Right now I am at a loss for words. Some how, some way both Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge have made the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Spring Training. Just a few short weeks ago this seemed virtually impossible and yet here we are. Things have gone horribly horribly wrong and now these two players are going to wind up displacing two guys from the Pirates 40 man roster. Considering the other options available this isn’t necessarily a death-blow to the team’s chances in 2013 but what it is is an admission from Huntington that he just doesn’t trust his minor league system. Last week the addition of John McDonald was yet another admission. For some reason Huntington just can’t put any faith into the players he has at the minor league level and I am getting quite tired of it.
Neither is really an acceptable addition but to some extent Sanchez is at least a little understandable. When the Pirates signed him as a minor league free agent Sanchez appeared to be competing with the likes of Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Chris Leroux and Phillip Irwin to be the Pirates 10th option to pick up starts. The fact that he has apparently won that battle is perfectly fine but the fact that the Pirates 10th option is needed in the rotation to begin the season and the fact that such a possibility wasn’t exactly a difficult one to see is a problem. For those of you wondering where I’m getting 10th option at the Pirates have five fairly established starters in Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Liriano and Karstens and they have two young starters primed to get inning in Locke and McPherson and two players who are primed to help support the rotation by midseason in Morton and Cole. All that adds up to 9 respectable arms ready to man the rotation. That is all well and good but it was a fairly easy thing to predict that 5 of the 9 weren’t going to be ready for Opening Day. It was already a given Morton and Cole weren’t going to be and Liriano was known to be hurt. That means all it took was Karstens injuring his shoulder (an issue he has for the past few years) and McPherson showing he isn’t ready (something his 3 career AAA starts should have told us).
Yes it is a little bad luck the Pirates are down to their 10th starting option to begin the season but it was at least possible to foresee this situation playing out. Sanchez does have some upside though and has looked fairly respectable in camp so it is hard to fault the Pirates completely on him. Inge (and McDonald) are entirely different stories. First let me say that Inge appears likely to start on the DL and probably won’t be part of the Opening Day roster but in reality that just makes the fact he has made the team even more inexcusable. These two players provide nothing the Pirates internal options like Mercer, Harrison and De Jesus could not provide. Yes Inge has some power but his injury zaps that all away and he has been declining rapidly over the last few years anyway. The younger players on the Pirates roster also come with some upside and still could potentially develop into more useful players so choosing Inge and McDonald over them makes absolutely no sense. Those three are better options and hell they are even cheaper. This is simply a matter of poor roster management.
Again at the end of the day these mistakes by the front office aren’t likely to cost the Pirates a lot. The difference between Inge and McDonald and the younger players is probably going to be fairly irrelevant and having to go with Sanchez in the rotation is a case of improper planning but at the end of the day is at least somewhat understandable. These moves aren’t going to derail the Pirates season they simply aren’t important enough to do so but they are aggravating and highlight some poor qualities in Huntington and Hurdle. A team like the Pirates is going to have to get lucky with some of their own young players. That is a two-step process: 1) Getting young players in the system with some potential and 2) Getting lucky by giving them a chance to prove themselves. Huntington has done a fair job with the first part of the equation but has displayed an unwillingness to even try the second part of the equation.
The Pirates traded a PTBNL or cash considerations to the Diamondbacks today for utility infield John McDonald. McDonald is 38 years old and has a career OPS of .608 so the Pirates obviously did not acquire him for his potential or his bat. The reason McDonald was acquired is that he has a strong glove and is very capable defensively at 2B, SS and even 3B. He has to be placed on the 40 man roster and is owed 1.5 million dollars this year so he will undoubtedly make the team out of Spring Training. The 40 man roster is a minor issue as Morton and possibly d’Arnaud figure to be put on the 60 day DL here in the coming days and one of Leroux or Gomez (hopefully Gomez) will surely be released. However what this trade does do is tell us some things about how the Pirates perceive their bench options.
