The Pirates entered this week’s Winter Meetings with the goal of finding starting pitching, a corner outfielder or first baseman, and possibly a middle infielder. They accomplished all three. The results, unfortunately, are distinctly underwhelming, but given that the Pirates weren’t going to contend in 2011 anyway, it’s probably wise to temper our expectations.
To deal with the holes in their rotation (left by the departure of Zach Duke, and a lack of good pitching generally), the Pirates signed Scott Olsen to a one-year deal and Kevin Correia to a two-year contract.
The Bucs already have three reasonably solid starting pitching options in James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf and Paul Maholm, as well as two less-established starters in Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln and several nearly-ready prospects (Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke). So the news that, even after signing Olsen and Correia, they’re still interested in trading for Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami suggests one of two possibilities:
1. They view Olsen and Correia as fling-it-against-the-wall types and are attempting to compensate for a lack of quality starting pitching with quantity. After all, Morton and Lincoln did little last year to inspire confidence, and none of the others, except perhaps McDonald, looked particularly great.
2. They’re laying the groundwork for a trade of one of their more established pitchers, probably Maholm.
It could be a blend of both. Maholm has a $9.75 million club option in 2012 that I’m sure the Pirates would rather not pay. He’s also older and will become a free agent sooner than most of their core players.
In any case, Olsen and Correia are uninspiring additions – both put up mediocre numbers this year, and Correia managed to put up his in the pitching paradise of San Diego. But it’s probably important not to be too critical. It was unlikely that the Pirates would get a premium talent, and there was unfortunately no real reason to think they ought to try to. A long commitment to a pitcher would have been very risky, since those kinds of contracts tend to not look so good by the end, and the Pirates could need that money to contend before a long contract would be over. It's very likely that one or both of Olsen and Correia will begin the year in the rotation. They'll help the Pirates get through the year, and then hopefully they'll give way to greater talents.
To improve their outfield, the Pirates grabbed Matt Diaz, who had been with the Braves, and signed him to a cheap two-year deal. Diaz has the ability to hit for high batting averages and is generally very useful when he does, but he has his limitations – he does most of his damage against lefties, and isn’t regarded as a top defensive outfielder. He struggled greatly at the beginning of last season, probably in part because of a splinter in his hand that got infected, but hit well after that. The question, though, is whether a part-timer like Diaz, who has never been a star or an outstanding athlete and who got a late start to his career, can be productive into his mid-30s or whether, like Ryan Church last year, he’ll simply fade away.
The Pirates were rumored to be interested in trading for Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose skills as a good defensive shortstop with some hitting ability would have fit perfectly. Instead, Hardy went to the Orioles, and the Bucs used the first pick in the Rule 5 draft to select shortstop Josh Rodriguez from the Indians.
Not getting Hardy stings, especially since the Orioles only gave up two middling minor league relievers to get him. Rodriguez was a fine Rule 5 pick, in that he stands an excellent chance of sticking with the team the whole year and is likely to have a career as a useful major leaguer. But he isn’t likely to make anyone forget Ronny Cedeno right away, and so the Pirates will hopefully continue to try to find a good defensive infielder.
In all likelihood, though, the Pirates’ transactions this week – which also included losing pitcher Nathan Adcock in the Rule 5 draft and adding pitcher Cesar Valdez to complete the Zach Duke deal – probably comprised a large percentage of their biggest moves this offseason (although that could begin to change if the Bucs deal Maholm or Ryan Doumit). The Bucs accomplished most of what they set out to do. The results won’t help them win that many more games in 2011, but they also won’t interfere with the Pirates’ long-term plan of building from within.