After weeks of inactivity, the Pittsburgh Pirates finally made their move, signing catcher Russell Martin to a two-year deal. It wasn’t a good signing, given that he’s not terribly more productive than backup Michael McKenry and costs about 20 times as much, but it does make them incrementally better, so it’s something.
But it’s not enough.
A small upgrade behind the plate will not get the Pirates over .500. It will not change their two-decade long trajectory. It will not win the NL Central.
The Pirates have a nice nucleus of talent, but they need a few specific pieces to get them to the next level. For example, their offense has some power, but much of it is left-handed. They need a right-handed power bat.
I’ve suggested before that Minnesota Twins outfielder Josh Willingham would be a good fit. He’s not a good outfielder, but he’s consistently been a 2-3 win player, and the majority of that production comes from hitting left-handed pitchers, something the Pirates routinely struggled with in 2012.
Reports have come out in the past week that the Twins are not actively shopping Willingham, but are listening to offers since there have been more of them than perhaps the Twins anticipated. It’s been reported that the price may be something in the range of a number four starter. If the Pirates want to get this deal done, they can do better than that.
They have two pitching prospects, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson, who project as number four starters, but also have six years of team control left, because they have made just brief appearances in the majors thus far in their young careers. For a non-competitive team like the Twins, these are the types of players they should be targeting.
For Denard Span, a player in the same 2-4 win range (he’s been slightly better over the past few years), the Twins got a young pitching prospect who has a higher ceiling than Locke and McPherson, but is also further from the majors and has more question marks. Locke and McPherson are ready for the majors now after having been in Triple-A last season, and either could compete for a spot in the Twins rotation this spring. For the Twins, it would really be a preference of whether they’d rather have a left-hander or a right-hander.
For the Pirates, it would give them the balance to be able to hit any type of pitcher the National League can throw at them. They’re not going to go out and sign Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, but these are the kinds of moves they can make that fit their specific needs.