MLB Trade Rumors has released its predictions for the landing spots of the top 50 MLB free agents. Before we dig too deep into this list I do want to note that in last year’s list, they had the Pirates tied to Andrew Benintendi and Michael Wacha. I’m sure you guys recall equally as well as I do how well both of those guys did for the Pirates this past season. They also didn’t have the Pirates tied to any of the free agents that they did sign last season, but that’s because they all fell outside of the top 50. So, take this list with as many grains of salt as necessary. But it’s free agency and we’re all excited so, of course, I’m going to dive into this list. Let’s go!
This year’s list finds the Pirates tied to four free agents. The highest-rated one comes in at number 22 and the lowest at 45. The list features the predictions of three MLBTR staff writers; Tim Dierkes, Anthony Franco, and Darragh McDonald. On a number of the prospects, there was agreement among the three, but in the case of the four linked to the Pirates, it was only one of the three predicting Pittsburgh as a landing spot. I trust you guys know how these lists work, so I’ve already spent enough time trying to summarize the concept. Let’s just get into the good stuff. These are the free agents that MLB Trade Rumors have linked to the Pirates.
RHP Jack Flaherty (Ranked number 22 on the list)Embed from Getty Images
Darragh McDonald lists the Pirates as the likely landing spot for Flaherty who is coming off of a 2023 season that saw him traded to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline. Throughout 29 appearances in 2023, Jack Flaherty had an 8-9 record with a 4.99 ERA while registering 148 strikeouts and walking 66 amassing 144.1 innings of work. 2023 was his seventh season in the majors and what I would consider his least impressive. He had a pretty incredible start to his career but has been in steady decline since coming in fourth in Cy Young voting during his 2019 season. He’s fought with injuries and hasn’t shown the level of consistency you like to see from a starting pitcher. The list also has him tied to the Royals and Tigers.
Starting pitching is definitely a need for the Pirates. MLBTR projects him to a three-year, $40MM contract. Assuming that happens, it would be the biggest free agent deal in Pirates’ history. I wouldn’t expect to see that happen. The Athletic also has the Bucs tied to Flaherty but projects a one-year deal at $10MM(Link is to The Athletic which is behind a paywall). I could see something like that happening.
LHP Sean Manaea ( Ranked number 35 on the list)Embed from Getty Images
Manaea returns to free agency for the second straight season and Tim Dierkes has him finding a new home with the Pirates. Manaea spent the 2023 season with the San Francisco Giants and saw work in 37 games. He had a 7-6 record with a 4.44 ERA. He was brought into San Francisco to be a starter, but he found himself relegated to the bullpen after a rough start to the season and found himself working multiple innings in relief. Manaea would give Andre Jackson some company in the Great Hair Club if this happens. They list his projected contract at two years, $22MM. The Dodgers and Rays are the other predicted landing spots
OF Jason Heyward (Ranked number 42 on the list)Embed from Getty Images
This one is the most interesting on the list to me. The Pirates outfield situation is kind of strange currently. You have Henry Davis struggling to take to the right field position. Suwinski is playing out of position. Bae doesn’t really seem to be the answer to any questions that wouldn’t be asked in a criminal proceeding. Heyward would actually make some sense as a centerfielder and he did see a slight uptick in his production in the 2023 season. He is also a known Pirates killer so not having to face him wouldn’t be awful. I’m just not convinced that adding to the outfield is something the team will be pursuing. Darragh McDonald obviously disagrees. They have his projected contract at 2 years, $16MM. That’s pretty reasonable.
1B Brandon Belt (Ranked number 45 on the list)Embed from Getty Images
1B is certainly a position of concern for the Bucs this off-season. Anthony Franco thinks that they will fill that void with Belt. They have him projected at one year, $15MM. Belt is a decent left-handed hitter who could platoon well with Connor Joe at 1B. Over 103 games in 2023, he slashed .254/.369/.490. The current first-base free-agent market is pretty slim. This might be one of the better options available to the Pirates if they are looking for outside help at the position.
The stove is warming up. GM meetings are starting today and while that doesn’t generally see the activity that comes out of the winter meetings, it certainly starts to lay the groundwork. I’m ready for some big free-agent signings to start happening. What do you guys think? Will any of the MLB Trade Rumors predictions come through this year? Who do you see the Pirates landing? Sound off in the comments below.