The Pirates roster needs some help. To the best I am able to calculate there are 17 spots the Pirates have set or relatively set on next year’s 25 man roster. That means nearly a third is in upheaval. Internal candidates for these positions do exist but may not be satisfactory to most Pirate fans. What I am going to do is look at these 8 positions is what I believe to be reverse priority and discuss the internal options available and why the Pirates should or should not look outside. I’ll even list a few free agents to consider.
8. Backup Shortstop
This may not seem like a hole but it is. There is speculation that both Brandon Wood and Pedro Ciriaco will be DFA’d. Leaving only d’Arnaud and probably Mercer as shortstops on the 40 man roster. In the past the Pirates have proved to be very poor at filling this spot. Nearly all of the backup shortstops they have brought in have failed to show even decent defense at that position. The cheaper and probably better solution is to just retain either Wood or Ciriaco. I would take either as each player brings something to the table. Ciriaco is a terrific defender who can be used as a pinch runner or defensive replacement late in games and Wood would be a decent bat off the bench. Under normal circumstances I would take the bat off the bench but Wood is arbitration eligible and will earn a sizable larger amount that Ciriaco. The Pirates have to be cost conscious but with that said Wood shouldn’t earn a huge amount so he is my choice but just barely.
7. 5th Outfielder
In an ideal world the Pirates would go look for an outfielder who could be their top right handed bat off the bench. However as I previously stated the Pirates have limited resources and the money they have to spend would be better spent on other areas. Since I have chosen to retain Wood his spot needs to go to a pinch runner type. Again looking outside would be the best way to go but the Pirates have internal options who should be able to adequately fill this role. The top two internal choices are Xavier Paul and Gorkys Hernandez. I am not particularly a big fan of Paul and believe his roster spot would be better served going to a Rule V player. Hernandez has no major league playing time but he has the speed and defense to make a very good 5th outfielder. Hernandez’s reputation is that of the best defensive outfielder in the Pirates organization. Hernandez is a weak hitter which is not ideal but with 6 areas of concern in front of him the Pirates would be better off going with him and focusing on other areas.
6. Starting Shortstop
Most fans would probably say this is a bigger concern than what I am making it but the fact is that shortstop is a weak position and upgrading here is no small task. Sure the Pirates could make a run at Jamey Carroll or Clint Barmes but how big of an impact would those guys really have? Officially Chase d’Arnaud is the top internal option but the Pirates hold a very reasonable option of Ronny Cedeno. Yes I am going to advocate for Ronny Cedeno here. Sorry everyone I don’t like him either but with 5 spots in front of him and no real great upgrade available the Pirates should just bite the bullet and bring him back. Cedeno was much improved this season on defense and once again showed flashes of his offensive potential. With the talented Brandon Wood backing him up and d’Arnaud and Mercer being groomed in AAA all the Pirates need at SS is a good defender who can hold down the position for half a season or so. Cedeno is that man.
5. Set Up Man
I am hesitant to place any of the remaining areas of concern in the 5th spot because in my opinion all of them need to be addressed. Set up man is put here because it is an insurance policy, particularly on Evan Meek. The Pirates do have some intriguing internal options here is Jose Veras, Chris Resop, Jared Hughes and a few others but what makes this area less a concern than others is the relative ease in which a player can be signed via free agency. For instance the Pirates signed Jose Veras to a minor league contract this offseason. I am not in favor of retaining Veras though, because of his high inning count this past season. My top choice is Jeremy Affeldt. He would not only give the Pirates a set up man but also another lefty out of the pen. The good news though is that there are quite a few other viable candidates in Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, Michael Wuertz, Chad Qualls, Javier Lopez, etc.
4. Starting Third Baseman/ Backup Infielder
On the surface this looks like two different needs but really they are one in the same. This is essentially an insurance policy for Pedro Alvarez. If Alvarez does well this player is a backup infielder if not the player will be the starting third baseman. The Pirates need Alvarez to be successful next year in order to be competitive but in case he fails they still need a backup plan. The internal candidates are Josh Harrison, Brandon Wood, Chase d’Arnaud, Pedro Ciriaco and maybe Jordy Mercer or Matt Hague. We saw most of those guys last season and the result was not pretty. Ideally the Pirates would bring in a player also capable of playing shortstop, like Clint Barmes. Nick Punto, Jamey Carroll, and Jerry Hairston could all potentially fill that role. Players such as Wilson Betemit and Jose Lopez who can not play shortstop could also be considered.
3. Starting Catcher
I really did not want to put this so high on the list because catching depth around the league is shallow. The Pirates are not likely to find a goo catcher available via free agency or in a trade. However with unreasonably high options on Snyder and Doumit the Pirates do not even seem capable of fielding a passable starting catcher. The current internal options are Michel McKenry, Jason Jaramillo, Matt Pagnozzi and Eric Fyer. None of those 4 instill confidence in me. The free agent market is not too much better though featuring Ramon Hernandez, Ryan Doumit, Rod Barajas and Kelly Shoppach. I don’t think there is a chance Doumit returns but I wouldn’t mind getting any of the other 3. It is my opinion Hernandez is out of play so I will go with Barajas as my top option.
2. Starting Pitcher
We all seen this year for the Pirates to be successful they need starting pitching. With Maholm likely being gone and Morton possibly missing some time the Pirates need to add a starting pitcher is great. The current group of Morton, McDonald, Karstens, Correia and Lincoln is not exactly inspiring. I think Morton, McDonald and Karstens deserve a spot and that Lincoln and Correia should battle for the 5th spot leaving one spot open. Ideally this would go a strike out lefty but those are hard to find. Erik Bedard is probably the player that comes the closest to fitting that description. Realistically though any of a number of players like Freddy Garcia, Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen or even Rich Harden could work. I really don’t have much of a preference so let’s just say it is Bruce Chen.
1. Starting 1st Baseman
There has to be a mighty big hole for something to be a bigger need that starting pitching. And the Pirates have just that at 1B. The only internal options the Pirates have are Garrett Jones and Matt Hague. Neither of those two players appear to be the solution for the Pirates. Another option would be to slide Alvarez across the diamond but I don’t think it is a good idea to throw a position change on top of his problems. This leaves outside options as the way to go and since Pujols and Fielder are out of the Pirates price range that leaves Derrek Lee, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Pena as options. My favorite on that list is Lee so hopefully the Pirates make an attempt to retain him. The Pirates need better production all around but no position is more in need of an upgrade than 1B.
As a quick review here would be the 25 man roster under the following assumptions. The Pirates fill each hole with my top choice, Alvarez starts the season in AAA, Morton is ready to start the season and Lincoln wins the 5th spot resulting in Correia being traded.
RF: Jose Tabata