PITTSBURGH -- Ask Ben Cherington about the Pirates’ offseason plans, and you’ll pick up a few different themes. They must be open-minded, he’ll say, and they need to be prepared when opportunities present themselves. And given their focus on the future, along with the uncertainty surrounding this offseason, they have to be patient.
The Pirates’ focus remains on the future after a 19-41 season, and Cherington’s comments reflect that. The circumstances of this past season occasionally made it difficult for Pittsburgh’s general manager to act on that vision in his first year at the helm, but the Pirates could be busier this winter.
“How do we build a stronger, more talented roster that gives us a chance to get into a more sustainable period of winning? Usually, that’s through acquisition and development of younger players, talented players, and then bringing them into their primes in the Major Leagues,” Cherington said. “Most often, in free agency, that’s not the kind of player that’s available. Free agency is used as part of a team-building process, for sure, and it’s an important part of the team-building process, but it depends on where you are in your build. ...
“We need to be focused on building a deeper, more talented roster, and most of that’s going to come through retaining and continuing to add young talent that can develop and grow together.”
So, what do the Pirates need heading into the 2021 season? And what have they done to address those needs? MLB.com is keeping track here all offseason.
Cherington referenced this in the quote above: The Pirates currently don’t have the base of talent they believe they need to build a legitimate, sustainable contender in the National League. Some of their young players should help form the core of that team, but they lack star-level production and quality depth at the highest level. They have an interesting collection of prospects in their system, and they’ll add to that with the No. 1 overall pick next year, and they’ve gone about trying to fortify that group this offseason.
By trading some of their established players this offseason, the Pirates have acquired some younger, high-ceiling prospects. A good model was the Starling Marte trade with Arizona, which netted them exciting young shortstop Liover Peguero (Pirates' No. 5 prospect) and right-hander Brennan Malone (No. 9) along with additional international spending capacity. The Josh Bell deal brought back young righty Eddy Yean (No. 8) from Washington, and the Joe Musgrove trade brought back five young players -- four of whom slotted in among the Pirates Top 30 Prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. They added some more intriguing prospects at the start of the international signing period, a group led by Dominican outfielder Shalin Polanco.
“It’s fair to say some of the avenues we thought we were going to be able to go down during the 2020 season were impacted, either by the pandemic or by injury or by other things,” Cherington said. “We’ve added talent to the organization in the last year through different avenues, but it also means we’ve just got to continue to be really focused on building a stronger base of talent and finding an opportunity to do that, whether it’s through amateur means or whether it’s in trades and including free agency.”
While their big-picture priority is on building a future contender, they still must reinforce the big league roster for 2021. One area they can address is the outfield. There’s no doubt Bryan Reynolds will start somewhere, but it could be in left or center field -- or both, as part of a rotation. Gregory Polanco seems bound to return in right field, unless someone is willing to buy low (albeit for $11.6 million) on the potential in his bat.
The Pirates could use Anthony Alford or Jared Oliva in center or left. They could move around Adam Frazier, assuming he’s not traded, as a second baseman/outfielder. They might keep using shortstop Cole Tucker in the outfield, as they did this year. But they could also use Brian Goodwin, whom they signed to a Minor League deal, across all three outfield positions. If he can return to his numbers with the Angels in 2019-20, when he had 21 homers and a .795 OPS in 166 games, the Pirates could find a suitor for a trade at the Deadline.
The Pirates have a lot of options in the bullpen, but -- due to injuries and inexperience -- few sure things. Odds are, they’ll roll with what they have. There will be a ton of quality pitchers available this offseason, though, so the Pirates could potentially even flip some of the back-end arms on their roster -- say, Richard Rodríguez or Chris Stratton -- without suffering a significant drop-off if they sign a veteran reliever or two.
“We’ll certainly keep an eye out, whether it’s in trade or free agency,” Cherington said. “If we can make the back end of the bullpen stronger through that, we’ll certainly keep an eye out and look to do that.”
