I think one of the biggest issues facing the Pirates entering the 2013 season is the team’s overall depth. The Pirates have question marks in the rotation and the lineup that will prove to be hugely important but one thing this organization has always lacked and will always likely lack at least in some areas is good depth. The Pirates do not have a team full of great players so that means everyone from the back end of the 25 man roster, to mid season waiver claims, to midseason promoted players need to be able to contribute in order for the Pirates to be successful.
The first are where depth is always seen is the strength of a team’s bench. It isn’t easy to quantify just how a bench performs in a particularly year but one good measurement is how well a team does with its pinch hitters. Last season the Pirates’ pinch hitters performed 40% worse than the National League average. Leading the team in appearances was Josh Harrison, followed by surprisingly Jeff Clement and then Alex Presley. The Pirates bench for the 2013 season is anything but settled right now but it will likely include Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez. One of the many other OF candidates, Snider, Sands, Tabata or Presley will likely take the 4th outfielder job which leaves the Pirates bench with 2 openings both presumably in the infield. Currently the leading candidates appear to be Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer but those options appear a little light on the offensive side. The bench also appears to be heavily right handed towards the point where it appears likely there will be no left handers on it at all. Ideally the Pirates would add a left handed infield option but the pickings in free agency appear slim right now with only Adam Kennedy looking like anything even near a viable option.
Another area that depth is often tested in is the bullpen. The Pirates seem to have a little more depth here than with the bench but even so questions are abound about who exactly is bullpen depth? Are Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver bullpen arms or starters? Will Jeff Locke or Kyle McPherson pitch out of the pen at all this season? Other questions surround arms likes Mazzaro, Morris, Leroux and the recently acquired Gomez. Overall the Pirates have a lot of options here which is good but there isn’t a lot of certainty here which is some what concerning. Overall I think the Pirates as far as bullpen depth is concerned could use another left hander or another veteran presence to start the year but overall the team looks like it should be fine in this department.
The other main area which provides depth is the AAA team. The Pirates appear to have a solid 3rd catching option in Tony Sanchez. The Pirates also have plenty of options for 1B/OF between the players I previously discussed for the bench and the likes of Clint Robinson, Matt Curry, Matt Hague, Darren Ford, Felix Pie and Adalberto Santos. However the Pirates as previously discussed are lacking in the middle infield department. In addition to Harrison and Mercer the Pirates have Chase d’Arnaud, Ivan De Jesus, Anderson Hernandez and Jared Goedert. If the Pirates are really going to go with two of these options someone more experienced would be very welcomed.
On the pitching side the Pirates have Locke and McPherson who tentatively are the 4th and 5th starters but I would imagine will be knocked down at least one spot. Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton look like solid bets to be reinforcements at midseason. Other pitchers like Mazzaro, Leroux and Gomez looks like decent spot starters but probably shouldn’t be counted on to be much more. This leaves the previously discussed Wilson and Oliver as starting options and Irwin and Cumpton as potential back of the rotation options who could step up later in the year. As previously discussed the Pirates have some depth for the bullpen and a lot of it will likely start the season at AAA. On the starting side there are options but if McPherson and Locke are both forced to start the year in the major league rotation there is no one who would be the clear cut next in line so adding another starter before the start if the season should be a big priority for the Pirates. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a veteran NRI added to serve as extra depth in AAA but that would probably be more of a luxury at this point.
The Pirates depth is making some great strides. There are a plethora of options to fill the 1B/OF jobs and while few of them are proven when discussing depth that is largely to be expected. The good news here is that most of the depth options are at least intriguing. The other area which seems to have a fair amount of depth is the Pirates’ bullpen. Even there the Pirates could stand to add probably one more arm to help push everyone down a notch and to allow players like Oliver and Wilson to concentrate on starting which is an area the Pirates could certainly use some depth in. The Pirates do have options to start games but outside of the top 5 and Cole and Morton who won’t likely be ready for a few months there is really no one who stands out as truly intriguing unless you count Wilson and Oliver who’s statuses are unknown at this point. However will the Pirates are most lacking for depth is at the 2B/3B/SS positions where having players like Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer serving as the primary backup plan just isn’t going to cut it. Add to the fact there is little to nothing behind those two in d’Arnaud and De Jesus and the Pirates could have a real problem on their hands especially considering Walker’s back, Barmes’ bat and Alvarez’s streaks.
From my view the Pirates should still be looking for another major league starter, another AAA starter, an experienced LH reliever for the major league and a LH IF bench bat for the major leagues. Adding the lated 3 pieces to the equation should come relatively cheaply but could prove to be invaluable to the Pirates as the 2013 season progresses.