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Pittsburgh Pirates Q&A: February

You asked, I tried my best to answer.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Hey there, with January behind us, we’re now in February staring down the barrel of spring training. Pitchers and catchers report on the February 14 and some, including Paul Skenes and Henry Davis, are already at Pirate city in Bradenton. We’re almost there.

Lots of things are still up in the air about the 2024 ball club just three weeks out from the first spring training game on Feb. 24, which naturally means a lot of fans have a lot of questions.

Let's get into some shall we?

“Why [Rowdy] Tellez for 3.2 when [Carlos] Santana got 5.25?” - Ryan on Discord

ICYMI: 1B Carlos Santana is close to signing a one-year, $5.25 million dollar deal plus incentives with the Minnesota Twins, per Jon Heyman of the New York post. Less guaranteed money than he received from the $6.75 million dollar contract that was given to him by the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.

Thought there were definitely better options out there than Tellez and I felt Santana was one of them.

I do understand it, they’re looking to create a successful platoon at 1B. Connor Joe mashed against lefties last season, and Tellez, looking to bounce back from injury and poor performance in 2023, mashed right-handers on his way to 35 homeruns in 2022. Santana is also headed into his age 38 season. ZiPS projects both to have a 97 wRC+ in 2024.

But Tellez’s defense is poor, Santana was a Gold Glove finalist last season, and his switch hitting provides more flexibility over Tellez who has been pretty much unplayable vs LHP. Santana was also a glue guy in that clubhouse. There isn’t anyone else I would trust more to be a positive influence on a young team. Keeps a clubhouse upbeat while being respected enough to police it when he feels the moment calls for it. Stuff like that matters.

Tellez could very well bounce back, Santana might regress hard with age, and I could look really silly here for getting up on a stump and bashing them for not bringing Carlos back.

I just felt that if they were not going to bring Carlos Santana back, it had to be for someone they would undoubtedly get more production out of at 1B. Not sure that they did.

“[Mitch] Keller extension likely, and if, for how long?” - @Pirates_club24 on Twitter/X

I’m fairly hopeful they get something done with Keller this spring, yes. With him being a FA after 2025, there’s pressure to get it done now.

I’m guessing the team is going to look to offer him somewhere in the neighborhood of a six-year deal through the end of 2029, and I don’t think a number around $85-90 million is at all unreasonable given his admittedly spotty track record. I’m also sure Keller is aware that headed into FA at age 30 is his chance to cash in big. Perhaps the only one he’ll get. If he is going to sign an extension here, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him be adamant about the length being longer than six years.

“How do we incorporate [Aroldis] Chapman into the bullpen? Will [David] Bednar be used as much as last season?” - @BryseWilsonFan on Twitter/X

Chapman is going to be a setup guy, the experience as closer is valuable, but I doubt he’d be used in that role except on the days that Bednar isn’t available.

I’m not sure that we’ll see Bednar be used less necessarily, but I think they’re aiming to eliminate some of the more than three out saves or having to ask him to pitch in three consecutive games, which they had to do multiple times in 2023.

The bullpen seems to be the biggest strength on the 2024 Pirates. Where would you say it ranks compared to the rest of the MLB?” - @Veno202 on Twitter/X

I think they’ve built a really solid group here. Carmen Mlodzinski, Colin Holderman and Aroldis Chapman building a bridge at the end of games to David Bednar is enticing. Dauri Moreta and Ryan Borucki were good finds last year and could be very good middle relief options. With pitchers who have shown good stuff like Kyle Nicolas, Colin Selby and Jose Hernandez at the fringes and potentially one of Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz or Quinn Priester working out of the pen as the long man.

I think Milwaukee’s is clearly better on paper, that is if they end up not trading closer Devin Williams. The Rays are always very good there and the Houston Astros with recent acquisition Josh Hader also stand out. I would say the Pirates are around 7th or 8th in MLB as it currently stands.

Unless I’m mistaken, it’s also the most money they’ve ever spent on a bullpen. Projected at a shade over $20.6 million.

“I’m trying to build a top over my koi pond to shade it so the water doesn’t turn into an algae swamp. I’m not very good at building. Do I need to use pressure treated wood for the top part? Using pressure treated will add weight to it so I’m leaning towards just lattice.” - Hitman444

Uhhhhhhh pass. I don’t have any real woodworking experience, and I don’t have any experience taking care of fish more complicated than the common Plecostomus. A fish that almost takes care of itself. Sounds cool though, sorry.

“Should the Buccos go after Brandon Woodruff? Do you think they should take a chance on Ethan Small now that he’s been designated for assignment?” - Maltese 4

Woodruff pitched very well last year with a 2.28 ERA in 11 starts but was extremely limited by a shoulder issue that eventually led to him needing surgery to repair his right anterior capsule in October. Surgery that will likely mean missing most if not all of 2024. The pedigree is here, career 3.10 ERA in 7 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, the health is questionable. The two-time All-Star will turn 31 on Feb 10.

The way this offseason has gone, the Pirates would be doing themselves a disservice by not at least asking about what Woodruff would be looking for in a contract. It might not help for 2024, they would still need to add on that front, but it could be a nice buy-low opportunity for 2025 and perhaps even 2026.

