Thursday, July 14, 2011

If the Bucs DO become buyers

If the Bucs DO become buyers….

…Who would they buy? That’s the question.

Looking at comments Neal Huntington has made and considering the Pirates’ overall situation, I’d suggest the following:

1.       They can take on salary, and will likely look to do that, rather than shed elite prospects. Neal has said repeatedly that he is looking to build a long-term “championship caliber” team, and that for a market the size of Pittsburgh, the resources will come internally.  He is as excited as anyone about the Pirates’ resurgence this year and he wants to seize the opportunity, I am sure; but I don’t think he’s ready to mortgage the future quite yet. 

2.      They will likely look for an OF/IB type before anything else. Doumit is coming back; Alvarez back to 3B at least for the rest of the year is probably inevitible. You can never have enough pitching, but in my view, another starter or bolstering the pen – particularly with Biemel on the verge of returning and Meek hopefully not far behind – is a lower priority.
3.      They realize that another “bench” type player is not what the fans are looking for. Some have speculated about a Jeff Keppinger type and Keppinger would be a good acquisition. But he is not a game changer. A game changer will hit lots of Home Runs.
4.      Contract considerations will play a role. We know that this front office is very budget conscious, not in the sense of “they are really cheap” but in the sense of wanting to have as much certainty as possible as they plan for the future.
5.      If they get what they want, however, they will be willing to spend the money. This is weird even to write, but given the overall payroll right now, the Pirates can accommodate a major acquisition.  This may even possibly be done without giving up elite prospects, if they help another team shed some salary.
6.      They are cognizant of the Maholm and McCutchen contract situations. Don’t think for a minute that the prospect of a long term deal for Cutch and Maholm’s option are not part of the equation.  They know that they MUST sign McCutchen – that’s not debateable. They do, however, need to decide whether to leverage Maholm’s fine season to acquire other long-term needs, or to exercise his 2012 option for almost $10M. Serious considerations.

Given that the Pirates are not a team that can (or at least, will) spend money without concern for long-term implications, I went to a great website which I’ll happily plug – – and looked up contract situations for a number of potential acquisitions. I just cannot believe that budget considerations will not play a role in how the Pirates approach the deadline – that would just not be the “Pirate way” but not only that, it’d be foolish.   I also find it unrealistic to throw out trade proposals without consideration of the contracts that the Pirates would take on.  So some thoughts, given the six points above:

Short-term infusion:

1.       If the Pirates want a short term fix that could a) have an impact by upgrading a position, and b) will not lock them into expensive out years, their best bet is probably Michael Cuddyer.  IF the Twins decide to be sellers – and there’s no guarantee they will – Cuddyer would be an excellent option whose contract expires at the end of this season.  He’s someone I could see as a long-term Pirate as well, if they decided they wanted to make a push to retain him.  Hard to guage the cost though.

2.      A second, perhaps more realistic option may be Carlos Pena.  He would cost the Pirates about $6m, but that’s off the books by the end of the year.  It is unlikely that the Cubs will be too concerned about trading within their division, given that this would be a three month rental for the Pirates and the Cubs do not appear to be competitive this year.

3.      Another low-budget option would be Melky Cabrera. He is a free agent after this year and would probably not command too much from the Royals, who will likely lose him anyway. He is having an excellent year and has shown decent power.

4.      A fourth option in this respect would be Jeff Francouer of the Royals. Francouer does have an option for next year but it’s probably affordable. However, Francouer does not have the track record of a Cuddyer or Pena and I’m dubious that this would have much of an impact over Garrett Jones at 1b (or – shudder – a Jones/Overbay platoon).

Longer-term infusion

What if the Pirates acted a little more boldly? What if they decided that they wanted to stabilize a position for a few years, knowing that the costs could be high but also knowing they have the position “locked up?” What if they concluded that having such predictability and stability, even at a higher cost, would actually make it more palatable (not less) to lock up McCutchen? There may be some risks out there worth taking, who might be available.  HOWEVER, they may cost more in terms of prospects as these are not just “rentals” but established players.  But if the Bucs go this route they might think about:

5.      Adam Lind.  This would be an excellent acquisition, in my view. He is only 26 (I believe), and has evolved into a consistent, highly regarded ballplayer with definite power and the ability to play solid defense in both the OF and at 1B. Will Toronto be a seller? Unknown, but possible for the right package. However, the “right package” will have to involve top-tier prospects or possibly MLB talent.  Lind is a cornerstone of the Blue Jays offense and locked up through 2016 at an affordable salary (see below). It will be hard to get him but I’d love to see it.

