By: Noah Wright
Another off season passes, and another winter of few major league signings passes as well. However, it wasn’t as bad as last off season where the team didn’t sign a single major league contract. Regardless, it’s far from the most impressive of the Pirates history, but hey, at least they did something. They actually added a few pieces that could be very beneficial to the team for 2019. So let’s recap the Bucs’ off season, and see what they’re biggest losses, acquisitions, trades were, and give it a final grade.
- Josh Harrison:
Josh Harrison had been a regular in the Bucs’ line-up since 2014. Between ‘14-’17, Harrison turned in a modest .290/.331/.428 line with 37 home runs and 59 stolen bases in 2063 plate appearances. He had also been a well above average defender wherever the Pirates put him, recording 4.0 dWAR in that 4 year span. His base running had also been well above average in that span as well. However, 2018 was much different. The past season, Harrison’s overall performance took a large dip. He reached a 78 wRC+. The lowest it’s been since his first full year in 2012. Harrison’s defense also took a hit, having -2 DRS at second base. Plus, Harrison only played 98 games during the year. While he’s not known for being super durable, it was the lowest amount of games he’s played since 2013. After the season, the Bucs decided to turn down his $12 million option for 2019. Instead, they’ve opted to go into the season with Adam Frazier as their 2B. Since his contract was bought out, Harrison hit the open market, and signed with the Detroit Tigers. He’s projected to be their opening day second baseman.
- Jordy Mercer:
The other middle infield player the Pirates lost was shortstop Jordy Mercer. Mercer, to put it best, had been average for most of his Pirates tenure. Between 2013 and 2017, the shortstop turned in a .258/.318/.384 line across that 5 year span. He also averaged 10-12 home runs a season too. Defensively, he wasn’t going to win any gold gloves, but he could hold his own at short. However, it wasn’t enough for the Pirates to keep him around. Afterall, most of their current options could probably do about the same as Mercer. His formerly solid defense had slid during 2018, seeing career lows in DRS (-9, tied), and dWAR (-.4). After hitting free agency, he joined Josh Harrison in Detroit, and projects to be their starting shortstop.
- Ivan Nova:
Nova had come off another so-so overall year. In 161 innings of work, Ivan turned in a 4.19 ERA, 4.57 FIP, and 1.280 WHIP. He had also shown that he can limit walks again, having given up just 35 free passes all year. Though, Nova did perform better in the second half of the year, recording a 3.86 ERA, and 4.44 FIP. However, the right hander did struggle with the long ball, having a 2.0 HR/9 rate. The Pirates decided to bassically salary dump him and his $9.1 million salary on the Chicago White Sox, receiving only Yordi Alvarez in return.
- Other minor losses: Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff (trade)
- Jung Ho Kang:
Technically, the team didn’t lose Kang. However, he was a free agent for a very short amount of time. The infielder had missed the entire 2017 season, and all but 3 games during 2018 because of work visa issues in South Korea after a drunk driving incident, and multiple other reports of drunk driving accidents happening in the past just coming out around that time. However, before all of this, Kang was a good infielder for the Bucs. During 2015-2016, he had posted a .273 average, and .838 OPS. Kang had blasted 21 home runs in an injury limited 2016 as well. Kang did have an option for 2019, but the Bucs turned it down. Instead, they brought him back on a 1 year, $3 million guaranteed deal plus performance incentives.
- Lonnie Chisenhall:
Chisenhall was the first MLB signing since the 2016-2017 season the Bucs landed that did not previously play on the team. They landed the corner outfielder on a 1 year, $2.75 million deal plus incentives. Though the deal wasn’t without some risk. Sure, the former Indian had performed well with the bat the past 3 season, having a .291/.347/.468 across 2016 to 2018. He even wasn’t that bad of a fielder either, having just -1 dWAR between the 3 seasons. The risk comes in the form of Chisenhall health. He had played only 29 games during 2018, 82 in 2017, and 126 in 2016. However, it’s only a $2.5 million guaranteed deal and if he can stay healthy, this could prove to be one of biggest steals of the off season if Chisenhall can perform anything like his 2016-2018 averages in about 100-120 games, and 350 PA’s.