The acquisition of McDonald makes it very unlikely in my mind that either Mercer or De Jesus will make the team out of Spring Training. They were competing for a spot largely due to their ability to be the backup shortstop and McDonald now makes that role moot and suggests the Pirates must not think too highly of either of them at the moment. I don’t agree with that assessment as I find it hard to believe neither one would be able to hit at least as well as McDonald while providing decent defense but that is the decision the Pirates have made.
The move also leaves only one bench spot open as Sanchez, McKenry, Tabata and McDonald are likely to tae up four of the spots. Based on Pirates past history the fifth spot is likely to go to another infielder and with Mercer and De Jesus appearing highly unlikely that only leaves Josh Harrison and Brandon Inge as options. Neither is particularly exciting as a potential bench bat but that is what the Pirates are left with. Hurdle seems to prefer carrying two bench players capable of playing shortstop with one of them being a utility type so I’m guessing Josh Harrison currently has the edge for the last spot.
Assuming all the above is correct McDonald will likely serve as this season’s Pedro Ciriaco or Jordy Mercer and be invisible to Clint Hurdle. To be honest I’d rather have a veteran guy like McDonald in this role than Mercer but above all I would rather not have this role as all. The implementation of such a spot combined with the reluctance to use the backup catcher as a pinch hitter essentially means the Pirates will be playing with only a 3 man bench this season. This isn’t a move that is going to really hurt the Pirates in any meaningful way but it also doesn’t appear likely to help them in any meaningful way so it leaves to wonder why they ever made the move in the first place.
I’m sure the Pirates have their reason for making this move. Perhaps none of the backup shortstops have looked like viable options in the field in their minds or perhaps they are considering only going with one utility infielder and prefer a veteran over a young player in such a rle but what ever the reason it isn’t particularly clear right now.
Presented without commentary below are the 61 trades I have recorded that Neal Huntington has made during his tenure as the Pirates GM. I’m not going to give an opinion on them but rather I figured I’d share my records, see if there is anything I missed that someone wants to share with me and let everyone else form their own opinions. A few notes first though. Some of these deals in addition to the players listed also included cash but I have not bothered to list cash given or received by the Pirates in any deal. The term NA appears pretty frequently and it essentially means Not Available or Not Announced. Basically that half of the trade is unknown to me and in most cases it was likely just a small amount of cash. The trades are roughly ordered according to the order they were made but may not be exact as I only use the month and the year to keep track of them. Apologies for the format not looking the best but its the best I could do.
|Salomon Torres||for||Marino Salas, Kevin Roberts|
|Todd Redmond||for||Tyler Yates|
|Kyle Pearson||for||Denny Bautista|
|Jason Bay||for||Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen|
|Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte||for||Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen|
|Jose Bautista||for||Robinson Diaz|
|Ronnie Paulino||for||Jason Jaramillo|
|Erik Krebs||for||Delwyn Young|
|Romulo Sanchez||for||Eric Hacker|
|Eric Hinske||for||Eric Fryer, Casey Erickson|
|Nate McLouth||for||Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton|
|Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett||for||Lastings Milledge, Joel Hanrahan|
|Adam LaRoche||for||Argenis Diaz, Hunter Strickland|
|Freddy Sanchez||for||Tim Alderson|
|Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow||for||Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison|
|Jack Wilson, Ian Snell||for||Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic|
|Jesse Chavez||for||Akinori Iwamura|
|Brian Bixler||for||Jesus Brito|
|Ronald Uviedo||for||Dana Eveland|
|Luke Carlin||for||Adam Davis|
|Javier Lopez||for||John Bowker, Joe Martinez|
|Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church, DJ Carrasco||for||Chris Snyder, Pedro Ciriaco|
|Octavio Dotel||for||James McDonald, Andrew Lambo|
|Zach Duke||for||Cesar Valdez|
|Jim Negrych||for||Carlos Paulino|
|Aaron Baker||for||Derek Lee|
|Matt Diaz||for||Eliecer Cardenas|
