How did the Pirates do at the Winter Meetings?

So the meetings are over and everyone’s gone home from Vegas, which means that as fans we’re left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened. How did the Pirates do?

Trades- Not a lot happened here. Jack Wilson is still a Pirate, no one seemed interested in Freddy Sanchez or Adam LaRoche, and the teams that did seem interested in Pirate players likely wanted to heist what little talent Huntington has to work with for as little as possible. The one move we did make was the send Ronny Ballgame off to Philadelphia for a catcher that’s hopefully motivated enough to be a backup.

There are a few ways to look at what happened here. I know that I wrote that it’s time to trade Jack Wilson and I do still think it is, but there are always mitigating factors. At some point, the value of the return gets close enough to zero that it is, for all intents and purposes, zero. I think that’s the point Huntington’s hit with Wilson and his logic here seems to be along the lines of, “Maybe he’ll get hurt and we won’t be able to trade him, but if he does we won’t be much further behind than we would be with Chin-Lung Hu and Delwyn Young.” Of course, there’s always a chance Rafael Furcal signs somewhere other than LA, in which case we’ll be in business.

As for the Ronny Paulino trade, well, we’ve known Ronny can hit minor league pitching. When I saw him in August with Indy, he was in the middle of putting up some big numbers in the IL and he still looked pretty terrible against David Price. Price didn’t have his A-game that night, but it wasn’t hard to bring back all the Paulino memories that 2007 gave us. The market for catchers that can’t hit big league pitching and can’t play defense is pretty non-existent, so it looks like the Pirates decided to cut their losses, pick up a guy that can compete with Robinzon Diaz for the Raul Chavez role, and move on with life. I can live with that.

Free agents- We all know the Pirates aren’t going to be players in free agency and as I’ve said in the past, I can live with that so long as we’re building towards something. Ramon Vazquez is far from exciting and he’s not a guy that’s going to sell tickets, but signing him is a move I like a good deal, assuming we can close it out. We signed Chris Gomez to be our middle-infield utility guy at this point last year, but he was far beyond the point that he could play up the middle effectively. Vazquez should be able to fill either of those spots fairly well in case of an injury and he at least provides some insurance in case we trade Wilson or Sanchez and Cruz and Bixler turn out to be disasters in their attempts to replace them (this seems likely). And it’s certainly better than signing Eckstein.

The Rule 5 draft- I like what the Pirates did here. It’s clear that by taking Veal over a guy like Eduardo Morlan, the Pirates are hoping to steal an effective starting pitcher in this draft instead of just a guy who’s ceiling is in the ‘pen. The key to making this work will be keeping Veal with the big league club all year, as I doubt the Cubs will be open to a cash transaction to allow him to stay in Pittsburgh if the Bucs want to send him down. Digging a bit into something I mentioned yesterday, lefties hit .221 against Veal last year and only 5 of the 25 hits off of him by lefties went for extra bases. He’s got massive control problems, but if he’s going to work out he’s going to be in Pittsburgh all year, which means that he’ll get a chance to work with Joe Kerrigan to try and iron things out. This is a much more interesting and potentially rewarding pick than the pick of Meek last year.

When I saw the results of the minor league portion of the draft, it seemed a little strange to me that all three players the Pirates took were from summer league teams in the Caribbean. Of course, I don’t pay nearly enough attention to that sort of thing, so I shook it off and didn’t think about it until I saw Dejan’s last update from Vegas:

The Pirates, as mentioned above, claimed three players in the minor league phase of the Rule 5, all out of Latin American summer leagues. Well, shortly after that happened, people from two of those three teams approached a Pirates official to ask how that happened. Nobody looks for Rule 5 guys down there — for reasons I am not sure I understand — and most teams, apparently, do not go so far as to determine which of them is eligible.

This seemed to be quite the point of pride for your club, so I checked back with Huntington to see if he could elaborate. And he did by giving all the credit to director of player development Kyle Stark for making almost monthly trips to the Dominican, to director of baseball operations Bryan Minniti for developing a database of every Rule 5 player on the planet, and to statistical guru and former Baseball Prospectus writer Dan Fox for crunching the numbers to demonstrate if the players were valuable enough to invest those picks.

Looking for value where no one else is looking for it … exactly what a small market team should be doing.

It’s important to remember that the Winter Meetings are not created equal for all teams. It’s a stage for rumors to fly, for big clubs to make their big signings, and for everyone else to lay groundwork. The Pirates aren’t likely to do a lot that’s going to affect the big league club for a number of reasons this winter, but that doesn’t mean that the offseason has to be a failure.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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