Jacob Stallings is going to be the starter, and the Bucs addressed the need for a solid backup by claiming former Rays backup Michael Perez and signing former Rockies starter Tony Wolters to a Minor League deal. The Pirates have multiple depth options behind these three as well; after signing Joe Hudson to a Minor League deal on Jan. 25, he joins Andrew Susac and Christian Kelley as potential callups or taxi-squad catchers. All six options were invited to Spring Training.
Feb. 11: Pirates ink Minors deals with MLB veterans
Catcher Tony Wolters and outfielder Brian Goodwin agreed to terms on Minor League deals with invitations to Spring Training. Wolters served as the primary catcher for the Rockies in 2019-20, when he hit .255/.326/.316 in 163 games with 21 doubles, two triples and a homer. He'll likely compete with Michael Perez to be the go-to backup catcher behind Jacob Stallings. Goodwin posted a .795 OPS with 21 homers for the Angels across 2019-20 before struggling in 20 games after being traded to the Reds. His speed also makes him a good option off the bench.
Jan. 25: Joe Hudson signed to Minor League deal
The Pirates acquired Hudson, 29, as a depth option at catcher. He's played in 18 games in the Majors, batting 5-for-30 (.167) across stints with the Angels, the Cardinals and the Mariners.
Jan. 24: Jameson Taillon traded to Yankees for four prospects
The Yankees’ interest in Taillon only increased as the offseason went on, finally convincing the Pirates to part with their presumptive Opening Day starter to acquire four prospects: right-handers Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, outfielder Canaan Smith and shortstop Maikol Escotto. Taillon was thrilled to reunite with friend and former teammate Gerrit Cole in the Bronx, although he called the deal “bittersweet” as it brought about the end of his long tenure in Pittsburgh’s organization and cemented the Pirates’ direction as a rebuilding club.
Jan. 19: Five prospects acquired, Musgrove sent home in three-team deal
Citing the team’s need to “keep building a base of talent and be committed to that,” Cherington sent Musgrove -- the club’s Opening Day starter last year -- to his hometown Padres as part of a three-team, seven-player deal. In return, Pittsburgh received what Cherington called a “combination of upside and volume” in the form of five prospects: outfielder Hudson Head (Pirates' No. 6 prospect), MLB-ready reliever David Bednar (No. 30), left-hander Omar Cruz (No. 18), right-hander Drake Fellows and catcher Endy Rodriguez (No. 20).
Jan. 15: Wilmer Difo signs Minor League deal; international signing period begins
The Pirates signed the 28-year-old Difo, a former Nationals infielder, to a Minor League deal that included an invitation to big league Spring Training camp. The switch-hitter spent parts of the last six seasons with Washington, hitting .247/.309/.348 with 15 homers and 79 RBIs in 1,060 plate appearances over 373 games. More important, for the long haul, was the signing of 15 players -- including the 16-year-old outfielder Polanco for $2.35 million -- to kick off the start of the delayed international signing period.
Jan. 14: Traded LHP Nik Turley to the A’s for cash
The Pirates designated Turley for assignment two days before this and found an interested team in Oakland. The 31-year-old lefty, who was out of Minor League options, finished with a 4.98 ERA over 25 appearances out of Pittsburgh’s bullpen in 2020.
Jan. 12: Claimed OF Troy Stokes Jr. off waivers from Detroit
The 24-year-old Stokes is a right-handed hitter with no Major League experience who sat out all of Summer Camp and the 2020 season due to a fractured right hand that required surgery in July. He made a big impression on the Tigers last spring, going 6-for-22 with five doubles and a stolen base in 11 Grapefruit League games before the COVID-19 pandemic ended Spring Training. The Brewers picked the 5-foot-9, 200-pounder in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, and he spent six years in Milwaukee’s farm system.