|Brooks Pounders, Diego Goris||for||Yamaico Navarro|
|Diego Moreno, Exicardo Cayones||for||AJ Burnett|
|Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, Colton Cain||for||Wandy Rodriguez|
|Brad Lincoln||for||Travis Snider|
|Gorkys Hernandez, Comp Pick||for||Gaby Sanchez, Kyle Kaminska|
|Casey McGehee||for||Chad Qualls|
|Kyle Kaminska||for||Zach Stewart|
|Luis Rico, Luis Santos||for||Clint Robinson, Vin Mazzaro|
|Chris Resop||for||Zach Thorton|
|Yamaico Navarro||for||Jhonadeli Medina|
|Ramon Cabrera||for||Andrew Oliver|
|Joel Hanrahan, Brock Holt||for||Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimetel, Ivan De Jesus|
|Quincy Latimore||for||Jeanmar Gomez|
As those of you who have been on this blog a while may know I keep a list of Neal Huntington’s trades. I try my best to keep it fairly complete with any trades of note. Well today I added the Hanrahan deal and also a few of the minor ones this offseason. It is now up to a total of 57 trades. I estimate about half of them to be of insignificant quality (ie both Drew Sutton trades this past season).
Anyway as is my normal way I took a brief glance and wanted to see how many trades I could say had definitely been won or lost by the Pirates. With just a quick glance I came up with 29 trades of insignificant value, some could probably be considered a slight loss, some a slight win but really they weren’t deals of any note. Ten of the remaining 28 I considered to be incomplete right now. Those are the 3 important trades at this past deadline, the 6 this offseason and the newly revived from the L column Adam LaRoche trade (Strickland was added to the 40 man so I’m not ready to call it quite yet). Of the trades made this offseason the only 2 that look of much significance right now are the Ramon Cabrera and Hanrahan deals.
That leaves me with 18. Of those 18 I consider 10 of them to be wins and 8 of them losses. Again this is really subjective. I mean how much of a loss is Jesse Chavez for Akinori Iwamura? How much of a win was Snyder and Ciriaco for Church, Crosby and Carrasco? Probably nearly insignificant either way.
In truth when you get down to it NH trading history and how he is currently viewed is shaped by only 7 deals. They are probably best known as the Bay, Sanchez, Bautista, Nady, McLouth, Dotel and Burnett trades. For a recap of those 7 deals:
Pirates Dealt: Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Jose Bautista, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nate McLouth, Octavio Dotel, Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno
Pirates Received: Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Tim Alderson, Robinson Diaz, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, James McDonald, Andrew Lambo and AJ Burnett
Like it or not when we look at Huntington’s trade record that is essentially what we are dealing with. It may be unfair to lump Bautista in there as his deal at the time it was made was a minor one but it certainly effects the perception of Neal Huntington.
This is only part of how a GM should be evaluated. His drafting, free agent signings and many other aspects also need to be evaluated but when assessing Huntington’s track record on trades there are a bunch of data points one can use but in reality only 7 of them are important to the discussion. How did Huntington fare in those 7 trades? Probably not as well as he should have but not as poorly as a lot of people seem to think. One more thing to keep in mind is that this is incomplete evaluation the 3 trades made at this past deadline and even possibly the Joel Hanrahan trade could sway his record widely in either direction.
I know this news is a day old now but I thought I would chime in with my own thoughts. Hanrahan was a great player for the Pirates for the last 2.5 years and will be missed as he should be but there is no reason to express outrage at the Pirates having traded a relief pitcher. Was the return the Pirates got for him great? No but I feel it was adequate and matched up with his value fairly well. Small market teams such as the Pirates need to concentrate their resources to the everyday lineup and the starting rotation not towards the bench and the bullpen and for that reason Hanrahan had to be moved so the scarce resources could be better distributed. Still the Pirates dealt away a good pitcher and I know I am going to miss seeing him pitch and getting excited for hammer time. I will admit some times I root against players when they leave Pittsburgh but that isn’t the case with Hanrahan I hope he saves 50 games and is named an All Star once more. Good luck in Boston.
