A couple of nights ago, Tuesday November 3rd, I found myself doing the same thing as many other Red Blooded Americans across the country; searching through Major League Baseball Free Agent lists, trying to identify realistic targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates to add prior to the beginning of the 2021 season. While my eyes scrolled up and down the screen in front of me, mental comparisons to players from the Pirates who have been mentioned in trade rumors were formed; wondering if General Managers across the league would be willing to part with prospects instead of picking a player off the open market.
Heading into this past off-season, even after Cherington was ushered in, and as we approached the most recent trade deadline, I regularly predicted minimal moves to be made by Pittsburgh’s Front Office; other than the much anticipated and expected trade of Starling Marte. Much to the potential disappointment of Pirates Fans, this opinion remains pretty much the same for the upcoming months. Sure there will be decisions made concerning arbitration and Rule 5 elligible players, however, I am honestly not expecting anything of great consequence to happen beyond this; mostly because of the lack of value in their tradable assets, but also because of the words of General Manager Ben Cherington himself.
In recent interviews and conversations with members of the Pittsburgh Sports Media, Cherington has talked about the need for Anthony Alford to play consistently in centerfield, Cole Tucker possibly playing more at shortstop, building on Joe Musgrove’s strong finish to the season and the closer position more than likely been addressed internally. Also take into account statements he has made about Gregory Polanco bouncing back in a Pirates Uniform and being “encouraged” by his desire to play in the Dominican Winter League. These maybe minor talking points concerning just a few spots on the roster, but to me it says a lot.
Most times trades, the selling kind, are made by a team because of depth exists at a position or a player is near the end of their team control, whether it be contract or arbitration related. Of course it could occur because of an irresistible offer, but I feel like this is an outlier. On the other hand free agents are usually acquired to make a push, fill a void, add depth, create competition or with the goal of flipping the player down the line. Based on the comments from Cherington he has not alluded to a desire to complete transactions for these reasons and often talks about the possibility of making significant acquisitions or spending when the Pirates are ready to contend, which they clearly are not prepared to do for the next year or so. Nevertheless, as I said before, there will be moves to be made; even if they are considered minor or minimal; including three potential trade pieces and free agents. But before I begin, please temper your expectations for returns, as well as the level of player they will more than likely add. I mean, I didn’t see any of you jump out of your seats with the signing of Michael Perez.
Three Most Likely Trade Pieces
Adam Frazier was seen as a potential trade target for multiple teams during this past off-season, however, nothing ever came to fruition. Once again at the most recent trade deadline, Frazier’s name kept surfacing. In the equivalent of 4 MLB seasons with the Pirates, Frazier has shown himself to be around a league average hitter (.275 AVG and 100 wRC+), with defensive upside (6 DRS IF/OF, 6 OAA 2B 2020 and 11 OAA 2019). As a two time Gold Glove Finalist at second base, Frazier has also shown the ability to play multiple positions around the field, which could entice prospective trade partners.
Colin Moran came out of the gate swinging through the first seven games of the season as he was slashed .333/.385/.875 with 4 home runs in 24 at bats. Then reality sank in as he proceeded to hit .228 over his next 127 at bats. Some of the power stuck around as he hit another 6 homers and 20 total extra base hits, but he saw his once astronomical numbers slip to .247/.325/.472 by the end of the year. Moran is a career .270 hitter, so it is most likely that his average rebounds closer to that number over 162 games. For teams that could be looking at Moran it was nice to seem him have the opportunity to exhibit the ability to adequately hold down the first base position with a -1 OAA because it was evident that he was not a everyday third baseman anymore.
Chad Kuhl began the year by being slowly brought into the fold as a part of a “piggyback”, after having not pitched since June of 2018 and undergoing Tommy John Surgery in September of the same year. After struggling off and on through his first nine appearances he ended the season on a high as he struck out 11 and allowed only one earned run over his last 12 innings of work. For the season he posted 4.27 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, but there are some concerns about his 5.48 FIP. The bigger concern for me the fact that he is down to the final two years of team control, so at this point it is getting close to a contract extension or trade decision.
Free Agent Additions
Michael Hermosillo is a former top prospect within the Los Angeles Angels Farm System. He was ranked 24th in 2019 and as high as 11th in 2018. Throughout his Minor League career he has spent time at all three outfield positions, but projects as a 4th outfielder in the long run. Over the past three years he has only accumulated 101 Major League at bats, including only 8 in the truncated 2020 season, ultimately being designated for assignment off the 60 man player pool in order to make room for a returning pitcher. Hermosillo has shown the ability to provide some power 27 home runs over his last two Minor League seasons. He is not arbitration eligible until 2022 and is scheduled to reach free agency in 2026 at the age of 31.
Andrew Velasquez was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays back in November of 2014 with high hopes for the 20 year old shortstop. Unfortunately for him he was limited by injuries over the next two seasons; appearing in only 126 games during that time. In 2018 he finally started to breakout by hitting 14 homers in the minors. This earned him a September call up with the Rays, but little else as he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2019 for international bonus pool space in the midst of his best season of professional baseball. Between the two organizations Velasquez slashed .300/.352/.502 with 6 home runs. Prior to the 2020 season he was placed on waivers; landing in Baltimore, where he struggled severely. Across 40 games and 63 at bats, he only managed to record a .159 average. On the plus side, throughout his career, the former 7th round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks has played almost every position on the field aside from catcher. He is also under team control for the next 4 years.
Dereck Rodriguez is the son of catching great Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who burst into the scene in 2018 with the San Francisco Giants; posting a 2.81 ERA and a 1.132 WHIP in 21 appearances, 19 of them starts. During the next season his performance steadily decreased in efficiency as he saw his ERA balloon to 5.64 and his WHIP top out at 1.455, while 2020 was just a total disaster. A pitcher who relies on command and soft contact, Rodriguez has the potential to return to form if he is put in a situation to succeed as a starter and allowed to play to his strengths. Originally drafted as an outfielder way back in 2011, he didn’t take the mound on a regular basis until 2014. This means more limited innings than other pitchers his age and control of an athletic young man with a known baseball pedigree for at least four years.
Now I know there will probably be some backlash or outrage over the types of players I believe Cherington and the Pirates will more than likely be targeting as free agent additions and/or as signings for minor league contracts with invitations to spring training, but it is just the reality of the situation. It’s not like many had heard of Guillermo Heredia, JT Riddle and Luke Maile before they signed with Pittsburgh; and this year could be very similar as the low risk/potential high reward signings continue to dominate the off-season and in-season transactions until it is finally time to compete again.