Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Mar 15, 12 Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Previously: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates

2011 RECORD: 72-90

PRESIDENT: Frank Coonelly GM: Neal Huntington

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, A.J. Burnett, Nate McClouth, Casey McGehee, Doug Slaten

KEY DEPARTURES: Derrek Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Paul Maholm, Joe Beimel, Ryan Doumit, Nelson Figueroa, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder, Jose Veras

1992 was the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record – the club posted a 96-66 record. It is possible that the Pirates snap that streak in 2012.

The highlight of the offseason was undoubtedly Andrew McCutchen‘s 6-year $51.5MM extension with a 7th year club option. I won’t analyze the brilliance of this deal too much and instead will hand it off to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs who explains why this deal is a major win for the Bucs.

The fact is that the Pirates locked up McCutchen to essentially the same contract that Juston Upton signed two years prior and Jay Bruce signed 15 months prior – and McCutchen is a far more statistically achieved player than either Upton or Bruce from the time they signed extensions. It’s not even close.

Length Value Date Signed Age MLB Service Career WAR
Andrew McCutchen 6 + 1/club $51.5MM 3/6/2012 25 2.123 12.9
Jay Bruce 6 + 1/club $51.25MM 12/10/2010 23 2.125 8
Justin Upton 6 $51.25MM 3/4/2010 22 2.060 5.2


This table graphically depicts the brilliance in the Pirates extension of McCutchen. When comparing McCutchen to his counterparts (at the time each signed their respective extension): McCutchen is slightly older and more experienced  than both Bruce and Upton. He also has provided nearly five more wins above replacement than Jay Bruce and more than doubles Upton’s WAR. WOW!

McCutchen is THE stereotypical 5-tool player. He hits for average and power, gets on base, steals bases, and he even drastically improved his defense in 2011. His career line is .276/.365/.458 with a stellar .363 wOBA – he has also stolen 78 bases.

The 7th year club option at $15.75MM is the real winner in this deal. Assuming McCutchen keeps at his pace (or close), he will be worth for more than $15.75MM in 2018, thus; with the option, the Pirates get McCutchen from ages 25-31 for $64MM.  Let’s be real, this is one of the best moves the franchise could possibly do.

Clint Barmes will be the new man at shortstop and Rod Barajas will hold down the backstop. These are two guys that will struggle significantly at the plate, however; Barmes is a plus defender. Barajas is a bland move; he brings a veteran presence and some pop but he rarely gets on base and sports a career .299 wOBA. The 7,8,9 spots in the lineup should be a breeze for opposing pitchers.

Two moves I liked by the Pirates: 1) Bringing aboard Erik Bedard and 2) Trading for A.J. Burnett

Both moves are great strategies for a small-cap team as Bedard is cheap because of his injury issues and Burnett is actually undervalued at the 2-year $13MM rate he comes at. Eric Seidman of FanGraphs explains the Burnett move.

Short story on Burnett: His xFIP was 3.86 last year and one of the main reasons for his struggles is he gets torched by lefties in Yankee stadium, where almost any fly ball seems to get over the right-field wall. It’s unfortunate that Burnett is out a 2-3 months after injuring himself while trying to bunt in practice. Otherwise, his presence brings stability to a shaky Pirates rotation.

Bedard is coming off a solid year in which he posted a 3.64 FIP in 129.1 innings, right in line with his career numbers. The catch on Bedard is that he has only thrown 293.1 innings in the last four years combined. But that is exactly why he comes at a low-cost-low-risk one-year deal. I wouldn’t expect more than 120 innings out of him this year. Here is the intuition: If Bedard has another good first-half of the season and 1) the Pirates are in contention – keep him and ride his arm out till it falls;or 2) if the club is not in contention, you move him to a desperate club and receive a low-mid level prospect in return. As I mentioned before, with the changes to the CBA, there will be more buyers at the trade deadline.


The Pirates are expected to have a league-low $46MM payroll. This is a talented roster and to be at just $46MM is impressive. If the Bucs are hot as mid-season approaches, expect Huntington to make the moves necessary to push hard for a postseason birth — even if it means expanding the payroll constraints.


I was definitely buying in for the Pirates to end their losing seasons streak until Burnett was set back with his injury. It will be tough but here is how the Pirates can crack an 82 win season.

1) McCutchen needs to take another giant stride forward and put up a 7 WAR season. He is definitely capable of it.

2) Pedro Alvarez must bounce back and live up to the slugging persona he is expected to have. Alvarez hit below the Mendoza line last year and consequently lost his job (and MLB roster spot) at the hot corner, however; this kid has pop and he has showed it along with patience at the plate in the minor leagues. If Alvarez can post a full season of .365 wOBA, the Pirates will be able to overlook the offensive inabilities of Barmes and Barajas.

Given those two scenarios, I have enough faith in the Pirates working with a patch-up rotation while making moves at the trade deadline to make a serious push for the post season.

Worst case, none of the above happens, and the Pirates get to add another stud prospect to their minor league system next draft.


Pittsburgh has one of the top minor league systems in terms of talent. They are top heavy, led by big-name guys: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell. Couple that with McCutchen locked in for 6-7 years, Tabata locked in long term, and Alex Presley budding as a speedy lead-off hitter – the Pirates can have a low-payroll contending team relatively soon.

Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs in the playoffs within the next four or five years (I know sounds like a long time, but remember that 1992 was the last winning season).

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