The perfectly whelming offseason of the Pirates

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

The Pirates have signed two players this offseason, and neither of them are especially thrilling. Do they have a plan?

Earlier in the offseason, I did a history of the Pirates in free agency (NSFW). Don't click. You just ate. And included in that history of the Pirates in free agency was a little factoid about their 2012 offseason: The two-year, $17 million deal they gave to Russell Martin is the largest free-agent deal in Pirates history.

Let me repeat that for effect.

The two-year, $17 million deal the Pittsburgh Pirates gave to Russell Martin is the largest free-agent deal in Pirates history.


There's an addendum to that factoid, too: Francisco Liriano is now the owner of the second-largest free-agent deal in Pirates history. So this has been quite the offseason for the Pirates. Spendin' money like they just don't care. And when you factor in that Clint Barmes came over on the third-largest deal, and he'll be on the roster next year, well, slooooow it down, Pirates. Quit trying to buy a championship!

It's so, so easy to be snarky when it comes to the Pirates that the jokes usually aren't worth it. They've been bad for a while, and their offseason has consisted of an average catcher and a pitcher with a CGI creation for a shoulder. Begin the snark.

Except their offseason started in July. Back in the middle of the 2012, when the Pirates were contending even though they weren't really contending but they were kind of contending, the Pirates made a couple of trades. They made a couple of call-ups. And what all of that allowed them to do was put together … well, I'm not going to say it's a good roster for next year. But it's a roster that makes sense. Looking at the last four permutations of Pirates teams, there's something of a theme:

2010 2011 2012 2013
C Ryan Doumit Ryan Doumit Rod Barajas Russell Martin
1B Jeff Clement Lyle Overbay Garrett Jones Garrett Jones
2B Akinori Iwamura Neil Walker Neil Walker Neil Walker
3B Andy LaRoche Pedro Alvarez Pedro Alvarez Pedro Alvarez
SS Ronny Cedeno Ronny Cedeno Clint Barmes Clint Barmes
LF Lastings Milledge Jose Tabata Alex Presley Starling Marte
CF Andrew McCutchen Andrew McCutchen Andrew McCutchen Andrew McCutchen
RF Garrett Jones Garrett Jones Jose Tabata Travis Snider
SP1 Zack Duke Kevin Correia Erik Bedard A.J. Burnett
SP2 Ross Ohlendorf Paul Maholm Jeff Karstens Wandy Rodriguez
SP3 Paul Maholm Ross Ohlendorf James McDonald James McDonald
SP4 Charlie Morton Charlie Morton Kevin Correia Francisco Liriano
SP5 Brian Burres James McDonald Charlie Morton
(until A.J. Burnett
was healthy)
Jeff Karstens

With each season, the Pirates figured out what made sense (Neil Walker at second, Garrett Jones at first, Ronny Cedeno at nowhere), and they added more raffle tickets every year. Correia out, McDonald in. The Bedard gambit didn't work out, but the Liriano gambit might. Andy LaRoche wasn't the world-beating youngster at third; Pedro Alvarez might be. They've been tinkering and fidgeting, upgrading the faulty cogs and keeping the important pieces.

And the offseason has consisted of Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, yes. But two of those players under the 2013 column were deadline deals. Wandy Rodriguez came over for a couple of minor prospects, with the Astros picking up $5 million of his salary. Considering what Kevin Correia and Joe Blanton are getting on the open market, it was something of a coup for the Pirates to get Rodriguez for this season for a fraction of what he'd be paid if he were a free agent.

Travis Snider didn't exactly thrill the masses after coming over from the Blue Jays for Brad Lincoln, but considering that he'll be 25 on Opening Day and has an extensive minor-league pedigree, he's exactly the kind of player the Pirates should be messing with.

Russell Martin might not be Buster Posey or Carlos Santana, but he can catch (unlike Ryan Doumit), and he can hit a little (unlike 36-year-old Rod Barajas). Liriano might fail spectacularly -- you can change the "might" to "probably will", if you're so inclined -- but he's another gamble the Pirates should be taking. If the new CBA won't let teams plow money into the draft or the Dominican Republic, putting it back into the roster is just about the only way to go.

And out of those four players, I'll wager that only one of them really works out. Maybe Snider sticks, or Liriano gives them 300 good innings over the next two seasons. Maybe Martin hits better than expected, or Rodriguez is more of the top-rotation pitcher he was earlier in Houston than the innings-eater he seems to be now. When Pittsburgh figures it out, they'll keep the working cog in place, and look for the next batch, hoping to have a veteran foundation in place when the highly rated farm system starts to flower.

It's not as exciting as the Blue Jays finding $100 million in the pocket of a coat they haven't worn in a while. It's not the dynamic combination of spending and dealing that rebuilt the Braves' outfield. No, it's nothing overwhelming like that. But it's in line with the adding and subtracting the Pirates have been doing over the last couple of offseasons, and as a way to build on the success of the first half, it's certainly not as underwhelming as it could have been.

It's been whelming. And that's just fine until the farm gets here.

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