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Pittsburgh Pirates offseason Q&A: December

You asked, I tried my best to answer.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Hey there and thanks for the questions! Let's get into it.

What exactly do all these assistant managers do? - Honus saveUs

ICYMI, the Pittsburgh Pirates hired Sarah Gelles recently as an assistant to the general manager, and on paper I like the move. She went from an internship in 2011 to a position as a director of analytics within the Baltimore Orioles organization in three years before leaving to work in the Houston Astros front office after the 2018 season. Since being promoted the following year, she’s been at the top of one heck of a successful analytics department in Houston.

She’s got a reputation as a highly capable project manager, pretty critical trait for an AGM or GM to have.

That makes three AGMs in the Pirates front office now, as for what roles they all have I probably won’t be able to give you a truly satisfactory answer here. My assumption has always been that Kevan Graves, who has been with the team since 2008 and AGM since 2016 handles a lot of different stuff ranging from the nitty gritty of contracts to managing and overseeing the front office and its staff.

Steve Sanders has been AGM since late 2019 and I know he does heavy work with amateur scouting and the draft, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t handle a multitude of other things or that amateur scouting is something that Kevan Graves isn’t involved in.

Based on her work as a project manager in multiple teams' analytics departments, it’s pretty safe to assume that whatever specific roles Gelles takes on as AGM will include overseeing the Pirates analytics department which has expanded a lot under Cherington.

While the hiring doesn’t really mean anything specific roster wise for 2024, it may signal some potential shifting in the Pirates’ front office. It’s been suggested this could mean Ben Cherington shifting job titles to president of baseball ops and either Kevan Graves or Steve Sanders assuming the day-to-day tasks of the GM role. It wouldn’t really be much of a promotion for Cherington, he’s already at the very top of baseball ops. Major roster moves and acquisitions still start and end with him.

Out of Quinn Priester, Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz who are you still most confident in turning it around? - BRYAN REYNOLDS MVP SZN on Twitter/X

Probably Contreras by a hair, simply because I think he was better as a prospect than the other two and has had some success in MLB. Although he looked so lost last year that saying there would be a lot to work on would be an understatement.

Got to get that velocity back, got to get the stuff back, and perhaps of underrated importance, have to get the confidence back.

Priester doesn’t lag far behind, was encouraged by the slight uptick in velocity on the primary offerings in his last few starts. Pretty down on Ortiz, he kind of burst onto the scene in 2022, but the stuff regressed, and he didn't make much, if any headway progressing as a pitcher this year. Not that I put much stock into Dominican Winter League numbers, but Ortiz is getting knocked around in LIDOM thus far. Not great.

What are they going to do for starting pitching? Who are realistic additions? - pretty much every living being in the observable universe

It’s the $64,000 question. It’s not hyperbole to say the entire offseason hinges on getting this right. I do want to go into this more specifically soon, but in free agency I still see them as likely to sign at least one of the mid-tier offerings. You’d almost have to be with the teams’ stated goals for next year and the severity of the need in mind.

Seth Lugo or Wade Miley would fit that description nicely. Lucas Giolito and Michael Wacha might be a little out of their range in this market, but they should still absolutely pursue that range of pitcher and be willing to stretch what they’re comfortable handing out per year to try and get them.

Free agency isn’t the only avenue to improve the rotation though, there are a handful of pitchers headed into their first or second year of arbitration that could make for potential trade candidates. Including Oakland Athletics RHP Paul Blackburn, Chicago White Sox RHP Michael Kopech and Kansas City Royals RHP Brady Singer to name a few. The winter meetings start tomorrow in Nashville.

Favorite pitching prospect in the system besides Paul Skenes? - @pittfan26 on Twitter/X

It’s really a two-horse race between LHP Anthony Solometo and RHP Bubba Chandler for me. I lean Solometo here. I was impressed by his maturity and self-evaluation skills, and his stuff is better than what people sometimes give it credit for. Creates a lot of deception with that funky delivery and has great control. The team is really high on him, lot of traits here that you either can’t teach or are very hard to teach to a pitcher at this age and this stage of development.

Chandler is right there with him though, huge rising upper 90s fastball, and a sometimes-devastating change up to pair with decent breaking pitches. The control comes and goes and the results with it and he’s still learning how to pitch at the professional level, but the athleticism is off the charts the ceiling is very high.

Will they bring back Carlos Santana for 1st base? - Joe on Twitter/X

If they don’t, they better have acquired an option that they feel will be better than Santana in 2024. I don’t see any reason to make this more complicated than it is.

It's not fair to expect Santana to take a heavy discount to come back to a place he’s been vocal about enjoying playing in and wanting to return to, they’re still going to have to pay him, but the 6-8 million dollars it's reasonable to expect him to get in free agency can’t be what keeps the Pirates from signing him. Any notion that they won't be able to afford that after the additional arbitration money they’re going to hand out and pitching they need to acquire is hogwash.

Not drawing a hard line in the sand here or saying that they need to spend X amount of dollars or it’s some kind of disgrace, just that the amounts of money we’re talking about can’t stand between them and settling for anything that is obviously a lesser option.

There’s nothing overblown about the respect Santana carries in an MLB locker room either. Some important relationships got formed this year with him in the clubhouse, including one with Oneil Cruz.

I still think Santana is the betting favorite for an outside acquisition here, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if they look elsewhere.

Will Jim Leyland get into the Hall of Fame? What would be your ballot if you had one? - Tom on Discord

This is Leyland's first time on a HOF ballot, he’s a part of the 2024 contemporary era ballot for managers, umpires and executives. Joining him on that ballot are three other managers, two umpires and two executives. A list that includes Leyland, fellow manager Lou Piniella and retired umpire Joe West.

He and Piniella are 18th and 17th all time on the wins list respectively, and no eligible manager currently above them on that list with a winning managerial record has not been elected to the hall of fame.

Leyland was a three-time manager of the year, three-time pennant winner, and one time world series winner in 22 years managing the Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers. I think he’s deserving, and it's probably more than reasonable to expect Leyland to get in at some point given precedent.

Would need 12 of 16 votes from a committee that includes hall of famers Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones and Joe Torre. The results of which will be revealed at 7:30pm Sunday on MLB Network.

As for the player ballot, if I had a vote, here’s who would be on it.

  • Gary Sheffield
  • Billy Wagner
  • Manny Ramirez
  • Andruw Jones
  • Todd Helton
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Carlos Beltran
  • Francisco Rodriguez
  • Adrian Beltre
  • Joe Mauer
  • Chase Utley

For me, it’s either all of the steroid guys, or none of them. Ivan Rodriguez being in but Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield being kept out because they hit a bunch of home runs seems pretty arbitrary.

David Wright just missed out on getting my imaginary vote and I think I could be easily convinced to put him on there. As much as I’m in favor of putting someone like Dick Allen in the hall of fame, the line for playing time has to be drawn somewhere. Wright exists right at the very edge of it.

All right that does it for this month’s Q&A, I had a lot of fun with this one and thanks again for the submissions!