Jan. 5: Signed RHP Chase De Jong to a Minor League deal
Looking for pitching depth and multi-inning arms, the Pirates signed the 27-year-old righty to a Minor League deal. He has limited experience in the Majors, having posted a 7.12 ERA in 54 1/3 innings over 15 appearances (including 10 starts) since 2017. He pitched well for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters last year, striking out 27 while posting a 3.18 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 17 innings over six outings.
Dec. 24: Bell traded to Nationals for pitching prospects
Continuing their pursuit of young talent, the Pirates parted ways with one of their most established players on Christmas Eve as they sent Josh Bell to the Nats in exchange for right-handers Eddy Yean (their new No. 7 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline) and Wil Crowe (No. 17). The 19-year-old Yean will join a group of high-upside pitching prospects in the lower levels of the Minors, while the 26-year-old Crowe could pitch in the Majors in 2021 after a rough debut with Washington. The decision to move Bell opens up first base for Colin Moran, who had nowhere else to play with Ke’Bryan Hayes at third and the prospect of the DH not returning to the NL.
Dec. 10: Two pitchers acquired during Rule 5 Draft
The Pirates used the first pick to select right-hander Jose Soriano from the Angels' farm system. Soriano, 22, was the Halos' No. 13 prospect according to MLB Pipeline and might have ranked higher if he hadn’t undergone Tommy John surgery in February. The Pirates also acquired right-hander Luis Oviedo, a 6-foot-4 right-hander from the Indians' system, after he was selected ninth overall by the Mets. Pittsburgh sent New York cash considerations for Oviedo. These two moves filled Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster at the end of the virtual Winter Meetings.
Dec. 7: Ashton Goudeau claimed by Orioles
On the first full day of the “virtual Winter Meetings,” the Pirates officially gained another spot on their 40-man roster that they could use for future waiver claims or perhaps a second pick in the Rule 5 Draft. The Bucs quietly placed Goudeau, the right-hander claimed off waivers from the Rockies on Nov. 25, back on waivers at some point before he was claimed by the Orioles. The Pirates hoped the big late-blooming prospect would clear waivers and remain in the organization, but Baltimore kept that from happening. The move left Pittsburgh with 38 players on its 40-man roster.
Dec. 4: Clay Holmes signs Minor League deal
Two days after being non-tendered, the right-hander re-signed with the Pirates on a Minor League contract that included an invitation to big league Spring Training. Holmes is not yet eligible for arbitration, so his new deal will likely pay him around the Major League minimum salary if he cracks the big league roster. Cherington said Holmes is healthy and has thrown off the mound “several times” this offseason, but there will be some uncertainty next year because he only made one appearance this past season before going on the injured list with a sprained right elbow. The 27-year-old struggled in his previous big league experience, posting a 6.01 ERA while averaging seven walks per nine innings despite averaging a strikeout per inning.
Dec. 2: Clay Holmes non-tendered, three signed to pre-tender deals
The Pirates agreed to terms on 2021 contracts with starter Jameson Taillon ($2.25 million), shortstop Erik González ($1.225 million) and reliever Michael Feliz ($1 million) before the non-tender deadline. To clear a spot on their 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, they non-tendered out-of-options reliever Clay Holmes. At the time, they intended to bring back Holmes on a non-roster deal and hoped to do so later in the offseason. In the process, the Pirates committed to going through the arbitration process with 10 other eligible players: first baseman Josh Bell; second baseman Adam Frazier; corner infielder Colin Moran; catcher Jacob Stallings; starting pitchers Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove and Steven Brault; and relievers Kyle Crick, Richard Rodríguez and Chris Stratton.
Nov. 27: Trevor Williams becomes a free agent, José Osuna signs with Japanese team
Five days after he was designated for assignment, Williams cleared waivers without being claimed by another team and was outrighted to Triple-A. Two days after that, Williams chose to become a free agent -- as expected -- and officially left the Pirates organization. Osuna, meanwhile, announced on his Instagram page three days after he was released by Pittsburgh that he had signed a deal to play next year for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
Nov. 25: Ashton Goudeau claimed, Will Craig DFA’d
The Pirates claimed right-hander Ashton Goudeau, an intriguing and potentially late-blooming pitching prospect, off waivers from the Rockies after he was designated for assignment on Nov. 20. To make room on their full 40-man roster, they designated 2016 first-round Draft pick Will Craig for assignment. Craig hadn’t put it all together at the plate, and defensively he was more or less limited to first base. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Goudeau offers some upside -- despite a rough introduction to the Majors in '20 -- after some mechanical tweaks he made led to success in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League in '19.
