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.
I am going to keep this brief but I wanted to give my thoughts on the A.J. Burnett trade. My original thought process was that he would be a good pickup if his acquisition met two criteria: 1) The Pirates ended up picking up 12 million or less of the remaining money and 2) The Pirates only give up a prospect I’d consider at most mildly intriguing (as you of may know mildly intriguing is a C grade in my prospect grading system). Well the Pirates actually failed to met either criteria but just barely. They gave up 13 million and two prospects I categorized as mildly intriguing. Even at that price I believe the Pirates got decent value in Burnett.
He is not as bad as his numbers the last two seasons and coming to Pittsburgh should improve his numbers. Pittsburgh is a lower pressure situation, he should be facing weaker lineups and he will be playing in a home park that is much more pitcher friendly. It should be noted he pitched worse away than at home last season but I don’t put too much stock in that. Burnett had an unreal 17% HR/FB rate that should definitely drop this season which will also help him improve over last season’s number. Also his xFIP of 3.86 last season was good for 67th out of the 137 starting pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. What that means is that when you attempt to remove luck from the situation Burnett was a very viable number three starter last season. That is exactly what I see from Burnett giving the Pirates this season.
At 35 years old Burnett’s days of being one of the best pitchers in the league are behind but he can still do some things well. Burnett misses bats, throws a lot of innings and according to every account I have heard he is willing to work with young pitchers and does a pretty good job at it. When all the dust settles I think it will wind up that the Pirates got a pitcher who will end up throwing 180-200 innings, striking out just shy of a batter an inning and supporting an ERA just a little north of 4 (I’ll take a wild stab and say 4.18). If Burnett does provide this kind of performance and also helps teach the younger pitchers he will prove to be a good #3 for the Pirates who will help take some stress off the bullpen.
Overall I see this as a good move for the Pirates for the 2012 season. For 2013 I’m a little more unsure but with Correia and Bedard coming off the books the Pirates are going to need starting pitching and even if they do have a lot of young players step up if Burnett performs like I think he will the Pirates should be able to move him at his new rate fairly easily. Bottom line the team is better today because Burnett is on it and since this move should really have no long range affect on the Pirates that is all that should matter.