Now on to the actual trade. I see the trade as having two parts a major part and a minor part I would first like to discuss the minor part which I feel was Brock Holt for Ivan De Jesus and Stolmy Pimentel. Honestly I don’t see much value in these 3 players. Holt was decent with the bat in his brief major league appearance but is really poor defensively even as a 2B and since he doesn’t hit for any power that makes him basically just a utility infielder that probably shouldn’t even fill in as a shortstop. De Jesus is a very similar player to Holt as he has shown some ability to hit (mainly in the minors) and has struggled defensively at SS. On the plus side though De Jesus does seem like a capable defensive 2B and can probably play defense at shortstop well enough to serve as a bench option. Overall I would say Holt is slightly better than De Jesus but the difference is small and when speaking of two players who might be utility infielders it is probably negligible. Now as for Stolmy Pimentel I will admit he appears to be an interesting prospect. Pimentel has some definite talent but he has stalled in AA the last two seasons and with this being his last option year is really running out of time. I don’t think there is enough time for the Pirates to keep trotting him out there as a starter in hopes he develops into a back of the rotation starter so I imagine we will see him moved to the bullpen to begin the year. There is a reasonable chance that like quite a few other players in the Pirates system that Pimentel could thrive there and quickly become an asset for the Pirates. Pimentel has the talent and is an interesting lottery ticket in this trade. Still in reality this trade isn’t about these 3 players Holt and De Jesus are essentially an equal swap and Pimentel is a lottery ticket who if the Pirates hit on great but if not its no big loss as he was really just a throw in. This trade for all intents and purposes is about the major part of the deal.
What I call the major part of the deal is Hanrahan for Melancon and Sands. I’ve already discussed what I think Hanrahan brings to the Red Sox and in reality when discussing what the Pirates got back whether Hanrahan performs well or not is meaningless. Melancon looks like a nice reliever for the Pirates. Last season with the exception of his ERA his stat line actually was better than Hanrahan’s. That isn’t to say Melancon is a better pitcher than Hanrahan but it should say that he is a good reliever. The Pirates have control over Melancon for the next 4 seasons and as an added bonus he has experience pitching in the back end of a major league bullpen as he was the Houston Astros closer in 2011. Last season Melancon was beat up in his first few outings with the Red Sox but that came because of an insane home run problem which is unlikely to be a recurring problem as he is actually a ground ball pitcher. This season Melancon looks like a good bet to start the season as the Pirates primary set up man for Jason Grilli and there are plenty of reasons to think he will do well in that role. Having Melancon in this deal makes me feel pretty good about the Pirates chances of at least getting something in return. The last player in the deal and the one who I thinks plays the most pivotal point in deciding the fate of this deal for the Pirates is Jerry Sands. Really I’m not sure why the Pirates acquired Sands as Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata appear set to play either of the roles Sands would be the best in but I’d imagine his acquisition is a precursor to another move (more on that later). Sands has displayed some good power numbers in the minor leagues but they come with the caveat of him having played in a hitter friendly league and in a hitter friendly park. However Sands also held his own in the majors in 2011 when the Dodgers had him in the show. Sands could definitely develop into a nice right handed stick for the Pirates either at 1B or RF but he comes with risks as well as the power he showed in the minors was absent in his major league stint. Sands defense isn’t bad but since he is a 1B or corner outfielder his bat is going to have to carry him and I have my doubts it will. I really don’t like Sands and I think his ceiling is a Matt Diaz type and that he is likely to just be a AAAA slugger but he does have some potential. If Sands develops into a successful major league this deal is a huge win for the Pirates but if he doesn’t I still think Melancon can salvage this deal for the Pirates.
