Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 11/1/11

Every year, MLB Trade Rumors releases their top 50 free agents, along with predictions on which player will sign with which team.  The predictions are what they are: one person’s guess on how the off-season will play out.  They’re far from perfect, but they do provide a nice topic for discussion.  This year’s list has been released, and the predictions by Tim Dierkes suggest a busy off-season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The first player that is linked to the Pirates is Carlos Pena.  They note that Pena would be a good fit on a one year deal if they can’t re-sign Derrek Lee.  If you read the site at all this summer, you’d know that I was pulling for the Pirates to trade for Pena, before it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be traded.  I like Pena, and feel he would be a good fit for the Pirates and PNC Park.  I’d pick Lee over Pena, but either player would be a solid anchor for the lineup.  MLBTR rated Pena as the #16 free agent.  Lee wasn’t ranked in their top 50.

The next move was Ramon Hernandez.  Hernandez will likely cost a second round pick, and MLBTR noted that Huntington might balk at giving up a second round pick to make the deal.  The Pirates landed Stetson Allie in the second round in 2010, and Josh Bell in 2011, with both players being rated top 10-15 prospects before the draft.  Giving up a second round pick might be a high cost for Hernandez, although it might be worth it on a multi-year deal.  There’s also the strong chance that the Pirates get two compensation picks down the road if Hernandez remains a Type A free agent.  Hernandez ranked 31st in the rankings.

The final prediction was Jeff Francis.  MLBTR mentioned that he is one of many starters who can add depth to the rotation at a reasonable cost.  In my look at the free agent market, I noted that Francis had a 4.23 xFIP over the last three years, compared to a 4.29 xFIP from Paul Maholm.  His 4.82 ERA from 2011 wasn’t attractive, but his 4.29 xFIP suggests he was a better pitcher than his numbers showed.  I’d probably take Maholm over Francis, mostly due to injury concerns over the last few years, although you could make the argument that Francis is a similar pitcher.

The current 40-man roster/payroll projection has the Pirates around $28 M.  That leaves a lot of room for upgrades, with the Pirates needing a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, and a starting pitcher.  It’s very unlikely that MLBTR goes 100% on these predictions, but the approach wouldn’t be a bad one.  Additions like Pena and Hernandez would upgrade the lineup, and while Francis wouldn’t be an ace, he would be a candidate for a rebound year, based on his secondary numbers from the previous two seasons.  If I had my choice, I’d go with Chris Capuano over Francis.

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