When I went back to update this piece, which I originally posted a couple months ago, I was surprised at how much had changed. Of course, a lot of it had to do with the Pirates racking up waiver wire frequent flier awards. There were also, though, some prospects who finished the season strongly and one or two other guys, most notably John Holdzkom, whose situation has become a lot clearer.
CANDIDATES TO COME OFF THE ROSTER
Pending Free Agents
Francisco Liriano, LHP – Liriano finished strongly, although I expect he’s still perceived as being a health risk, as well as being at risk of losing track of the strike zone. His BB/9 shot up by one from 2013. On the other hand, his groundball and K rates, which were already high, also increased. He seems to like playing for the Pirates, so he might be willing to return at less than a market rate. Still, I could see the Pirates searching for another value signing rather than risking another two-, or even three-, year commitment.
Edinson Volquez, RHP – Volquez also finished the year very strongly, although there was that pesky disparity between his ERA and xFIP. Trying to replace both Liriano and Volquez with "undervalued" pitchers in one off-season might pushing the team’s luck. Volquez should be signable for less money than Liriano and for not more than two years. With both pitchers, a lot will depend on how the Pirates assess the Brandon McCarthys and Justin Mastersons of the world.
Russell Martin, C – By far the worst part of this off-season is going to be the Russell Martin conspiracy theories, and the offers and negotiating tactics that will be made up out of whole cloth in the absence of actual facts. And then there’ll be the screaming about the Pirates’ cheapness when they fail to top the Dodgers' offer of twenty years at $50M per year. It could be the worst off-season ever.
Clint Barmes, IF – Barmes is headed for free agency but the reasons for bringing him back will be exactly the same as they were a year ago. He even hit better this year. I don't normally like glove-only utility players, but the Pirates figure to have two young guys -- Alen Hanson and Gift Ngoepe -- playing the middle infield every day at Indianapolis rather than the usual Robert Andino type. Having Barmes as insurance against a Jordy Mercer injury makes sense.
Brent Morel, 3B – Glove-only middle infielders are common, but the glove-only, third-base-only bench player is a new concept for me. Just the same, I doubt Morel will be around by December. It won't help him that he's out of options.
Jaff Decker, OF – With Gregory Polanco, Travis Snider and Andrew Lambo all ahead of him on the depth chart, not to mention the likely addition of Willy Garcia to the 40-man and Indianapolis rosters, it’s hard to see what purpose Decker serves. He didn’t even merit a September callup. He’ll probably be removed from the roster when a space is needed and might clear waivers. He does, however, have an option left.
Chaz Roe, RHP – Another example of the Pirates' current approach to waivers, he’ll last until something slightly shinier comes along.
Chase d’Arnaud, PR – He’s probably played his last game in the system.
Jeanmar Gomez, RHP – Gomez’ unrealistic 2013 BABIP of .240 disappeared, although oddly his ERA stayed almost exactly the same. The Pirates were hurt during portions of the 2014 season by the fact that they were overloaded with middle relievers when they needed more late-inning shut-down types. Gomez also didn’t serve as a spot starter in 2014, which is what separated him in 2013 from guys like Vin Mazzaro. With Justin Hughes firmly entrenched as "the guy to come in and get a groundball," and with Gomez eligible for arbitration, he seems a very likely candidate to be non-tendered.
Stolmy Pimentel, RHP – He's become a target for some frustrated fans, but I can’t imagine he’s going anywhere unless he tanks in spring training or something. His velocity was down early in the year when he was having shoulder issues, but it bounced back to where it was late last year, when he looked like a potential late-inning reliever. It'd be foolish to give up on him because of a few weak outings and there's no way he'd clear waivers.
John Axford, RHP – It’s a big comedown when you open the season as a major league closer and end up being left off a wild card roster despite the expanded bullpen. Axford also is arbitration eligible and will almost certainly get a raise from his $4.5M 2014 salary. The fact that he has two options left probably won’t deter the Pirates from non-tendering him.