Overall this was an adequate albeit not exciting return for Hanrahan. Melancon should come close to matching Hanrahan’s production and will be controlled by the Pirates longer and Sands gives the Pirates the potential to possibly have this deal tip heavily in their favor. Add in Pimentel who is a lottery ticket with decent odds and a fairly meaningless swap of utility infielders and the Pirates package might actually be just a touch higher than Hanrahan’s actual value. Overall this a deal from a fan perspective I hate to see happen but from a baseball perspective I understand why it had to be done. Now the only question remaining is what happens next?
I’m going to keep this brief. Quite simple its been a long time since I’ve been this angry over a Pirates move. I just see no upside whatsoever in this move. I mean sure maybe Martin comes in a plays decent defense the next two seasons and gives us an OPS in the vicinity of 700. That would be an upgrade over last season and could possibly be worth somewhere near the money the Pirates are giving him. But the point is that is Martin’s likely ceiling with the Pirates over the next two seasons.
Martin has seen his walk rate drop in recent seasons, his strike out rate rise and his batting average fall. His power wasn’t anything too special while with the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010 and only hit a resurgence when he went to the offensive friendly Yankee Stadium. He isn’t going to continue to hit with that kind of power in PNC park. Twenty home runs and a .400 slugging percentage is just simply out of the question. If Martin hits 12 HR and slugs .350 we should consider ourselves lucky. I believe an optimistic projection for Martin next season is a triple slash line of .240/.340/.360 and that is the optimist projection realistically I see it being more like .220/.320/.340.
Maybe Martin can prove me wrong but I just don’t see how he is going to do so. His defensive value is going to be limited by how the Pirates handle their pitching staff and his offensive value is going to be limited by PNC Park. Spending 17 million dollars on Martin is at best a very poor misuse of valuable resources and at worst an albatross of a contract. In my mind this is a sign of desperation by Huntington and if he starts acting out in desperation he is a larger threat to the Pirates than he is an asset. The positive news of this signing is that it was only 2 years so Huntington’s replacement next season will only have to put up with the deal for one season before being able to reallocate the valuable resources elsewhere.
As you can probably tell I am outraged by this move right now but I’m sure some of that can be cooled down tomorrow. The Pirates have some arbitration decisions to make tomorrow and if they tender Karstens I’ll accept this move as a terrible misuse of assets but if they don’t the tone of this blog will likely be changing over the next couple of weeks. It makes no sense to give 17 million dollars to a declining catcher who improves the team at best only minimally and then turn around and refuse to give 4-5 million to a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher. After all these years you would think I’d be numb to all of this but some days like today it just sucks to be a Pirates fan.
P.S. I hope for nothing more than to be proven wrong by Russell Martin. Please revert back to your 2007-2008 form. I’ll have no shame in admitting I’m wrong if you do so but I just don’t see any conceivable way that happens.
I normally do not write about every little move the Pirates make like this but I have a soft spot for Clint Robinson. First however I will touch on the two pitchers. Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart add some good depth to the Pirates bullpen. Neither of them particularly stand out but either one could turn out to be a serviceable reliever. Mazzaro is out of options so I would not be surprised to see the Pirates keep him in the bullpen at the start of the season. There are not a whole lot of certainties in the Pirates bullpen and Mazzaro at least provides a little upside over say keeping a guy like Resop around for 1.5 million. Stewart has an option remaining so it would appear the Pirates will more than likely use him as AAA depth. He was once a top prospect so the ceiling is certainly there but so far like Mazzaro the major league success hasn’t been there. Nonetheless Stewart is still probably a more interesting arm to keep at AAA for depth instead of say Daniel McCutchen.
