole Tucker? Will they commit to reliever Michael Feliz? Given their glut of arbitration-eligible players, is there anyone else they’ll consider parting ways with?

Most people in the industry expect a wave of non-tenders, further flooding the market, so it’s probably fair to assume that the offseason will begin in earnest on Dec. 3. Will the Pirates find a deal for Joe Musgrove or Adam Frazier? Will they look to move a reliever like Richard Rodríguez or Chris Stratton?

Regardless, expect the Bucs to be active on the trade front and in pursuit of pitching -- they’ll need to add rotation depth for next season after their starters threw so few innings this year -- and catching.

But here’s another question to consider in light of something GM Ben Cherington said on Friday night: What will they do with Colin Moran and Josh Bell?

While the designated hitter was in play for the National League this year, Cherington said he is “working under the assumption that there isn’t one [in 2021] until we hear definitively that there is.”

Maybe there will be a DH and this thought becomes irrelevant, but, well, we haven’t heard that yet. And unless the Pirates view Moran as a bench player, it’s hard to see a DH-less lineup in which he coexists with Bell at first base, Ke'Bryan Hayes at third and backups like Evans and Craig.

2. There’s more work to be done behind the scenes, too.
The Pirates must finalize their Minor League affiliates, staff those teams and set some front office roles. Cherington noted former farm director Larry Broadway is “going to move into the professional evaluation space,” acknowledged that he expects Double-A Altoona’s manager “is currently with the Pirates” and said they still have to hire a Minor League pitching coordinator to replace Scott Mitchell.

They’re also still working on a new Major League training staff. One neat thing I’ve heard on that front: They’ve involved players in the interview process, to a certain extent. They’re the ones who will work every day with those coaches and trainers, after all, and players are taking ownership of their preparation more than ever. It’s a good example of Cherington and manager Derek Shelton trying to create a player-centered culture.

3. Trade rumor season is upon us.
Last week, my colleague Jon Paul Morosi reported that teams have been calling the Pirates about Steven Brault. This makes sense because Brault is a lefty who pitched as a starter and as a reliever, put together a strong finish to this past season and comes with three years of affordable team control.

Here’s the thing: The Pirates are going to get a lot of calls this offseason, and they must consider just about everything. As Cherington works to add talent to their system, it’s his job to listen.

“I’d say we’re through the first part of that, information-sharing. Just getting into the follow-up,” Cherington said. “None of us really know about what the pace will look like compared to a typical year. Part of that is just because there’s uncertainty with free agency. We’re going to learn more on Dec. 2 about how big the free-agent class is and what that does to impact everything else. We’ve certainly been active with calls. I’ve started some of that follow-up. We’ll see where that takes us.”

4. Batman Returns?
The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel shared a fun interview (subscription required) with Hall of Fame candidate A.J. Burnett, which I’d recommend if only for the story about Burnett unknowingly taking Pirates chairman Bob Nutting’s parking space. Another thing that stood out: Burnett said Nutting called him earlier this year and mentioned bringing in “some younger instructors,” like Burnett, to be around the team every so often.

There’s nothing quite like seeing Bill Mazeroski or another Pirates lifer at Spring Training, but the team can do its best to keep popular, respected veterans who enjoyed their time here -- like Burnett and, maybe, recently retired Francisco Cervelli -- in the fold to pass down knowledge and information.

“If they want me to come down there and help out a little bit, not step on anybody’s toes,” Burnett told Biertempfel, “I’d be all for it.”

I can’t imagine anyone being against it. Whenever we’re able to get back to something resembling normal, it’s something the Pirates should definitely continue to push for.

5. Roster move reaction
I mentioned Williams as a non-tender candidate in September and asked him about that possibility after one of his final starts, so seeing him cut loose wasn’t a surprise. The Pirates understandably didn’t want to pay Williams what he’d earn through the arbitration process coming off two bad seasons.

The team can move forward with a rotation including Jameson Taillon, Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Musgrove (if he’s not traded), Brault (if he’s not traded), JT Brubaker, Cody Ponce and others. Cherington said the Pirates will be “active in adding pitching in different ways through different ways, trade or free agency,” and there should be a lot of arms available.

That’s the business, and we all -- including Williams -- get that.

But my first reaction was like that of a lot of Pirates people I’ve spoken to since the move was made official: Williams is a good man, full of thought and faith, and I’ll miss having him around.

The Pirates traded for him around the time I officially took over this beat from the late, great Tom Singer. His debut led to what’s still probably my favorite story going into my seventh season in Pittsburgh. He showed every bit of his tenacity and pitchability as the starter on the other end of the “Rich Hill Game,” one of the most thrilling nights I’ve experienced at PNC Park. His second-half run (1.38 ERA) in 2018, one of the highlights of their only winning season since '15, was a testament to his hard work.

Starting a weird Game 162 shortly after former manager Clint Hurdle resigned, Williams took the time to recognize Steve Blass at the outset of his final game in the broadcast booth. He seemingly never said no when the Pirates’ hard-working social media team asked him to get involved with a project. He was a well-regarded teammate. He was always active in the community, a deserving Roberto Clemente Award nominee in 2019, and I think you’ll see him continue that work wherever he goes.

When you follow a team for years on end, the games get a little hazy in your memory. Sometimes the seasons start to run together a bit. But there are moments you don’t forget, on and off the field, and Williams was responsible for a bunch of them over the last few years. That counts for something.

Adam Berry covers the Rays for and covered the Pirates from 2015-21. Follow him on Twitter @adamdberry.