Pirates face uncertain free agency

Several of the Pirates most important players will hit the open market this winter. Catcher Russell Martin has been an integral of the team's turnaround and is no longer under contract. Two pitchers who have gotten their careers back on track in Pittsburgh, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, are also free agents.

The Pirates will either have to let Martin go or open their wallet and match multi-year commitment he is sure to get on the free agent market. The Bucs have indicated they’re willing to “stretch” to keep Martin, but re-signing him would represent a dramatic departure from their usual off season patterns. The length of contract will be a big issue as well, signing him for more than three years might put them in dangerous territory, given his age and the brutal demands of the position he plays.

There isn't much for the Pirates to choose from to replace Martin at catcher with anyone remotely comparable, even in a trade. The top names after Martin on the free agent market are players like Geovany Soto and A.J. Pierzynski. Internally Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart, represent big downgrades that the Pirates will have to make up elsewhere.

The Bucs could also lose Liriano and Edinson Volquez, who were key contributors to the team’s 2014 rotation. (The Pirates have not indicated they plan to extend a qualifying offer to Liriano, and perhaps they won’t — they didn’t extend one to A.J. Burnett last off season. The Pirates might feel it makes more sense to replace Liriano and Volquez with buy-low reclamation projects (Justin Masterson or Brett Anderson might make sense, given the Pirates’ love of ground-ball pitchers).

The bet is they won't resign Liriano with his price tag, but they may be able to bring back Volquez who has indicated his comfort zone in Pittsburgh is high with the success he had last season.

The Pirates will have to acquire starting pitching this winter, Charlie Morton and top prospect Jameson Taillon will both be returning from significant injuries, leaving the Pirates with only Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke as sure bets to make their rotation out of spring training.

The Bucs have some other decisions to make ,the lefty-hitting Pedro Alvarez is a likely a first baseman going forward, with the Bucs either trading or non-tendering lefty Ike Davis. The Pirates could also consider trading Alvarez, but he’s not eligible for free agency until after 2016. Pittsburgh will also have to decide whether to keep righty Gaby Sanchez, who is arbitration eligible for the third time and who hit just .229/.293/.385 in 2014.

The Bucs will need a utility infielder, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they re-signed Clint Barmes to a one-year deal, like they did last off season. Newly acquired Justin Sellers, could also fill that role, but given his weak bat, the Pirates seem likely to try to sneak him through waivers at some point.

It doesn't seem likely given their track record that the Pirates will make a big splash in free agency, Martin is their top target, but that might be unattainable. If they don't get Martin it could be a quiet winter for the Bucs.

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