As for what the Pirates gave up there is essentially nothing of significance. They gave a PTBNL to Boston for Stewart so that will likely be a low upside player in the lower levels or an organizational player. They gave up Luis Rico and Luis Santos to acquire Robinson and Mazzaro. I never actually heard of Rico before today but the Pirates gave him a fairly large signing bonus of 280K in 2011 so there must be some upside there. Still his 2012 performance was quite poor as he showed essentially no command. Luis Santos posted better numbers in the DSL but this was his 3rd year at the level and at 21 he is old for the level. Neither is much of a prospect though I suppose they do have some upside.
Now for the reason I decided to write this, Clint Robinson. I can’t recall if I campaigned for him on my blog but I was a pretty vocal supporter of the Pirates acquiring Robinson from the Royals this past spring. He will be 28 years old next season so he is not be confused as a prospect but he does seem to have some upside. Robinson has only had 4 major league AB despite tearing it up for his minor league career. The Royals have had Hosmer and Butler in front of him and really had no reason to try him. Robinson has been a good all around hitter in the minors showing power, contact skills and plate discipline. I have no fantasies that he will be an impact player but he certainly looks like he has the potential to be a good bat off the bench or possibly even an adequate starter at 1B. He does have an option remaining so I’m guessing the Pirates will keep him at AAA to start the season but should Jones be needed in the corner outfielder I would have to assume Robinson would be the first to get the call and be given a chance at platooning with Sanchez at 1B. He is a good low risk pick up for the Pirates and who knows maybe he can become our next Garrett Jones.
The 40 man roster is now full but with the tender deadline fast approaching it is conceivable the Pirates could open up a few more roster spots.
The Pirates have themselves a good problem. In 5 short days one of the Pirates six bench players will need to be sent down to make room for a 5th starter (presumably Charlie Morton). The “problem” is I don’t want to send any of them down. Of the six players it is obvious McKenry, McLouth or McGehee won’t be sent anywhere so that leaves us with Hague, Harrison and Navarro. All 3 of those players bring something to the table and having to send anyone of them down is going to affect the team.
With Hague the Pirates have a good bat off the bench, who has a little pop and who can help platoon the corner infield spots. The biggest thing Hague brings to the table is his bat but on the downside his defense isn’t great and he has essentially no position versatility.
In Harrison the Pirates have a speedy player who is great at making contact. He isn’t great defensively but plays a decent 3B and can also play a passable 2B. If necessary he can also give you some time at SS or in the OF but that isn’t ideal.
Navarro I believe is the toughest one to send down because he has a good bat, defensive versatility and decent speed. I actually think he should start taking some starts from Barmes at SS (I’m not speaking many, maybe something like 1 out of every 4 or 5 games).
In the end I think the decision comes down to Hague or Harrison. I really want Hague to be the player that stays in the majors because he has the better bat but at the end of the day with Jones and McGehee already handling 1B playing time for Hague will be limited so I think the decision has to be to send Hague down and keep Harrison in the majors.
Scratch #1 off my front office to-do list. There are no words to describe just how good of news this is for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In my mind this marks the defeat of the Pirates biggest enemy … themselves. Over recent history the Pirates biggest obstacle to overcome has been there own mismanagement but recent events such as increased focus on the draft, adding to the team at the 2011 deadline, getting a deal done with Bell and acquiring Burnett and Bedard to shore up the rotation this offseason have slowly been changing that. Today’s extension of McCutchen in my mind shows they have finally cleared that hurdle. No longer on they a small market team that makes and uneven playing field more uneven instead they are now a small market team facing just the same issues as all the other small market teams. This marks a step towards normalcy and for the Pirates that is a great thing.
For those wanting to read more about the extension, check out the Trib: http://pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_784926.html
Here are the details of McCutchen’s extension. Included with all of that is a 1.25 million dollar signing bonus and a 1 million dollar buyout of his 2018 option.
