Offseason plans can change in a hurry. Just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates.

At the winter meetings, there were rumblings the Pirates were sellers. Specifically, they were shopping center fielder and former franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen. 

Trade rumors are still swirling around the 2013 National League MVP. On Thursday, though, the Bucs became buyers, inking right-hander Ivan Nova to a three-year, $26 million deal, according to FanRag Sports’ Robert Murray.

Nova is a modest splash. But couple his signing with word that Pittsburgh has “worked hard” to trade for Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Buster Olney, and you have the makings of an all-in strategy.

Why not?

Sure, the Pirates finished a disappointing 78-83 last season and missed the playoffs after three consecutive wild-card berths. 

No, Pittsburgh will never win an arms race in the NL Central with the defending champion Chicago Cubs, who have a bigger budget and a galaxy of young stars.

This team can contend, though. Another crack at the Wild Card Game is within reach, provided the Pirates stay aggressive.

Pittsburgh’s offense is more than adequate. Despite a down year from McCutchen—who posted a career-low .766 OPS—the Pirates finished sixth in the NL in runs (729) and fifth in batting average (.257).

A bounce-back year from McCutchen, assuming the Pirates keep him, could vault the lineup into the NL’s upper echelon. 

The bullpen ranked fifth in the NL with a 3.57 ERA. The loss of closer Mark Melancon, whom the Pirates dealt at the 2016 trade deadline, diminished the relief corps, but it’s not a glaring weakness. And they added right-hander Daniel Hudson for two years and $11 million. 

Instead, Pittsburgh can concentrate its resources on forming a top-flight rotation.

Inking Nova was a solid first step. The 29-year-old Dominican posted an unspectacular 4.17 ERA last season. But he upped his game after a deadline swap from the New York Yankees to Pittsburgh, going 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 64.2 innings.

After six-plus up-and-down seasons in the Bronx, Nova looked comfortable in black and yellow. 

“I don’t want to leave this clubhouse, to be honest,” he said in late September, per Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Now he doesn’t have to. He rejoins a rotation fronted by ace Gerrit Cole, who dealt with a triceps strain last season but was an All-Star and top-five NL Cy Young Award finisher in 2015.

With promising young right-handers Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow also in the mix, the Pirates already have the makings of a stout starting five.

Quintana, however, could join Cole and Nova to form a legitimate Big Three.

The 27-year-old southpaw has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the past four campaigns. Last season, he posted a career-best 3.20 ERA. If you like WAR, between 2013 and 2016, Quintana’s 18.1 mark ranked seventh among pitchers by FanGraphs’ measure

Most intriguingly for the budget-conscious Bucs, Quintana is locked into an affordable contract. His deal will pay him $7 million in 2017 and $8.85 million in 2018, followed by a $10.5 million team option in 2019 and an $11.5 million club option in 2020.

That said, he won’t come cheap. The White Sox asked for the Houston Astros‘ top two prospects plus another MLB-ready arm in exchange for Quintana, per baseball insider Peter Gammons

That means the Pirates would likely have to part with Glasnow, their No. 1 prospect, plus either outfielder/No. 2 prospect Austin Meadows or first baseman/No. 3 prospect Josh Bell and a high-upside ancillary piece. 

It’s a huge ask. Quintana is a huge get. That’s how these things work.

The Pirates’ win-now window remains open. With the Cubs representing the class of the division and the St. Louis Cardinals always lurking, however, the Pirates can’t afford to hang back, as Sean Gentille of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote:

If the Pirates feel good about their chances from now until 2019 — that is, if they feel like they said they’d feel a few years ago — they’ll keep McCutchen and actually go get Quintana. They won’t just try. They’ll make the choice to maximize whatever shot, as currently constituted, they’ve got left. They’ll do right by their fans. They’ll, you know, get better.

Re-upping Nova made them a bit better. Trading for Quintana would make them a lot better. Toss in Cole and an above-average offense and you have a postseason contender.

A few weeks ago, the Bucs appeared to be sellers. Now it’s time for them to adjust their sails.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of and unless otherwise noted. Prospect ratings by unless otherwise noted.

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