Turnover expected as Pirates enter free agency
Club has to address infield corners, rotation and catcher
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- All sorts of flags went up Wednesday night in Kansas City. The Giants raised another World Series banner. At the same time, the green flag was waved for the Hot Stove season. Gentlemen, man your rumor engines.
The Pirates will be busy under the hood. Coming off their breakout 2013 season, they had to only minimally tinker to stay on course for another postseason run. This time, general manager Neal Huntington has to undertake a major tuneup to keep the Buccos' machine purring.
Catcher Russell Martin is the plum free agent -- in other teams' view as well -- and received a $15.3 million qualifying offer, along with free-agent starter Francisco Liriano. Liriano and Edinson Volquez could be gone if the market offers them three-year deals. Infielder Clint Barmes was the easiest re-sign, until the recent trade for Justin Sellers.
There are big questions to address at both corners of the infield, in the rotation and, of course, behind the plate.
Pedro Alvarez is a huge X factor who could solve both first, if he buys into a permanent position switch, and third, where Josh Harrison could then stay put. But that appears to be a big "if," as Alvarez may prefer to re-establish himself at the hot corner. One way or another -- by shelling out for their own free agents or getting new arms -- the Bucs need to complete a starting five that now only has three (Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley, Jeff Locke).
At catcher, the fallback from Martin to the in-house options (Chris Stewart, Tony Sanchez, prospect Elias Diaz) is precipitous.
There are always ample low-risk, high-reward options on the market for filling out the rotation, and the Pirates' recent success with such projects buys them considerable cachet. This wide-open arena can range from dealing for a team-discounted veteran (like the Phillies' Cliff Lee) to signing rehabbing free agents (such as Gavin Floyd).
The Bucs do have some bucks with which to play. At the rate their payroll has been increasing (at an annual average of about 10 percent), the '15 scroll would be at $80 million on Opening Day. Total commitments, including a dozen projected arbitrated salaries: $65.1 million.
Huntington was in mode to forfeit significant pieces of the Pirates' Minor League talent lode for some of the high-profile pitchers on the market at July's non-waiver Trade Deadline, and he thus will field calls from peers looking to move veteran pitchers. Middle infielder Alen Hanson and Josh Bell, who hasn't taken well to first base and has no room in the Bucs' outfield, could be centerpieces of a package.
The Pirates may be reluctant to keep the heart of their bullpen intact for a third straight season, and if they see upsides for late-season additions Bobby LaFromboise and John Holdzkom, established relievers like Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes could be available.
Keep notes, to keep up. There will be a lot of moving pieces for the Bucs, who have to trick out the support for a solid core.