Not that it wouldn’t come with major risk, surgery to repair the anterior capsule, a group of ligaments that help stabilize the shoulder, is no joke. Injuries to it are very painful and recovery from it has been a mixed bag.

It essentially ended two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana’s career after his age 31 season and was the first in a series of shoulder issues that led to Dallas Braden’s retirement in 2014. There have also been some successes, Chris Young came back from it (along with many other injuries and multiple surgeries including thoracic outlet syndrome) to pitch in 8 more MLB seasons after having surgery in 2010. Including productive seasons with the New York Mets, Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals. Julio Urias had surgery to repair it in 2017.

Woodruff’s track record is such that he’ll have other options, even if there is a real chance that he doesn’t pitch another 100 innings in MLB. If they could land him on a shorter contract on team friendly terms, I wouldn’t necessarily dislike it.

As for Ethan Small, who was a first-round pick in 2019, he has some traits the Pirates value. The lefty gets good extension off the mound and has posted decent strikeout numbers historically. But he’s not a particularly hard thrower, has only appeared in just four MLB games and shifted into a relief role in 2023 at AAA. I think they should, and will, pass on this one.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t really fuzzy, Was he? - DekesLeft

No, I suppose he wasn’t. That said, I haven’t actually seen Fuzzy Wuzzy, I’ll have to dig into the film to confirm.

Anybody notice anything weird about the questions this time around?

“Oneil Cruz has changed agents twice this year, what does that mean, and does it signal anything about a potential extension?” - Tom on Discord

Cruz has gone from Vayner, to Octagon and now CAA all in one offseason. His rep at CAA will be Gio Rodriguez, LF Bryan Reynolds’s rep at CAA is Andrew Nacario for those curious.

Typically, when a player changes agents, it just comes down to being sold by someone that they would be able to get him something he wants better than his previous agent could. Going through two agents in an offseason is a little unusual though.

I don’t pretend to know what Cruz wants, but I would assume an Oneil Cruz-sized bag of money is part of that goal. Maybe he’s interested in an extension, maybe he isn’t, I just don’t know.

I will say that while I wouldn’t be shocked if the Pirates approached him about an extension this spring, it does feel like both sides could stand to potentially benefit from waiting a little longer. Cruz would get more money coming off a successful campaign than he would right now, and the Pirates might have a better idea of what they’re actually investing in.

He won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2026, so there isn’t any kind of time crunch to get an extension done this year on the team’s end.

“A few years ago a lot of (most?) Pirates fans seemed to think that by 2024 the team would be in a much better spot than they are now and be in serious contention for a deep postseason run. Why have they fallen short of expectation and how far back do you think the timetable has now moved? Is there still reason to believe that type of run is on the horizon or are fans likely to have many of the same complaints about the perceived punting of seasons another three years from now?” - Ekrox on Discord

Answering your question a little out of order here, their own publicly stated goals for 2024 include a winning season and making the playoffs. You can find mention of that as far back as August of last year. They’ve doubled down on it several times now.

Whether things have actually lined up for them to have a playoff caliber roster in 2024 so far is a different matter entirely. I don’t think the roster, as currently constructed, is a playoff caliber one. I also don’t think they’re done adding.

Really, it just comes down to the pitching. You’re nothing without good starting pitching and if they had managed to successfully develop one of Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz or Quinn Preister into a capable MLB starter by now and hadn’t dropped the ball on managing Johan Oviedo’s workload, I think this situation would look a lot different with more upside. You can throw Mike Burrows in there as another ‘what if’.

That's not how its shaken out thus far for that group, but by no means is it over yet. Oviedo showed flashes of dominance this past year, and assuming he’s healthy, I see no reason why he wouldn’t get another at chance at a rotation spot in 2025 after recovery from Tommy John. Burrows could assert himself down the stretch in 2024 in an MLB role after his own rehab from Tommy John concludes. Contreras, Ortiz and Priester are in real danger of falling by the wayside, if they haven’t already. Particularly Contreras, who has no options remaining.

Failing to make anything out of that trio of former top 100 prospects would be pretty bad, this season might be make-or-break for all three. I also find it difficult to write that the next group of top 100 pitchers in Paul Skenes (3), Jared Jones (62), Anthony Solometo (82) and Bubba Chandler (93) will definitely, totally, absolutely not share the same fate. Even if I do feel that’s a more talented group and cause for hope, especially Skenes. That guy is ridiculous.

I have no idea how this is going to shake out, but I can assure you if that group also stagnates at the MLB level, fans will have lots more to complain about than just punting.

Will BC actually trade any of his prospects for an established MLBer and not in the way NH did when he desperately traded for Archer? - greatWhiteAngus

I think they will, yes. They have playoff aspirations this year and they know they need to add to get there. There’s definitely internal pressure to address the rotation in a meaningful way after they whiffed on several pitchers in FA that they really liked, and they’ve been asking around recently about younger starters with years of control.

They’re also very concerned about what they would have to give up to actually get one. Depending on the quality of pitcher they’re looking for, they might have to make someone like Jared Jones, who they love, less untouchable than they’ve made him in trades thus far in order to get what they need.

It could happen tomorrow, it could happen two days before pitchers and catchers report, or it could happen in March. Only time will tell, but I’m reasonably confident they get something done on that front before the season starts.

Alright that's a wrap! Thanks for the questions everybody, let's do this again next month.