Restoring the rosters: No. 23 – Pittsburgh

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
The shame of the steel city has been better at developing talent than some of the other usual cellar dwellers, not that it’s done the franchise a lot of good. As a result of the latest rebuilding effort, just six of the following 25 players remain in the organization.
Rotation
Zach Duke
Chris Young
Tim Wakefield
Paul Maholm
Bronson Arroyo
Bullpen
Mike Gonzalez
Matt Capps
Leo Nunez
John Grabow
Ian Snell
Joe Beimel
Tom Gorzelanny
It’s ace-less pitching staff, but one that would likely be very solid. When Young or Wakefield goes down, Gorzelanny can move into the rotation and perhaps even improve it. Snell is another fallback starter, but he might be more valuable helping out in a bullpen that’s rather lefty heavy.
Left-handed relievers are what the Pirates have excelled at developing through the years. Besides Gonzalez, Grabow and Beimel, there’s also Sean Burnett and Brian Shouse who failed to make the cut. The top right-handed alternatives for the pen were Jonathan Albaladejo and Jeff Bennett.
Lineup
LF Nyjer Morgan
CF Andrew McCutchen
RF Nate McLouth
3B Aramis Ramirez
C Ryan Doumit
1B Steve Pearce
2B Jeff Keppinger
SS Brent Lillibridge
Bench
OF Barry Bonds
OF Jose Bautista
OF Rajai Davis
C Ronny Paulino
INF Brian Bixler
I debated whether or not to include Bonds. He’s eligible, since he hasn’t technically retired, but I have doubts that he’d be of much use as an outfielder right now. In the end, I decided to include him as the team’s top pinch-hitter. He wasn’t seriously factored into the team’s 23rd-place ranking.
If Bonds were excluded, then Jose Guillen would have claimed the final spot. As is, I see no reason to bump anyone for Guillen.
Jason Kendall also fails to make the cut.
The young outfield is nice and there are a couple of quality power hitters in the middle of the order, but the real problem here is that the Pirates simply can’t develop middle infielders. They deserve partial credit for Jack Wilson, but he did spend two years in the St. Louis farm system. It looks like the last above average middle infielder they developed themselves was Rennie Stennett, who debuted in 1971. Keppinger gets the nod over Jose Castillo at second base here. He’s a liability against righties, but he won’t embarrass himself. Shortstop was a tossup between a pair of disappointments in Lillibridge and Bixler.
Summary
Tim Lincecum, Matt Wieters, B.J. Upton and Stephen Drew. All of them could have been Pirates. Sure, we can play that game with every team, but that the Pirates were making bad choices while picking early in so many recent drafts was obvious at the time and only became more frustrating when money the team refused to spend on a potential superstar went instead to veterans with no chance of making the team a contender.
The Pirates are well on their way to finishing below .500 for a 17th straight season, and it’s practically assured that they’ll make it an 18th in 2010. Still, they’ve utilized better strategies since bringing in Neal Huntington as their new GM. I’ve disagreed with some of the execution, but at least the team is no longer aiming for that elusive 81-win season. Better to lose 100 games now if it will help the chances of putting a real contender on the field a couple of years down the road.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?