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Pittsburgh Pirates offseason Q&A: January

You asked, I tried my best to answer.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hey there! It’s that time again. You had questions about the Pittsburgh Pirates, I tried my best to answer.

Got a ton of good ones, let's dive into it.

“Why did it take so long for Martin Perez to be announced? Was something wrong?” - Multiple

Sure seemed like forever, didn’t it? In fact, it took over two weeks from when the agreement to a one-year deal worth $8 million was first reported and Perez officially signing.

That’s weird, but my best guess was that Martin Perez simply wasn’t available to come in and do any of the formalities, like a routine physical. I’m sure the holidays were a part of that.

There was never any kind of Francisco Liriano-esque freak injury to worry about here.

A Max Kranick DFA was the corresponding move.

“Why are other small market clubs like the Brewers and Reds willing to go over $100 million in team payroll, but the Pirates are not?” - shedman on BucsDugout

I think you can add the Kansas City Royals to this list also. Man, I wish that I, or anyone else had a definitive answer to this. I could likely grumble about this for hours, so I’ll try to keep it short here.

When it comes down to it, I personally believe the Pirates are just scared. Scared of investing in the wrong player. Scared of investing in the wrong person. Scared of investing at the wrong time to invest.

It’s not without some merit, in the blink of an eye, any contract you hand out can turn into a dud and a massive anchor weighing a team with an already limited budget down. Yet, it’s going to be near impossible to avoid that fabled $100 million mark in the coming years simply through arbitration and extensions of players they already have. Unless they just go full on Tampa Bay Rays.

They came seriously close in 2016 in terms of actual money paid out when they handed out $99 million, and as far as reported CBT is concerned, they were over $100 million four times between 2015 and 2018. How far over that mark of $99 million are they willing to go eight years later? I’m not sure. It would be around $125-130 million when adjusted for inflation.

Their seeming unwillingness to pay market rates and structure contracts in ways that favor the player thus far indicates that we probably won’t see it climb towards any number above the league average in any given year.

Things do change however, and you don’t build successful teams by living in your fears. I certainly hope this changes.

“Curious why Endy Rodriguez would be playing winter ball when he surely appeared to be locked into an MLB roster spot? Pirates probably were not happy with that.” - Craig Cambell (@VentureChurchB1) on Twitter/X

Dominican players care about LIDOM a lot. For some, it’s a matter of pride. Ben Cherington mentioned at Piratesfest that they couldn’t stop Endy from playing there because he hadn’t accrued enough service time, nor was there an existing injury for the Pirates to be able to deny him from playing in LIDOM.

I’ll admit I don’t pay that much attention to LIDOM, so that was a new one for me. I was under the impression that no such requirement was needed to be reached for a team to deny a players request to play if they had reached MLB. I’ll have to look into what the specific thresholds are.

Judging by the way most people reacted and talked about it when the news first broke, including other media outlets that cover the team, it seems like I wasn’t alone in that.

I’m not sure whether the team asked Rodriguez not to play. I interpreted Cherington’s comments to mean they did, but yeah, this stunk. It threw the catching situation into disarray and now they seem poised to start Henry Davis full-time. Who, through both their actions and words, they deemed not yet good enough to handle catching duties at the MLB level last year.

After the injury to Rodriguez, there was no chance they would have let SS Oneil Cruz play, who did request permission to play for Tigres Del Licey. Which in my opinion is a shame because Cruz was the one who needed the game reps the most. By the time Spring Training rolls around, it will have been almost a year since he’s seen game action, and simulated action just doesn’t compare.

See you in 2025 Endy.

“This team isn’t seriously going to roll into spring training handing Joshua Palacios the strong side platoon job in RF, are they?” - Jim Rosati (@northsidenotch) on Twitter/X

Even as it stands, I have a hard time seeing Joshua Palacios making the opening day roster. I’m making a few assumptions to convince myself of that, but they’re reasonable ones.

I don’t see how they could be comfortable with this defensive set up. The starting CF Jack Suwinski barely had any significant experience at the position above A ball before last season, their most recent OF acquisition, Edward Oliveras is one of the worst OF defenders in the sport by OAA, and Bryan Reynolds also didn’t grade out well defensively last year. Although, I suspect that the back issues Reynolds dealt with may have played a role in that.

Palacios does actually have a good bit of CF experience. He played 47 innings there for the MLB squad in 2023 and has bounced around the OF throughout his MiLB career. I also think that usage was more a product of looking for answers there rather than him actually being an MLB CF.

I just can’t see them rolling with one player on the roster truly capable of playing there if that player is Suwinski. I don’t think that Palacios makes the roster over Ji-Hwan Bae. Bae’s routes can make you want to pull out your hair, but his speed ends up resulting in an adequate defender out there.

This could change if Palacios comes into camp hitting very well, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one. Not that Bae has displayed competency there either though. I said I was making assumptions I felt were reasonable, not ones that make you feel better.

I also know Jim well enough to know that he definitely wasn’t asking me about a hypothetical Bae vs Palacios battle in camp and that I’ve probably annoyed him by taking that discussion seriously. You’re welcome, Jim. What he’s really asking here is whether they’ll add from the outside. I think they do.

In recent days, the Pirates have been linked to CF Michael A. Taylor by MLB insiders Jon Heyman of the New York Post and Robert Murray of FanSided.

