The Pirates need a 1B in 2016. I’m not exactly breaking new ground here, I know. Michael Morse is on the roster and the Pirates owe him about $4.7M next year (the Dodgers are kicking in $3.8M to offset the remaining salary), but he’s not very good and the Pirates didn’t really use him much after they obtained him (82 AB’s in 45 games).
Many people assume that there are plentiful options available for the Pirates to obtain this offseason. In reality, there’s a scarcity of quality 1B throughout MLB and the really good ones aren’t going anywhere. I’ve allocated $10M for the Pirates to upgrade the 1B position this offseason in a previous look at their potential payroll.
Using the 2.0 WAR threshold as the minimum standard for a Major League starter (and setting the plate appearances to 450), there were 18 players that met the mark.
Let’s take a gander at those 18 names and play some process of elimination to see who could be realistically available for the Pirates to obtain.
- Paul Goldschmidt is on a ridiculously good contract and the Diamondbacks have designs on making a playoff run next year, so he’s not going anywhere. Same concept for Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs, plus the whole division rival angle. The rebuilding Braves are using Freddie Freeman as one of their cornerstones as they look to make the move to their new stadium in 2017.
- On the opposite side of the spectrum are players like Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, and Albert Pujols. These are all players that are getting older and on very expensive $20M+/year contracts that are not realistic to fit into the Pirates’ payroll constraints.
- Buster Posey is in the prime of his career and one of the five best players in the NL, plus he’s a $20M+/year player himself.
- Edwin Encarnacion just got his 2016 option picked up by the Blue Jays and is slated to be part of a fearsome batting order with Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson.
- Brandon Belt, Lucas Duda, and Eric Hosmer are still getting paid on below-market arbitration salaries by the Giants, Mets and Royals, respectively, with all three teams having designs on competing next year.
- Jose Abreu is on a very team-friendly contract that will pay him $11M to $13M per year over the next four seasons to bash tons of home runs.
That narrows it down to four remaining players: Chris Davis, Carlos Santana, Adam Lind, and Mitch Moreland. Immediately cross free agent Chris Davis off the list, as he’s in line for a $20M+/year contract this offseason. The other three are, to varying degrees, probably available this offseason.
Carlos Santana (.231/.357/.395) of the Indians is owed $8.45M in 2016 and has a 2017 option for $12M ($1.2M buyout). He would be an upgrade over the current situation, but only incrementally. He is a switch hitter, which is appealing, but it’s not like he’s lighting the world on fire from either side of the plate.
Mitch Moreland of the Rangers is entering his final year of team control and projected to earn an affordable $5.6M by MLB Trade Rumors’ estimate. With Prince Fielder occupying a bunch of both physical and payroll space, the Rangers could look to offset some salary to upgrade in other areas. He’s also a left-hander that could be part of a theoretical platoon with Morse.
And then there’s my personal white whale that I’ve been chasing for years — Adam Lind. The Brewers picked up his $8M option for 2016 recently. The Brewers are clearly rebuilding and should look to trade every present asset they can for future assets. Lind, a lefty, destroys right-handed pitching and could also be paired with Morse in a platoon.
Three options, all of them more complementary players than impact players, but upgrades nonetheless. This brings us to two slightly outside-the-box options for the Pirates. There are two overseas players, Byung-ho Park of the Korean Baseball League and Dae-ho Lee of the Japanese Nippon League. Park was posted on Monday by the Nexen Heroes, Jung-ho Kang’s old team, and bids will be taken until this Friday. Park’s power was massive in the KBL and with Kang’s success it’s not hard to envision that Park’s posting fee itself may get to $10-15M, let alone the $10M/year he’ll probably command on salary. As I’ve shown, there’s a lot of teams probably in the market for Park, so we’ll see who ends up with the high posting fee bid.
Lee is a different brand of vodka, as he is a 33-year old free agent from the Nippon League that is not subject to any posting fee. Due to older age, he’ll get a smaller term on his deal, probably three to four years. I don’t have a real good feel for what his salary may be, but I can’t imagine it being less than $8M/year.
So there are viable options out there for the Pirates, especially ones that are in their price range, but the competition to get them may be fierce. If the Pirates trade for a domestic player, it may require what seems like an overpay on the surface, but if the end result is a strengthened lineup that will help the Pirates chase a division title and a fourth consecutive playoff berth, then the end justifies the means.