The Pirates are currently searching for a new manager after losing over a hundred games for the second time since they moved into PNC park in 2001. The Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to stop a record long playoff drought. They have not made the playoffs since 1992. However, this year might be different as they strive for a .500 record and an all too elusive playoff berth. Lets all face it, they are really bad.
Recently, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweeted that he heard that the Pirates plan to be aggressive in the Free Agent market. Last year they had the lowest payroll in the Major Leagues, yet Jon Heyman's tweet seems to indicate that the Pittsburgh Pirates might be planning on adding some payroll to sign some free agents. How many and who should they go after?
I think that the Pirates could improve 10-20 games next year if they signed 5 Free Agents and made one minor trade. As well as non-tendering 3 of their current players who are dead weight. By doing these things they would be looking at an vast improvement on a dreadful 2010 at the very least. Perhaps even building a competitive team to hold the place until their top prospects make the show.
Javier Vazquez had a poor 2010 but is a great pitcher in the National League
The most obvious weakness of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010 was a dismal pitching staff that got hammered on a weekly basis. Now, while its true Javier Vazquez got beat around for the NY Yankees in 2010 to the tune of 5.32 ERA and a only slightly better xFIP (expected ERA based on allowing a normal home run rate and with an average defense) of 4.90, Javy Vazquez has been a dominate pitcher in the National League.
In the National League Vazquez's ERA is .63 lower and he strikes out .61 more batters for every base on balls which are both drastic improvements and would make his NYY line look a lot better. In fact his ERA would have been a decent 4.69 and he would have struck out 2.47 batters per walk vs. K'ing less than 2 per free pass.
For a contract around 2 years at $6 million each the Pirates could lock up their 2011 opening day starter and improve a weak rotation a great deal.
The Pirates should also add a solid long relief/spot starter type to eat innings in the inevitable bad starts by the young guys. Micah Owings can do just that and is very cheap. Sure he is not great, but at 28 years old he may have his best years ahead of him.
For 1 year at 1.5 million the Pirates can get a arm capable of throwing a hundred innings from the bullpen in 2011.
Grant Balfour is a flame throwing stud.
The next addition to the much maligned Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff needs to be a solid bullpen arm who can pitch in high leverage situations. That guy needs to be Grant Balfour. With the Rays in 2010 he struck out 9.11 per 9 innings and had a minuscule ERA of 2.28, with an average fastball velocity sitting easily above 90 miles per hour, even in a year with some time missed due to injuries, he can be the big arm in the Pirates pen to get the ball to their closer and even close out some games if needed.
For 2 years at 4.25 million each, the Pirates can sign one of the most desirable bullpen arms in all of the Majors.
Bill Hall will be able to play any position of need that may pop up for the Pitrates.
In just 344 at bats for the 2010 Red Sox Bill Hall hit 18 home runs and walked in 9% of his plate appearances, while playing almost every position in the field. Hall appeared at 2b, 3b, SS, Lf, Cf, and Rf in 2010, heck he even pitched a inning! Bill Hall would give the Pirates exactly what they needed, a capable bat to fill in at any position, on any night, that saw its incumbent go down due to injury, or just struggle to play well.
For 1 year at 2.5 million (with incentives for $5 million and a vesting option for $6) Bill Hall could be super utility for the Pirates.
Carlos Pena would add a spark with his bat and glove.
Carlos Pena had an awful 2010 season. His average plummeted and his long balls balls started to land on the warning track. However, Carlos Pena would bring exactly at what a poor Pittsburgh line up lacks, professionalism, huge power, and protection for budding stars like Pedro Alvarez. He has cranked at least 28 dingers each year since 2007, with an average of 36 home runs per season.
Not only would Pena's bat help the Pirates reach a .500 season, but he plays solid defense at first base.
For 2 years at $7.5 per season the Pirates could find their first real 4th hitter since Jason Bay left for Boston.
The cost of Duke is not worth the production
Three players on the 2010 Pittsburgh roster will need to be non-tendered (the team does not offer them a contract and allows them to become Free Agents) due to cost, no role, or just not being worth having.
The first player is SP Zack Duke. In 2010 he made $4.3 million to produce a 5.72 ERA. That is simply not cutting it, and, through MLB's arbitration system, Duke will get a raise to around $5 million. For a cost conscious Pittsburgh team that money can be spent much much better (Javier Vazquez).
The second player that needs to go is RF Lastings Milledge. He has no pop and is starting to look like a real bust as far as his former status as top prospect goes. He is also due a raise on his $452,000 salary maybe into the $1 million dollar range. Plus his role as 4th outfielder is soon to be taken away by the trade that is forthcoming.
The third player who needs to go is another failed top prospect, IF Andy LaRoche. He loses his job because Bill Hall can do it better ans serve as a much better defender. Also he has done nothing to earn his $500,000 job.
Ryan Raburn hits so well against lefties its scary.
The last move needed to round out the 2011 Pirates is to trade C Ryan Doumit to the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have no qualified catchers on their 40 man roster and will want the next best thing when they miss out on C Victor Martinez, and that is Ryan Doumit.
The trade will be this: Ryan Doumit, C for Ryan Raburn, OF.
Reasoning: Raburn is much cheaper, and will be a perfect platoon partner for the left handed Garrett Jones in Right Field. Off lefties Raburn smokes the ball, hitting .295 and slugging .566, and sample size is not an issue as he did this in a considerable amount of at bats. Raburn also makes Lastings Milledge expendable and saves the Pirates over $3 million dollars vs Ryan Doumit.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates were to sign all 5 free agents, cut the 3 current Pirates they have currently and make the Doumit for Raburn trade, they would only be adding $13.75 million to their payroll. Adding so many valuable players and increasing payroll (just barely make them the second lowest payroll) would be a good P.R. move for sure.
Also adding Vazquez, Owings, Balfour, Hall, Pena, and Raburn would make the Pirates probably about 10 games better than they were in 2010, even being very conservative. Vazquez himself, when looking at WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is probably worth 4 more wins alone over what Zack Duke did in 2010. Last year Balfour was worth 1.2 WAR which is amazing for a set up man, and Pena would produce at least 2-3.5 more wins per year, according to WAR, above what the Pirates had in 2010.
I believe with all these moves the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates could go 81-81 and avoid a losing season for the first time in a long time, and hopefully, pave the way for the next playoff bound Pirates team.