The World Series is over and Major League Baseball’s offseason is underway.
The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t likely to make a lot of noise this winter. The only exception would be if they trade center fielder Bryan Reynolds but general manager Ben Cherington seems like he doesn’t have the appetite to send his best player packing.
Executives and multiple scouts from other teams told Pittsburgh Baseball Now that Cherington drove an extremely hard bargain for Reynolds at the trade deadline Aug. 2. The sense was Cherington wants to keep Reynolds.
However, the Pirates will likely shop in the bargain basement of free agency like they did last offseason. Cherington even came up with two gems on baseball’s equivalent of the clearance shelf.
The Pirates signed left-hander Jose Quintana and designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach to low-cost deals. Both were productive players, clubhouse leaders and worthy trade bait.
Following a second straight season of at least 100 losses, it’s the time the Pirates get more serious in upgrading their roster, though. They need to spend at least some of Bob Nutting’s precious money to put a more competitive team on the field in 2023.
The fans aren’t forever going to sit patiently through another rebuild.
Here are three free agents I would target if I were the GM. None could as cheaply as Quintana and Vogelbach but also would not break the bank – well at least any bank other than perhaps the Pirates’.
The Pirates need a first baseman desperately. They got a paltry .206/.264/.337 slash line from the position this past season.
Cherington has said improving the Pirates’ on-base percentage is a top priority. Their .291 mark this year ranked 28th among the 30 major league teams.
Carlos Santana is a first baseman with a good career OBP. The Pirates should at least consider him.
Santana’s OBP was just .316 this year in 131 games with the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. However, he had a .349 mark in 52 games with the Royals before being traded. The switch-hitter also has a .359 career OBP in 13 seasons.
Santana will turn 37 right after opening day next season and is on the downside of his career. However, he did hit 19 home runs in 2022, and has the reputation of being an outstanding teammate and clubhouse presence.
He could make a nice one-year fix for the Pirates.
The Pirates have two well-regarded catching prospects on the way in Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez. However, both will likely spend most of next season with Triple-A Indianapolis.
Thus, the Pirates could use a bridge catcher for 2023 and Gary Sanchez is an intriguing free agent.
Sanchez once belted 33 home runs in 2017 and 34 in 2019 for the New York Yankees. However, in 128 games this year with the Minnesota Twins, the soon-to-be 30-year-old batted .205/.282/.377 with 16 longballs.
Sanchez is not a good defensive catcher, but the Pirates need a major upgrade at a position that produced just a .192/.256/.275 slash line in 2022. Amazingly, Jason Delay’s 11 RBIs were the most by any Pirates’ catcher.
Perhaps Sanchez would find Pittsburgh to be a low-pressure environment to put his career back on track. It would be worth taking a gamble.
The Pirates also need pitching, pitching and even more pitching. They finished 26th in MLB with a 4.66 ERA this year.
Someone to reprise Quintana’s role as a veteran stabilizer in a young rotation would be a plus. A pitcher who could fill that role is left-hander Drew Smyly.
The 33-year-old pitched well for the Chicago Cubs this past season in 22 starts, going 7-8 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He had 91 strikeouts in 106.1 innings.
Smyly won’t eat innings but has the reputation of being a real pro, much like Quintana. His work ethic and detailed preparation would serve as a fine example to the young pitchers.
Santana had a $10.5-million salary last season and is likely facing a pay cut. The same goes for Sanchez, who made $9 million. Perhaps the Pirates could get one or both at a reduced salary.
Conversely, Smyly should equal or perhaps surpass his 2022 salary of $5.25 million. It’s not a lot of money in today’s game and sometimes, as Michael Keaton famously said on opening day in 2006, you must write a check.
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