In my most recent article for the site I wrote about some potential free agent targets for Pittsburgh General Manager Ben Cherington from a realistic point of view, which was not met with a warm reception. I complete understand the reasons behind these reactions and truthfully I did expect them to be any different. However, as other players were suggested to me, most of whom are out of reach for the Pirates by my estimation, I couldn’t help but realize that there has to be a middle ground or I at least hope there is one.
We all know that there are certain free agents Cherington is not going to waste his time with; including the likes of Trevor Bauer, George Springer, JT Realmuto and DJ LeMahieu. Thinking the Pirates could even have legitimate shot at signing any player of this caliber and cost is beyond pipe dreams; it downright borders on madness. There is even a tier, or two, below this that can only be described as a wish list. A little bit further down is the sweet spot; where it isn’t as dire as I had originally projected, but it isn’t so far fetched that your sanity is being questioned.
The types of players that exist at the halfway point in between reality and fantasy are ones looking to rebound (aka reclamation projects), borderline major leaguers stuck due to being blocked at a position or you think you can fix and those likely to bring a decent return if traded/flipped. However, keep in mind they must also be brought in at a reasonable price; shrinking the proverbial talent pool to only a handful of options. For your convenience I have listed them from most to least likely.
Sam McWilliams is a 6’7” swing man that can pump his fastball up to between 96 to 98 mph and shined in AA back in the beginning of 2019. Through 15 appearances and 11 starts he put up an impressive 2.05 ERA and a 1.255 WHIP; and this was when he was throwing in the low 90’s. He spent the season at the Rays Alternate Site in Port Charlotte and was even activated at one point, but never got into a game.
Richard Urena made the jump from AA to the majors in 2017 for the Toronto Blue Jays and had his best year in 2018, when he slashed .293/.340/.364 over 40 games and 108 plate appearances. A player that is versatile enough to play all over the diamond, Urena was made expendable by the emergence of Bichette, Biggio and Vlad JR.
Trey Supak is a player that should be familiar to any Pirates Prospect, Draft or Trade Junkie. Supak was Pittsburgh 2nd Round Pick in the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft at 73rd overall and only 9 spots behind Mitch Keller. He ultimately only spent two years in the system before he was shipped off to Milwaukee with Keon Broxton for 1st Baseman Jason Rogers; eventually rising through the Brewers organization and all the way up to #11 on their top prospects list in 2019. This was mostly due to a strong campaign in AA, where he posted a 2.20 ERA and a .0872 WHIP in 20 starts across 122.2 innings. He did struggle with the promotion to AAA as his ERA ballooned to 9.30 and his WHIP crested at 1.667, both career highs. However, it was reported that he reported to Spring Training earlier this year about 25 pounds lighter, a lot healthier and more motivated by a new arm path he had developed over the off-season. Unfortunately he never got to show it off as the 6’5” 250 righty spent the majority of the year on the 40-man, but was outrighted in mid-September.
Cam Bedrosian is a former 1st Round Pick of the Los Angeles Angels in the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft, who has actually improved in almost every major category over the past 7 years in Anaheim as a regular out of the bullpen. Since 2014 he has seen his ERA shrink from 6.25 to 2.45 and his WHIP fall from 1.810 to 1.091, although is best year by WAR (1.4) was back in 2016.
Jake Marisnick only got to spend 16 games in a Mets uniform after the off-season trade from the Houston Astros. In a small sample size of 33 at bats he hit .333 with 2 homers. However, you would be making this for his glove more than his bat, even though he did have double digit home runs over the past 3 seasons. From 2016 to 2019 Marisnick totaled 39 DRS, with his most consistent performances coming in centerfield.
Johnathan Schoop is a few years removed from his 6.3 WAR All-Star season in Baltimore, but not so far detached that all of the power from his 38 and 35 home run campaigns has gone away. In 44 games and 162 at bats Schoop was able to crack 8 homers and 14 extra base hits; including a career high 2 triples. As a regular second baseman he has has yet to record a year with negative DRS and had a 2 OAA last year.
Now I know the chances of Cherington and the Pirates signing any of these players is slim to none at best. I don’t need anyone to tell me that. However, it’s not like any of these moves would break the bank, so it’s only reasonable to explore all options; except the pipe dreams. Those will drive even a sane man crazy.
While conducting research for this article one of my favorite targets, Jose Peraza, was signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training by the New York Mets. This is extremely frustrating to me because getting a young player, who had 2.6 fWAR just 2 years ago is something the Pirates should be first in line for; especially at little to no cost if it doesn’t work out.