6.      Adam Dunn. Is there a risk given that he sucks this year? Yes. Would it be a COSTLY risk, probably too costly for the Pirates to take? Probably. Is his defense horrible? Yes. But the fact remains that he is not helping the White Sox, they may want to move him to shed his salary, and bottom line: He RAKES in the National League. In my heart I would love to see Dunn in a Bucco uniform. But my head tells me that this probably does not make sense for the Buccos. Still…

Big-Time Commitments – Big Time Costs

Now, what if the Bucs REALLY wanted to lock up high-quality ballplayers for an extended period of time, regardless of price?  Their budget would likely allow it; and there are a couple of such players that would at least be worth looking into. In reality, it seems to me that going after these players, which would cost elite prospects and perhaps major league talent as well (e.g., a Paul Maholm, or at least an Alex Presley level player), is not consistent with the Pirates’ philosophy. Nonetheless they are worth considering. I’d throw two names out there. Note, though, that each would be a difficult acquisition for different reasons, as discussed below:

7.      Justin Morneau. Yes, this is probably a stretch. When healthy he is the cornerstone of the Twins’ offense. The ONLY way he would be available is IF the Twins decide they need to shed salary after the insane contract to Mauer, IF they decide to become sellers, and IF the Pirates were willing to meet an exorbitant price. I don’t see this as probable, but I am throwing it out just because such an acquisition would be extremely intriguing, would have great impact (assuming he’s healthy), and given health concerns, may be plausible. After all, why not?

8.     Hunter Pence. Difficult to see us acquiring him but for very different reasons for Morneau. Only presented here because I’ve seen fan speculation about him. He’d be a great acquisition, no doubt; but the cost would be high, Houston may have absolutely no interest in moving him within the division or anywhere else, and he is no doubt viewed by the Astros as an affordable cornerstone for their future. He is still in his arbitration years after all!  But yeah, that’d solve the RF problem all right.

Wild Cards

Three players have been raised as possibilities or may seem like plausible options, but I’m not sure they’re realistic, or in the case of two, I don’t think they'd be a game-changer in any way. However, there are plausible scenarios and they may be attainable at relatively little cost, both in terms of money or players.

9.      The first is Jeff Keppinger. He is having a surprisingly solid season and would represent a different philosophical acquisition than anyone else discussed to this point – he is a middle infielder, and probably an upgrade over Ronnie Cedeno in many ways. He is also in arbitration. The Astros may have fewer qualms about moving him if they can get a prospect or two – and not necessarily an elite one (sound familiar?). I’m not sure he’d be that much of an upgrade however, but maybe as a supplemental piece to one of the other names here, he’d be useful and would strengthen the bench.

10.  Aramis Ramirez. Ah, the wild cards of wild cards. In this scenario, Pedro Alvarez shifts to 1B (a position he is not familiar with) immediately, and Aramis comes in to cover the hot corner.  Or, if the Pirates are feeling REALLY draconian, they leave Alvarez at 3B but keep him in the minors at least through September so he can “work out his kinks.”  I do not believe, however, that the Pirates will acquire Aramis Ramirez. He has a complex contract and it could cost the Pirates plenty to keep him, and it’s completely unknown how he’d respond to a trade back to Pittsburgh.

11.  Marlon Byrd.  The intriguing thing about Byrd is that he's having a good year and he's locked up for 2012 relatively affordably. He could help the team through quality play and experience, and is probably not a big part of the Cubs' long-term future. The downside is that he is Marlon Byrd. A quality player, and I could see the Pirates going this route, but his value would have to be weighed against other internal options.

Let’s not rule out:

12.   No major acquisition at all.   They move Jones to 1B, and man the OF with a healthy Tabata-McCuthchen-Presley combo, and hope Alvarez comes through at 3B. I believe this is entirely plausible. It would make a Keppinger or Byrd acqusition more palatable, cost little, and may work. The risk is that we’re moving forward with Presley – with about a month of MLB experience – as our everyday OF, we ‘re counting on Tabata to hit like he did the first month or so of the season, we're counting on Alvarez to regain his stroke immediately, and we continue to hope that Garrett Jones rediscovers his power stroke. It could all work – but there's a lot of its there and it won’t make for a very dramatic  trade deadline and I’m not sure it’s ideal.