Bobby LaFromboise, LHP – It was interesting to see LaFromboise’ stock skyrocket among some fans on the basis of fourteen entire batters faced, as if he hadn’t pitched poorly in 57 innings in AAA this year. The fact is, he has a long history of being not very good. He’s nowhere near eligible for arbitration, though, and has an option left, so he may make it at least to spring training.
Joely Rodriguez, LHP – Rodriguez has put up weak numbers in AA, didn't improve at all over the course of the season, and didn’t impress me either of the two times I saw him pitch. I always thought he might project better as a reliever, but the Pirates tried him in the bullpen for a while this year and he was worse in relief. I could see him coming off the roster, but I doubt the team is ready to do that.
Casey Sadler, RHP – Sadler strikes me as a lesser version of Brandon Cumpton, so naturally he seems like a candidate to come off the roster if they need the space. Imagine my surprise to see that BA rated him the 11th best prospect in the International League while ranking Nick Kingham 20th. Obviously, I'm missing something. At the least, though, Sadler and Cumpton are nice success stories for later-round draft picks.
Chris Stewart, C – It’s highly debatable whether Stewart is worth what he’s going to cost as an arb-2 player (somehow I don't see him repeating his .364 BABIP), but with Martin likely to leave and Tony Sanchez coming off a dismal season in AAA, they’ll have little choice but to keep him.
Ike Davis, 1B – The Pirates will almost certainly look to make Pedro Alvarez’ move to first permanent during the off-season. They’re not going to carry three firstbasemen and, if they carry a second one, he needs to hit right-handed. Davis will be an arb-2 player, so the only way I can see him staying on the roster past the tender date is if they trade Alvarez.
Gaby Sanchez, 1B – Sanchez stopped hitting at the end of May and thoroughly disproved the Pirates’ puzzling, off-season notion that he could handle first base full-time. He could still be useful as the short half of a platoon—although he wasn’t nearly as good in that role in 2014 as in 2013—but at an arb-3 salary?
Angel Sanchez, RHP – A struggling prospect whom the Pirates probably claimed as a flier, Sanchez’ performance went from bad to mediocre after they got him. Whether that’s enough to make them think they can get him straightened out will depend on what they hear from the hoka hey folks.
Ramon Cabrera, C – I didn’t really get this, given the presence of Elias Diaz and Tony Sanchez, and with a bunch of catching prospects coming up from below. The Tigers obviously concluded, correctly as far as I can see, that Cabrera has topped out in AA. I’m guessing he’ll get dropped from the roster after the Pirates get some clarity about their 2015 catching situation.
CANDIDATES TO BE ADDED TO THE ROSTER
Elias Diaz, C – Once he’s got half a year or so of AAA time, he’ll probably supplant Tony Sanchez on the depth chart.
Jameson Taillon, RHP
Nick Kingham, RHP
Willy Garcia, OF – I’m moving him up on the chart. He finished the season strongly and was rated the 17th-best prospect in the Eastern League. (Alen Hanson and Adrian Sampson weren’t in the top 20.) The odds are still probably heavily against Garcia being a good major leaguer due to his plate discipline issues, but the upside is high. A good defensive outfielder with his power, who just turned 22, isn’t a guy to risk losing.
Stetson Allie, 1B – Allie still has big holes in his swing, but he actually had a good season except for a miserable month in May, and unlike Garcia he makes up for the whiffs with a lot of walks. I’m leaning toward thinking the Pirates as likely as not will add him to the roster.
