Now that a new World Series Champion has been crowned we can put the 2014 MLB season in the books and officially begin the Hot Stove season. What is in store for the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason? Will it be quiet like last year, or does GM Neal Huntington have some surprises up his sleeve? Let’s get started with the questions the Pirates must answer before Spring Training begins in February.
First Order of Business – Will they extend qualifying offers to Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano? The Pirates have until November 3rd to extend qualifying offers to their pending free agents. The qualifying offer this year is worth $15.3 million. Martin is a lock to be offered a QO. Liriano is a bit more iffy, but I’m already on the record as saying the Pirates should extend the QO to him as well.
Biggest question of the offseason – How aggressively will the Pirates push to retain Russell Martin and will it be enough to sign him? The Pirates would really like to bring Martin back, but as the only quality catcher on the free agent market the bidding for his services will be fierce. If the Pirates are going to sign Martin it will likely take in the neighborhood of $60 million over 4 years to do it.
Second biggest question of the offseason – What to do at the 1B position? Who’s on first seems like an annual question every winter for the Bucs. The Pirates have used a platoon at 1B for several seasons, and that probably won’t change in 2015. Pedro Alvarez‘s throwing issues at 3B in 2014 forced the team to try him out at 1B. If he is going to have a future with the Pirates it will be as the left-handed hitter in the 1B platoon. However, the Pirates still have Ike Davis to occupy that role. It is hard to foresee the Pirates retaining both Ike and Pedro. One of them is likely to be dealt this offseason. Pedro has refused to play Winter Ball in the past. I think he should play Winter Ball this year to work on learning how to play 1B. If he refuses that could impact the Pirates decision.
Which arbitration eligible players will the Pirates tender? John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez have already been let go leaving the following list of arbitration eligible players the Pirates must decide if they will tender: Neil Walker, Mark Melancon, Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Vance Worley, Chris Stewart, Jared Hughes, Gaby Sanchez. The Pirates are likely to tender all of these players, although they may try to shop one or two of them in trades.
What bounce back candidate free agent starting pitcher will they sign? It seems like the Pirates sign a bounce back candidate starting pitcher every off season. Last year it was Edinson Volquez. The year before that it was Francisco Liriano. Who will it be this year? The hot name being suggested is Justin Masterson. Masterson is a ground ball pitcher with an ERA that was significantly higher than his FIP this season. So yes, he fits the profile.
Might they perhaps make a bigger free agency splash this year? According to GM Neal Huntington the Pirates had close to $20 million in their budget to shop for free agents last offseason. They were unable to find the right players and left most of that money on the table. It is unlikely they will expand their budget enough to do any shopping outside of the bargain bins, but this is a contending team ready to win. If there ever was a time for this organization to open the purse strings and make a run at signing an impact player it is now.
What about the possibility of a major trade? Huntington has flirted with trading for an impact player over the last several years. He tried to land Jon Lester and David Price at the trade deadline. The Pirates have also been attached to Mike Stanton rumors. Eventually Huntington is going to pull the trigger on a huge deal. Perhaps it will be this year at the Winter Meetings.
What about bench and depth signings? They certainly could use a backup middle infielder to replace Clint Barmes. Or maybe they will bring Barmes back again. Neal Huntington loves to collect AAAA players, so I am sure we will see several AAAA type players invited to Spring Training.