The Pirates have been awfully quiet of late. They haven't really made much news since the Erik Bedard signing at the end of the winter meetings. Things are going to move quickly over the next ten days on the free agent market (prediction: Prince Fielder will sign by the January 25th at the latest; things will fall into place fast once the Rangers' negotation with Yu Darvish ends on Wednesday) and with only about a month until pitchers and catchers report, it's entirely possible that the Pirates are done wheeling and dealing for the winter.
It's not a sure thing that they're done, though. We know that the club has expressed interest in both Jeff Francis and Derrek Lee, two guys who are still on the free agent market and may be waiting things out to see if they can still stumble into a bigger-than-expected contract. The Pirates can pretty clearly make use of another pitcher and bringing in another first baseman wouldn't exactly hurt them at this point, so it's possible they're still interested in Francis or Lee or any of a number of other first basemen or pitchers who are still on the free agent market, waiting for Prince Fielder and Edwin Jackson to sign. Then again, Paul Maholm said he wasn't contacted by the Pirates before signing a cheap deal with the Cubs, which may indicate that they're not planning on adding more pitching at this point. It's easy to read things in more than one way when a team is as quiet as the Pirates have been over the last few weeks
To this point, the Pirates have had a weirdly nondescript off-season given the sheer volume of moves they've made. They've turned over a huge portion of their 40-man roster this winter, but I'm not sure that they're much better or worse, on the whole, than they were when the 2011 season or they were at this point a year ago. They made some moves that could pay off quite nicely for them (mainly signing Bedard, though there's some upside possibility in both the Navarro and McGahee trades), they made some moves with some significant risk (Bedard and I will continue to be concerned about Barmes's ability to hit at PNC Park going forward), and they made some moves that will likely have little net effect on the team at all when compared to 2011 (Barmes and Barajas, most likely). Entering the winter there was a risk that the Pirates would come out of it with a team significantly worse than the 2011 edition and I think they've avoided that, but I'm not prepared to say much more than that at this point.
That could change quite a bit, of course, if it turns out the Pirates aren't done making moves this winter. If Tim's guess of a $46 million payroll is right, the Pirates could probably spend somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million more this winter, should the right opportunity arise. Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson and Carlos Pena will all probably sign deals somewhere in that neighborhood (for varying lengths, of course), while the Pirates could probably get Jeff Francis and Derrek Lee or Casey Kotchman combined for about that price.
It's fun to think about adding Oswalt or Jackson to the rotation or Pena to the lineup, as all three guys bring things to the table that the Pirates don't really have right now, but I find it hard to see any of them landing in Pittsburgh. If I were Roy Oswalt, I'd take $4 million from the Red Sox before I'd take $8 million from the Pirates at this point in my career and I still don't see the Pirates making the multi-year committment that Jackson will likely require. There's not really any reason to think the Pirates are interested in Pena, either, as they could've had him last winter at a reasonable cost or at the trade deadline at a reasonable cost and they haven't even appeared to feign interest in him this winter. More than likely if the Pirates do anything else before the winter ends, it'll be another move or two in the same vein as the ones they've already made this winter.
Should they be trying to do more? If you assume the Pirates are a 70-75 win team right now (that's about how I'd peg them, though I haven't put a whole ton of thought into that kind of prediction), you could probably guess that Jackson and Pena would make them a 75-80 win team. That's getting close to something, but is it enough? Despite popular opinion, I think that the NL Central will be a tough division this year. The Brewers still have a good rotation and enough power at the plate to contend and the Reds and Cardinals have the ability to be two of the best teams in the National League. It's really hard to see the Pirates being better than two of those teams, plus the runners up of the Phillies/Braves/Marlins race and the Giants/Diamondbacks/Rockies/Dodgers race in 2012.
Of course, the Pirates can't (or at least shouldn't) just throw up their hands and say, "We didn't sign those guys because we have no chance to contend in 2012."Going out and blowing money just because they have some to spend at the moment it isn't necessarily the right thing to do, either. I do think they need another starting pitcher right now, and I'd hope that even if they think they have Jeff Francis locked in that they explore their other options as the prices on the market fall with teams like the Yankees falling out of the running for starting pitching.
Pat ~ THIS team will win when the Young Core (Cutch, Walker, Pedro, Tabata, Presley) mature to be the above average players that ALL of them MAY be. We've improved, undoubtedly, in the signings of Bedard, Barmes, and Barajas over Maholm, Cedeno and nobody at catcher. Is Pena (.215 avg +/-) a better alternative than Jones and or McGehee? NO. Francis is not an improvement over Lincoln or others coming along. The only improvements among the list of the above mentioned, IMHO, are Derrek Lee and Roy Oswalt. But the key here is the maturation of the Young Core; among that group, it is realistic to expect, say THREE, breakout seasons, and you can choose which three. The talent is there, with all of them. We may indeed have the answers in-house.
If the Pirates can get Jackson for 5 years/55-60 mil, I think that's a more than worthwhile risk. It's a bit worrisome that no one that has him seems to want to keep him, but given his age and his fastball, he's a reasonable bet to still be a good pitcher at the end of a five-year deal, and the dollar figure doesn't make him impossible to move. I'd much rather see him than Jeff Francis, whose only real advantage on Correia at this stage is that he's a left-handed ground-ball pitcher.
"That's getting close to something, but is it enough?" Well, enough for what? If we're not competing for the World Series or even the playoffs, then what's the goal? I'm not criticizing, just wondering. Even GMs themselves blast the idea of going for .500, but what if that's all that's left? If that's the case, then the Pirates should never consider themselves done. Otherwise I think we're at the punting debate, again.
I thought I read a report that the Cubs GM had refused to move anyone because he was already informed that he would be leaving at the end of the season. And that was supposed to be the reason that the Pirates did not make a move for Pena. Then again maybe that was just spin.