Earlier this week, I wrote an article about what the Pirates might do this winter. In it, I argued that the Pirates should tender contracts to most of their arbitration-eligible players, pick up their options on Paul Maholm and Ronny Cedeno, aim to bring back Ryan Doumit, and focus on spending money on a first baseman and starting pitcher, if possible, while also adding a viable third baseman like Wilson Betemit in case Pedro Alvarez continues to struggle. I wrote that the Pirates should also consider trading Joel Hanrahan, perhaps for a young hitter.
Some of you found that article to be depressing. Well, guess what! It was pretty depressing! The reality is that the Pirates lost 90 games this year and have had 19 losing seasons in a row. There is no real need for them to go nuts in the free agent market now.
In addition, the offseason market doesn't favor the Pirates. There is less incentive than usual for teams to make trades, because there are hundreds of players available through free agency. That contributes to limiting the Pirates' options to players who are willing to come to Pittsburgh, which isn't good, because, well, many players aren't willing to come to Pittsburgh unless the Bucs overpay significantly. That probably won't change until the Pirates have a couple of winning seasons.
So, you want to see something really depressing? Check out the Pirates' main offseason acquisitions since Neal Huntington took over. I listed anyone who cost a significant amount of money or made a significant impact. Let me know if I missed anyone.
2010-2011: Lyle Overbay, Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz, Scott Olsen, Jose Veras
Verdict: Bzzt. Veras was a useful role player. The Pirates flushed away $15 million on the others.
2009-2010: Akinori Iwamura, Bobby Crosby, Javier Lopez, Ryan Church, D.J. Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel
Verdict: Dotel pitched well and brought back James McDonald. Carrasco and Lopez were useful role players. The others were terrible.
2008-2009: Garrett Jones, Ramon Vazquez, Donnie Veal, Jason Jaramillo, Eric Hinske
Verdict: Jones turned out to be a great pickup. The others, not so much.
2007-2008: Phil Dumatrait, Chris Gomez, Evan Meek, Byung-Hyun Kim, Doug Mientkiewicz, Luis Rivas, Tyler Yates
Verdict: Meek turned out well, although he was worthless in 2008 and had to be reacquired later when the Pirates gave up on him as a Rule 5 pick. Mientkiewicz was about a tenth as useful as many fans thought he was, but he wasn't bad. The other guys were mostly useless.
So, in four offseasons, the Pirates' main talent acquisitions have been Garrett Jones and some relievers. That's basically what it comes down to. If you're hoping for something better this offseason, well, hey, maybe it'll finally happen. But, with the possible exception of Jones, the last time the Pirates made a high-impact acquisition in the offseason was Adam LaRoche back in 2006-2007.
In the Bucs' recent history, their good players have overwhelmingly come from the draft and from midseason trades. That's not an accident. For those players, the choice was to come play for the Pirates, or not to play anywhere. I'd love it if the Pirates spent aggressively in the free agent market if I thought there was a way they could also do it intelligently. But I'm not sure there really is. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try, but it does mean it would probably be wise to temper our expectations.