Losing 8-0 in the NL Wild Card game can be a hard pill to swallow, but Pittsburgh Pirates management has to be looking ahead to the next step. Manager Clint Hurdle had successful hip surgery on Monday and should make a full recovery. What will he come back to? The Pirates have some major decisions to make and they start now.
What to do with Pedro Alvarez
Pedro Alvarez will not require surgery on his foot in the offseason. General Manager Neil Huntington stated this week that the team still sees him as a third baseman and they will work with him on his throwing issues. Alvarez's inability to make the easy throw across the diamond is the reason that he was pulled from the starting lineup, but his .231 average did not help either. He only played in 122 games.
Just when it looked like Alvarez might be finding his swing, he had the stress reaction in the foot. The Pirates are urging Alvarez to play winter ball to catch up on some of the swings he missed and hopefully work on the throwing issue. Alvarez has balked at winter ball in the past and that stance doesn't seem to be changing.
Regardless, saying Alvarez is a third baseman seems counterproductive at this point. Josh Harrison had a great year at third with his glove to go with his breakout year at the plate. Putting Alvarez back at the hot corner moves Harrison back into a super utility role, but he was the person that ignited the lineup. Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez both failed at first base. Alvarez was getting some work there. If Alvarez is in the Pirates plans for 2015, then he should start the year playing first base.
Of course the rhetoric could be what Huntington thinks other teams want to hear. If the Pirates traded Alvarez, it would not be a big surprise. The team had an option this season and Alvarez is arbitration eligible in 2015. Alvarez's value is low right now, but his potential to be a 30 home run guy means there are teams that would overpay. The Pirates have to figure out where Alvarez stands in their long term plans and enact a plan now.
The Pirates payroll could decrease by up to $18 million if they do nothing this offseason. Realistically with guaranteed increases and arbitration they will still come in about $9 million below this year's payroll. Of course they will need a catcher and have a fan base that desparately wants to see them resign Russell Martin. Martin had a career year at the plate and continued to be a defensive star behind it. He made $8.5 million this year and is rumored to want a four-year contract.
In the last two weeks President Frank Coonelly and owner Bob Nutting have said they are willing to stretch their normal budget constraints for Martin. They have stated that no player should take up more than 18% of their payroll, so perhaps these are the constraints they are referring to in regards to signing Martin. Martin produced a better wins above replacement rate in the three years prior to costless agency than Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero and Brian McCann. They all signed new deals since 2012.
Fans chanted Martin's name during the Wild Card game and he acknowledged it was pretty special. However, he is the clear number one catcher hitting the market. He could receive up to $15 million a year, which is too steep for the Pirates unless Martin is okay with a two-year deal. It will be interesting to follow the negotiations.
If the Pirates do keep Martin it means that Neil Walker probably goes back to arbitration without a long term deal. His back issues are somewhat of a red flag. That could be enough to keep the long term deal off the table for one more year and put Walker in the mix with 12 other players that are arbitration eligible in 2015.
Sanchez and Davis will probably be kept around given the Pirates overly careful approach for their first base deficiency. Mark Melancon deserves a pay raise. Harrison and Tony Watson will get slight raises after making the All-Star Team. Vance Worley, Jared Hughes and Chris Stewart did enough to stick around. Travis Snider and Jeanmar Gomez will probably be back with the team through arbitration. John Axford is the one outlier.
The Pirates will be costless of the Wandy Rodriguez's contract. It does not look like they will resign Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez and those two might be a package deal for any team in need of two starters. Clint Barmes should be released having his $2 million comes off the payroll.
News and Notes
- The Pirates do not want Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco to get too wrapped up in winter ball.
- The Arizona Fall League starts today and the Pirates have eight players on the roster for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Josh Bell, who was recently moved to first base, was named the Pirates Minor League Position Player of the Year. Elias Diaz continues his rapid ascent through the organization as a possible catcher of the future. Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Tyler Glasnow, will get the ball tonight in the AFL opener.
- Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon should challenge for a roster spot in 2015, but the Pirates continue to believe that Stolmy Pimentel is a starting pitcher.
- Huntington believes that the coaching staff will remain intact.
After two years of making the postseason, this offseason's importance has increased. If Martin goes elsewhere there will be a sentiment against the ownership. Still after setting an attendance record this season, the fans should return for opening day expecting another run to the playoffs.