Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

mccutchen pirates bucketAlthough it’s not necessarily a huge move, the St. Louis Cardinals got their offseason ball rolling today by agreeing to a five-year deal with free agent starter Mike Leake. It’s still a lot more than the Pittsburgh Pirates have done.

While the Chicago Cubs got aggressive in the early going, and now the Cardinals have made a solid addition, the Pirates have done almost nothing of note this offseason. Which is not to say they haven’t don anything, it’s just … They let Pedro Alvarez go. J.A. Happ signed with the Blue Jays. A.J. Burnett retired. The Pirates traded Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese. They traded away Charlie Morton. They brought back Sean Rodriguez. They acquired Jason Rogers. They signed Ryan Vogelsong. There were some other small moves.

You’re getting the picture.

I’m not saying the Pirates had to do anything splashy to remain competitive in 2016, and, indeed, they might not have the wherewithal to do much splashy anyway. And, hey, there’s still plenty of offseason to go – it was just earlier today that we were talking about how many free agents are still out there.

But as it stands, I’ve been surprised at the lack of serious Pirates activity or even rumors to date. Their competitive window is going to last a few years based on their still-relatively-young core, but it won’t last forever. And it certainly won’t last long if they’re going to count on young and reclaimed pitchers, exclusively, every season.

Interestingly, a report from John Perrotto indicates, via a source, that this series of non-events is largely a part of the Pirates’ plan for 2016 – the word “retrench” was used – with an eye toward getting back into business in 2017. While I can see the angle there, as the Pirates’ core will still be in place, they’ll have more money, and some of their top prospects could be ready to more seriously contribute, it’s still hard to see the Pirates not making a concerted go in 2016. They’re too good and too close.

Then again, the ZiPS projections for the Pirates are out, and it’s not as sexy as you might think for a team that just won 98 games.

Although the front of the rotation – Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano – looks good, the back is a disaster. And the outfield is strong, but the infield has serious holes at every spot besides third base (Jung-Ho Kang, who will be coming back from a serious knee injury). The bullpen looks decent, but they’ve lost a couple arms since last year.

On the whole, the starting crew of players accounts for just 36 projected WAR, which is not an enormous sum. For example, before they traded away Todd Frazier, the Reds were projected at 32 WAR. Further, although this is very much an imperfect process, I should note that a replacement level team projects for 48 wins. Add on 36 WAR for the Pirates, and you’re projecting a team only a little over .500.

Again, that’s not a preferred methodology for a variety of reasons, but I do think it’s interesting context given how good the Pirates were last year, and how good we think they could be with even a modest offseason.

So far, they aren’t doing much. With a little more action, the Pirates would look a lot scarier in 2016. I’m certainly not writing them off, but I’m regarding them suspiciously.

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