My guess? I think they will make a move and it will be someone in the first set – Cabrera, Cuddyer or Pena, possibly Francouer.  I think they’ll look into a Keppinger type as well. These would be solid, relatively low-cost upgrades and still allow Neal Huntington to retain the “financial flexibility” he covets (and may need for Cutch and possibly Maholm - not to mention Hanrahan around the corner).  And in particular if they go for a Cabrera or Cuddyer, the team will be better, the chemistry preserved, and we’d have room for future acquisitions after the trade deadline if they presented themselves.  I’d be happy with this approach.

We’ll know in two weeks! It may be any one of these players, or none of the above! Or no one!  In any case, it’s a fun and refreshing discussion to be having.

Below, I present each of the players discussed in this report (in the order that they were discussed) and their current contract situation, as reported by the MLBContracts website. I cannot swear for its veracity, but it seems about right and my guess is that it is reliable.

Michael Cuddyer of
3 years/$24M (2008-10), plus 2011 option
  • 3 years/$24M (2008-10)
    • signed extension with Minnesota 1/25/08 (avoided arbitration, $6.2M-$4.7M)
    • $2.75M signing bonus (due 11/08)
    • 08:$5M, 09:$6.75M, 10:$8.5M, 11:$10.5M club option ($1M buyout)
Carlos Pena 1b
1 year/$10M (2011)
  • 1 year/$10M (2011)
    • signed by Chicago Cubs as a free agent 12/8/10
    • $5M deferred, to be paid 1/2012
Melky Cabrera of
1 year/$1.25M (2011)
  • 1 year/$1.25M (2011)
    • signed by Kansas City as a free agent 12/9/10
    • $0.25M in performance bonuses
Jeff Francoeur rf
1 year/$2.5M (2011), plus 2012 mutual option
  • 1 year/$2.5M (2011), plus 2012 mutual option
    • signed by Kansas City as a free agent 12/8/10
Adam Lind of
4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-16 club options
  • 4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-16 club options
    • signed extension with Toronto 4/3/10, replacing 1-year, $0.41M deal for 2010
    • $0.6M signing bonus
    • 10:$0.4M, 11:$5M, 12:$5M, 13:$5M, 14:$7M club option ($2M buyout), 15:$7.5M club option ($1M buyout), 16:$8M club option ($0.5M buyout)
Adam Dunn 1b-of
4 years/$56M (2011-14)
  • 4 years/$56M (2011-14)
    • signed by Chicago White Sox as a free agent 12/3/10
    • 11:$12M, 12:$14M, 13:$15M, 14:$15M

Justin Morneau 1b
6 years/$80M (2008-13)
  • 6 years/$80M (2008-13)
    • signed extension with Minnesota 1/25/08, replacing 1 year/$7.4M deal signed 1/18/08 (avoided arbitration)
    • $6M signing bonus
    • 08:$7.4M, 09:$10.6M, 10:$14M, 11:$14M, 12:$14M, 13:$14M
Hunter Pence of
1 year/$6.9M (2011)
  • 1 year/$6.9M (2011)
    • won arbitration with Houston 2/19/11 ($6.9M-$5.15M)
  • 1 year/$3.5M (2010)
Jeff Keppinger inf
1 year/$2.3M (2011)
  • 1 year/$2.3M (2011)
    • re-signed by Houston 1/18/11 (avoided arbitration)
Aramis Ramirez 3b
5 years/$75M (2007-11), plus 2012 club option
  • 5 years/$75M (2007-11), plus 2012 club option
    • re-signed by Cubs as a free agent 11/06
    • $5M signing bonus
    • 07:$8M, 08:$14M, 09:$15.65M, 10:$15.75M, 11:$14.6M player option, 12:$16M club option ($2M buyout)
    • full no-trade clause 2007-10, $1M assignment bonus if traded
    • Ramirez has right to void contract after 2010 & become a free agent
    • award bonuses: $75,000 each for Gold Glove or All Star selection, $0.25M for LCS MVP, $0.3M for MVP,$0.35M for WS MVP
    • Ramirez may void 2012 option, but doing so forfeits $2M buyout
    • 2012 option becomes guaranteed if Ramirez:
      • wins one MVP in 2007-11, or
      • places 2nd or 3rd in MVP vote twice in 2007-11, or
      • wins LCS MVP once in 2007-11, or
      • is an All Star 3 times in 2007-11, or
      • is traded at any time & Ramirez exercises 2011 option
Marlon Byrd of
3 years/$15M (2010-12)
  • 3 years/$15M (2010-12)
    • signed by Chicago Cubs as a free agent 12/31/09
    • 10:$3M, 11:$5.5M, 12:$6.5M

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