Nov. 20: Trevor Williams, José Osuna DFA'd
Facing a deadline to protect eligible prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, the Pirates selected the contracts of prospects Max Kranick and Rodolfo Castro. To make room on the 40-man roster, Pittsburgh designated Williams and corner infielder/outfielder José Osuna for assignment. None of those moves came as a surprise, especially in light of Cherington’s admission -- as expected -- that the Pirates didn’t intend to tender Williams a contract and that Osuna is likely pursuing an opportunity to play overseas.
Nov. 9: Nick Burdi elects free agency
After being designated for assignment on Nov. 1 and outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis on Nov. 6, Burdi elected free agency. That was the expected outcome after he underwent his second Tommy John surgery on Oct. 14. He could still re-sign with the Pirates as a Minor League free agent as he spends 2021 rehabbing.
Nov. 3: Dovydas Neverauskas released
As expected, right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas -- who was designated for assignment on Nov. 1 -- was released. On Nov. 16, Neverauskas signed a one-year, $875,000 contract with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan.
Nov. 2: Seven players become Minor League free agents
Outfielders Jason Martin and Socrates Brito, utility player Pablo Reyes, shortstop Adrian Valerio and right-handers Montana DuRapau, Gage Hinsz and Hector Noesí became Minor League free agents. The most notable name there is probably Martin, who was part of the Gerrit Cole trade, although Reyes and DuRapau had cameos in Pittsburgh and Hinsz was once a top 30 prospect in the Pirates’ system.
Nov. 1: Nick Burdi and Dovydas Neverauskas designated for assignment; 60-day IL cleared
The Pirates designated Burdi due to injury (his second Tommy John surgery) and Neverauskas due to a combination of performance and his interest in playing overseas. All those moves allowed them to activate Clay Holmes, Michael Feliz, Jameson Taillon, Phillip Evans and Alford from the 60-day injured list.
Oct. 31: Chris Archer’s option declined
The Pirates declined Archer’s $11 million club option for next season, as expected, paying a $250,000 buyout and making him a free agent.
Oct. 30: Four outright assignments; Brandon Waddell and Nick Tropeano claimed
The Pirates sent the following players outright to Triple-A Indianapolis, removing them from their 40-man roster: catchers Murphy and Luke Maile, infielder/outfielder Kevin Kramer and reliever Yacksel Ríos. The lefty Waddell was claimed off waivers by the Twins, while the right-hander Tropeano was claimed by the Mets. The Pirates claimed Perez off waivers from the Rays during this flurry of transactions.
Oct. 28: Keone Kela and Derek Holland become free agents
The veteran pitchers were on expiring contracts, and this freed up two spots on the team’s 40-man roster.
Oct. 7: Po-Yu Chen signs as international amateur free agent
The Pirates used some of the international bonus pool space they acquired to sign Chen, a 19-year-old right-hander, for $1.25 million.
Oct. 1: Sean Poppen claimed; JT Riddle designated for assignment
The Pirates claimed Poppen, a right-handed reliever, off waivers from the Twins. To make room, they removed Riddle, the light-hitting super-utility man who was outrighted off the roster and into free agency a few days later.
Sept. 30: Andrew Susac outrighted
Activated for the final game of the year, the backup catcher was quickly removed from the Pirates’ 40-man roster.
Sept. 28: Edgar Santana activated
The day after the season ended, the Pirates reinstated Santana from the restricted list, adding the righty reliever to their 40-man roster and ending his season-long suspension for testing positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing substance.