The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t done with their offseason work.
So says Bob Nutting. The owner admits the Pirates need more roster additions before they can be in a position to reach their stated goal of contending this upcoming season.
Spring training doesn’t begin until Feb. 14 when pitchers and catchers hold their first workout in Bradenton, Fla. So, theoretically, general manager Ben Cherington has some time to make the Pirates better.
However, Pirates fans are long past being satisfied with theoreticals. This is a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2015, hasn’t won a pennant since 1992 and hasn’t been to the World Series since winning it in 1979.
Pirates fans want Cherington and the front office to do something because their favorite team is in a unique position where it is close to having a roster capable of making a run at the National League Central title.
Of course, the competition in the division is not daunting.
One can make a case for the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals to win the division. A case can also be made for each of those four teams to wind up in last place.
The Pirates would better their chances of finishing first than last with two moves. They need another starting pitcher and an everyday outfielder.
Right-hander Mitch Keller and left-handers Marco Gonzales and Martin Perez are the three certainties in a five-man rotation. Even then, the Pirates are hoping for bounce-back years from the two lefties who have been acquired this offseason.
The free agent market for starting pitchers in the price range of the tight-budgeted Pirates is dwindling. Yet two right-handers the Pirates should consider signing are Mike Clevinger and Michael Lorenzen.
Yes, both would represent a bit of a gamble. Clevinger hasn’t been the same since injuring his elbow during the 2020 postseason. Lorenzen went from throwing a no-hitter last August for the Philadelphia Phillies to pitching just 2.2 innings of relief across three postseason series in October.
However, either would be an upgrade at fourth starter over such in-house options as left-hander Brady Falter and right-handers Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz and Quinn Priester.
The Pirates could also try to trade for a younger starter who is still under team contractual control for multiple years. A potential list of targets includes the Miami Marlins’ Edward Cabrera, the Boston Red Sox’s Tanner Houck and the Seattle Mariners’ Bryan Woo.
With Henry Davis moving to his natural catcher position, the Pirates also need a right fielder. Presuming nothing changes, they would probably begin the season with a platoon of left-handed hitting Joshua Palacios and right-handed hitting Edward Olivares.
No offense to either player – Palacios is a wonderful guy and Olivares probably is, too – but the Pirates need someone better.
That someone is veteran free agent Whit Merrifield.
Turning 35 on Wednesday, Merrifield might not fit into the Pirates’ youth movement, but he is still a productive player. He was selected to the All-Star Game for the third time in his eight-year career last season when he hit .272/.318/.382 with 11 home runs and 26 stolen bases for the Toronto Blue Jays in 145 games.
Whitfield would also provide the type of versatility that the Pirates love. He started 67 games at second base last season, 66 in left field and four in right field while helping the Blue Jays reach the postseason.
There is also one other thing to ponder.
The Pirates acquired Bill Merrifield from the Angels and left-handed reliever Miguel “Little Bear” Garcia in a trade for Johnny Ray late in the 1987 season. The Pirates summoned Merrifield to Pittsburgh once the minor-league season ended and he was set to make his major-league debut.
However, the next day, Pirates general manager Syd Thrift decided Merrifield would be better served to work on his defense at first base in the Florida Instructional League. Merrifield did not get into a game with the Pirates and made it back to the big leagues before his professional career ended a year later.
If nothing else, Whit Merrifield putting on a Pirates’ uniform 37 years later would make for a neat story.