$500,000 in 2012
$4.5 million in 2013
$7.25 million in 2014
$10 million in 2015
$13 million in 2016
$14 million in 2017
$14.75 million club option for 2018
I’ve seen it estimated that McCutchen’s three arb years (2013-2015) could net him as much as 27 million so the fact the Pirates got those years for 21.75 million is a bargain. Add to the fact the 3 free agent years they control appear to be for around market rate for what McCutchen is now and this looks like a spectacular deal for the Pirates. They don’t come around often but today is a good day to be Pirate fan and I for one could get use to this.
With news today that Rule V draft pick Gustavo Nunez has been placed on the 60 day DL the Pirates backup middle infield job now appears wide open. First off I need to point out that in order to remain Pirates property Gustavo Nunez needs to spend a minimum of 90 days on the active roster. Since there are 30 days in September where teams can carry their entire 40 man roster if they choose it really becomes 60 days in the first 5 months. If Nunez fails to get that many days this season he will remain property of the Pirates but will have the same restrictions. It appears Huntington is going to do every hing h can to try and keep him without having him be a permanent fixture on the 25 man roster, so expect this to not be Nunez’s last trip to the DL. Now on to the people who may fill the backup middle infield role in his absence.
The Pirates have 5 guys in camp who appear as if they may be able to fill that role is some capacity: Chase d’Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Anderson Hernandez, Jordy Mercer and Yamaico Navarro. Of those 5 players Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison appear to be long shots. Mercer is facing long odds because he has only played a handful of games above AA and was not too successful in that short sample. Harrison on the other hand has major league experience and a decent bat but what he lacks is shortstop experience. Harrison’s professional body of work at short consists of one appearance last year in AAA and some work this offseason at the position in winter league. Harrison still has a shot at winning the other open bench spot but his chances at this one are probably slim.
That leaves us with d’Arnaud, Navarro and Hernandez. Just going by last season the Pirates appear to view d’Arnaud as a potential future long term solution to their shortstop problem so one has to wonder if they would want him on the bench getting sparse playing time in April. I could see him being the first option to come up and start should something happen to Walker or Barmes but just having him here in a backup role, not getting consistent at bats does not seem like a route the Pirates are likely to take. With d’Arnaud on the fringe of the picture at the very best we are left with Navarro and Hernandez.
First a little bit about each player.
Navarro as acquired by the Pirates this offseason via a trade in which the Pirates gave up Brooks Pounders. At one point in time Navarro was considered a borderline top 10 prospect in the Red Sox system so he comes with a decent pedigree. He has shown good bat speed which has led to him having good power for a middle infielder. On the down over the years he has maturity issues and weight problems and sometimes he becomes wild with the bat and the glove.
Hernandez was signed by the Pirates this offseason to a minor league contract and at the time it seemed like a puzzling move because the Pirates have quite a lot of options for the middle infield in the upper minors but now it appears not only will Hernandez have an easy time winning a minor league job but he also stands a good chance at winning a major league roster spot. Hernandez hitting ability is really not all that great and his defensive ability especially at short is considered average at best. He appears to be your prototypical utility infielder.
It should be rather obvious from those two short bios that Navarro comes with the higher upside and the fact he is already on the 40 man roster should give him a leg up in the competition. On the other hand Navarro is considered to be a very weak shortstop and when you combine that with his maturity issues and consider that Hernandez is the more experienced player of the two (The Pirates generally seem to like an experienced bench for some reason) it becomes a bit tighter of a battle. He won’t be able to fill in long term at shortstop should the need arise but that is what d’Arnaud or Mercer is for. Barmes should get the majority of starts at short and Navarro is good enough there that he will be able to give Barmes the occasional day off. The real difference maker here though is the bat. Navarro doesn’t profile to be a big bat off the bench but he does have some power and has hit fairly well in the high minors providing him with a lot more to offer offensively than Hernandez. Personally I see this as a no-brainier if Navarro shows the ability to handle the shortstop position even passably this spring he needs to be given the bench spot over Hernandez for no reason other than his upside.