Bringing in another real MLB OF via trade or FA and avoiding the question of ‘which spare part do you roster’ altogether would be ideal. Hopefully they get something done.

“Coming over from UK in April so will catch a match. Which area is best to sit?” - Edward Beckham (@edward_beckham) on Twitter/X

Personally, I love anything down the third base line. Best value for me is the upper level. Don’t get me wrong, the view is still incredible from the lower bowl, but you can’t really see the Roberto Clemente bridge over the batter's eye in CF from some angles.

It’s not like other places where the upper level is a million miles away and makes the players look like ants. PNC is a smaller-capacity park, and the second level is much closer to the action than you might be used to.

I would recommend sections 220 and 221 in the upper level and sections 120 and 121 in the lower bowl.

The standing room areas like the rotunda, the patio in the LF bleachers and the open-air bars in left center and right center are also very fun, just not something I might recommend for a first-time experience once the game starts.

Hope you have fun, it’s an amazing place to watch a game. The city itself is great also, wonderful sense of place if that makes sense.

“When is Skenes’ most likely debut date?” - OpenedCreations (@OpenedCreation) on Twitter/X

This is a tough one to answer because Paul Skenes would be doing something very few players have ever accomplished. He’s also not like nearly any other player. He’s been praised by some as the best pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, I tend to agree with that assessment.

I know the Pirates are notorious service time manipulators, but Skenes does have a laundry list of boxes to check before any MLB debut can happen. He has to adjust to a professional schedule and workload facing the highest level of competition he’s faced to this point in his career while pitching well enough to climb two levels of MiLB, assuming he starts in AA at Altoona.

I genuinely believe they should take their time with this one. Rushing this could lead to some disastrous outcomes. They shouldn’t necessarily plan around him being here mid-season either when building the rotation. They still need to add quality MLB pitchers, not stop-gap solutions to get them through the games until mid-season when they hope the players returning from injury and prospects like Jared Jones and Paul Skenes can join because that might not happen.

If Skenes accomplishes all that he needs to accomplish to reach MLB, and I think he can, I think after the All-Star Break is reasonable. I just hope people won’t freak out if he doesn’t make it this season and recognize how insane it would be if he and the Pirates pull this off.

“Assuming they’re looking to trade for a Marlins starter, how would you rank Garrett, Cabrera and Rogers as potential fits?” - Vinny Buffone (@Veno202) on Twitter/X

Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers.

Cabrera has massive upside despite the control issues, Garrett at a surface level glance profiles kind of similarly to what I hope Anthony Solometo could become, and Rogers was an All-Star in 2021 but has spent the past two seasons heavily limited by two different arm injuries.

Obviously, Jesus Luzardo would rank higher than these guys, but I assume we’re attempting to at least be a little realistic about who the Miami Marlins would actually be willing to move and how much the Pirates would be willing to give up in a trade.

“If you could inhabit the shoes of Ben Cherington for one (and exactly one) roster move, what would you do?” - Thomas (@TeznasGV) on Twitter/X

As long as we’re dreaming up magical scenarios, I get to assume Bob Nutting’s budgetary restrictions are out of the way, right? I would do whatever it would to take sign Blake Snell.

Seems like teams are outsmarting themselves being so hesitant to fork over big money to the pitchers at the top of the market this offseason. A reigning Cy Young award winner who just won the second of his career should not be unsigned into almost mid-January.

If we’re talking something more believable, I’d be trying very, very hard to trade for one of either the Marlins’ or the Seattle Mariners’ young starters. If the asking prices are remotely reasonable on say, Bryan Woo, Bryce Miller or Edward Cabrera, I’m doing that move instantly. My threshold for what qualifies as reasonable here is pretty low.

“What would you like to see from the Pirates this year aside from winning?” - Keto (@KetoRyan_)

They could likely afford to make a few mistakes and make their way to an above .500 and a playoff appearance or two, but truly sustainable success comes from organizations who learn from their mistakes and refuse to stop evolving.

They didn’t roster enough arms to just get through the year in 2022, and it led to some extremely gross usage, like Cam Vieaux’s 56-pitch inning in a blowout loss. They got put through the ringer for it from every direction and rightfully so. That’s the kind of stuff union grievances are filed over.

Then they repeated that mistake down the stretch in 2023. Johan Oviedo was an obvious candidate to be shut down, but there simply wasn’t anyone else to get them through the games. They had some bad injury luck along the way, but the creation of that situation was a still a choice. Lucas Giolito and Noah Syndergaard were both up for grabs on waivers.

Yes, claiming one of them would have cost a non-insignificant amount of money, but it’s a heck of a lot better than throwing a somewhat promising young arm under the bus for the sole purpose of eating meaningless innings and getting you through the games. Didn’t have to be those guys either. Anybody with a semblance of a pulse would have been just fine.

While there is no magic bullet to preventing injury, it couldn’t have helped. They repeated the mistake until it lost them a player they really cared about. Oviedo was the main piece from the Cardinals in the 2022 Jose Quintana trade, now he’s out for an entire season recovering from TJS.

This is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely nuts, there are so many other things one could bring up that fit this line of thought. Living in the past isn’t healthy, but you shouldn’t outright forget it either. Start learning from it.

Great question to end it on, let’s do this again next month.