Gift Ngoepe, SS – I’m not optimistic about Ngoepe’s bat. He seemed to be making progress around mid-season, but he slumped and ended up pretty much where he’s always been. The one difference is that he’s noticeably bulkier and, probably as a result, has a little more power. The thing is, if you can choose between a younger guy with an excellent glove who might somehow start hitting a little, and a veteran who’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’ll never, ever be able to hit, why not go with the younger guy? True, a team can always find a Michael Martinez (well, actually, it’s nearly impossible to find a guy who’s as bad a hitter as Martinez, but I guess it’s a difference of degree) who’ll sign a minor league deal, but odds are you’re going to add that guy to the roster at some point, anyway. Why not just add Ngoepe now?
Mel Rojas, OF – Rojas’ development has been painfully slow and he’s 24 now. He picked up the pace this year, but something about the way the Pirates handled him – like batting him at the bottom of the order in AAA while automatic outs like Chase d’Arnaud and Robert Andino hit at the top of the order, or starting Michael Martinez in the outfield late in the year while Rojas sat on the bench – makes me suspicious that the Pirates aren’t sold on him having more than a AAAA ceiling. I’d rather see Rojas on the roster than Jaff Decker, but I’m doubtful the Pirates will add him.
Keon Broxton, OF – Broxton had a bizarre year: every month his OPS was either .967 or better, or .417 or lower. The final result was an .853 OPS, which is very nice for a guy who’d be a good defensive centerfielder in the majors now. His K rate remained alarming, though, and he’s not eligible for minor league free agency for another year, so the Pirates could hope he slips through the Rule 5 draft. Outfielders who can run and play all three positions are, however, often taken in the draft.
A.J. Morris, RHP -- Morris made great strides this year after making little progress elsewhere, but he's very similar to Crumpton and Sadler, so I'm not sure I'd want to take up a roster spot with him. It didn’t help that he missed a chunk of time on the DL.
Jason Creasy, RHP -- Creasy doesn't have a high ceiling and doesn't miss a lot of bats, but he keeps improving and walks almost nobody. The Pirates did not move him up to AA late in the season, although that may have been because Bradenton was battling for a playoff spot. He struggled at times in the second half. I’m guessing he does not get added.
Orlando Castro, LHP – The Pirates probably planned to evaluate Castro in AA during the second half of the season, but his season-ending injury after two AA starts took care of that. As a small, finesse lefty, he’ll face questions at each level. I doubt he’ll be added to the roster, especially with his health an issue.
Andy Oliver, LHP – Oliver’s conversion to relief created a surprising amount of excitement, but his control problems didn’t go away. In fact, they resurfaced full-force late in the season. The Pirates didn’t bring him up in September, so it’s hard to see them adding him to the roster.
Vin Mazzaro, RHP – The absence of a September callup probably said it all.
Yhonathan Barrios, RHP -- This is another one that'll depend on the coaches. Barrios just moved to the mound and throws in the upper-90s, but pitched very poorly in low A. He did better after a promotion to high A, but his command remains poor, his fastball is fairly hittable, and he lacks a consistent secondary pitch.
It’s obvious that roster space is not going to be a big issue. There are four free agents to start with, although hopefully a couple will be returning, some depth guys who can easily be spared, and some sorting through of arb-eligible relievers that has to happen before the tender date. With Pedro Alvarez now effectively limited to firstbase, it’s also very hard to see them committing to arbitration salaries for Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez just so they can try to sort through the options in spring training. Of course, there are also a lot of guys who can be removed from the roster with little pain as better options become available over the course of the winter. Meanwhile, there are only four certain additions to the roster, by my count. I’m not going to make predictions, because I’m always wrong anyway, but I’d guess there will be a couple of additions beyond those four.
UPDATE: Vin Mazzaro and Chris McGuiness have elected free agency, so Mazzaro is not a candidate to be added to the roster.
FURTHER UPDATE: The Pirates' Restless Waiver Syndrome continued as they picked up right-handed reliever Preston Guilmet in a cash deal after he was designated for assignment by Baltimore. As far as I can tell, he appears to be more or less the same guy as Chaz Roe, so he's probably another guy whose roster spot will depend on how many other, more interesting players the Pirates add during the off-season.