- Jordan Lyles:
The Pirates signing Jordan Lyles (1 year, $2 million) came only hours after the trade of Ivan Nova. Lyles had a 2018 season with it’s ups and downs. He started out the year with the San Diego Padres where he 4.29 ERA, 4.45 FIP, and 1.266 WHIP in 71 and a third innings. Then he was traded to the Brewers where he served strictly a relief role, and delivered a 3.31 ERA, 2.49 FIP, and 1.286 WHIP in 16 and a third innings. He finished the season with an overall 4.11 ERA, 4.08 FIP, and 1.266 WHIP. However, that was Jordan Lyles best season, in all 8 years of his career. Between 2011 and 2017, Lyles posted a 5.43 ERA, 4.55 FIP, and 1.482 WHIP. What Jordan Lyles shows up during the regular season remains to be seen, but he hasn’t been all that impressive in spring training if that’s any indication.
- Erik Gonzalez:
Gonzalez was acquired by the Pirates when they traded Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff to the Indians for the slick fielding shortstop. While Gonzalez may excel with the glove, he’s never been much of a hitter. He only has a career .681 OPS in 275 plate appearances. He’s never been a huge contact hitter, nor a really good base runner either. What the Bucs see in him, I don’t know, and given that they have better options like Pablo Reyes who can play short, I don’t see a huge reason to start him at Mercer’s former position.
- Melky Cabrera:
The Pirates picked up the veteran outfielder on a minor league deal. Melky put up a solid 2018 season that almost perfectly fell in line with his career average batting line (career average: .286/.335/.418. 2018 line: .280/.335/.420). He had also blasted 6 home runs in a shortened 278 plate appearances with the Indians. Overall, he was worth 102 wRC+. Cabrera’s defense is a liability though. He had -7 DRS and -.7 UZR in right field this year. Though he might benefit given more time in left field, and his outfield arm is still great as he was worth 1.6 outfield arm runs above average.
- Tyler Lyons:
Tyler Lyons was another minor league signing the Pirates made. Lyons will likely make the club as long as he’s healthy. Lyons had a horrible 2018. He gave up 3 home runs and 16 runs in 16 and two third innings with the St. Louis Cardinals. However in a three year stretch between 2015 and 2018, Lyons posted a 3.33 ERA, 3.98 FIP, and 1.123 WHIP. Given Lyons is healthy for 2019, the Bucs could have just picked up a solid relief pitcher who can shut down left handed batters (career .606 OPS against LH).
- Francisco Liriano:
Liriano was picked up by the Pirates on a minors deal, and this will mark the second stint he’s been with the Pirates. Since the Pirates got rid of Liriano back in 2016, he’s struggled, a whole lot. Last year with the Tigers, Frankie limped to a 4.58 ERA, 5.11 FIP, and 1.496 WHIP in 133 and two thirds innings. He reached a career low strikeout rate, with just 7.4 K’s/9, and gave up 4.9 BB/9. Liriano will be looking to bounce back for the third time in his career, and second time with the Pirates, this time as a relief pitcher. Liriano still held left handed batters to a very impressive .516 opponent OPS, showing that maybe he still has something left in the tank.
What I think of this off season:
Overall, it wasn’t a ‘horrible’ off season. It just wasn’t good. They had a few solid pick-ups like resigning Jung Ho Kang, and getting Lonnie on a cheap 1 year deal, but they missed out on a handful of other opportunities. Instead of Jordan Lyles, the Bucs could have gotten Clay Buchholz who’s ERA was 2.01 during 2018 for $1 million more, and has a much better performance track record than Lyles. The same can be said for Drew Pomeranz. Even though he had a horrible 2018, he’ll only be 30 next year, which is not much older than Lyles, and had put up a 3.24 ERA and 3.78 FIP between 2014 and 2017. I also think Jose Iglesias was a missed opportunity. Afterall, it’s a more proven solution than Erik Gonzalez, provides more defensive value, and is at least a guaranteed a batting average between .260-.280. Plus, he only went on a minor league deal to the division rival Reds. At the very least, the Pirates could have picked him up on a 2 year, $2 million AAV deal to play keep away from a division rival.
Final off-season grade: C-
(note: if the teams somehow signs Dallas Keuchel, then I'll give it a C+)