The Pirates essentially finalized their 25 man roster earlier today. Technically speaking there are still a few additional players in camp but all of them are expected to begin the season on the DL. Overall the roster is constructed in a very expected manner and while it is not how I would have went about doing it most of the decisions are at least somewhat understandable. There are always going to be people who complain about the fringes of the 25 man roster but at the end of the day those fringes really do not matter much, it is the core of the team and the overall depth (bench, bullpen and minor leagues) that will determine the fate of a team. The 5th starter, the 5th bench spot and the 7th reliever are not really positions that will dramatically alter the course of a team so the overreaction to the Pirates decisions on those roster spots is likely overblown. With all that in mind let’s take a look at how the Pirates roster looks headed into Opening Day.
C: Russell Martin
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Pedro Alvarez
SS: Clint Barmes
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Travis Snider
BN: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, John McDonald, Josh Harrison
SP: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke
RP: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez
In reality the only players I would remove from the roster if I was in charge of its construction would be McDonald, Harrison (eventually Inge) and Gomez. In their place I would prefer to see Mercer, De Jesus and Morris. The other change I would like to see made is swapping Wilson and J Sanchez. Wilson is younger and in my opinion more likely to be able to contribute to the rotation for a few starts while Sanchez at this point is probably best suited trying to turn his career around as a lefty reliever. Even these changes though are for the most part temporary. When Liriano comes back I would most likely opt to bump Wilson from the rotation, when Karstens comes back I would most likely opt to bump Morris from the bullpen and I can even understand the argument for wanting McDonald over De Jesus. I don’t get Harrison or Inge over Mercer though. I know Mercer can’t play the outfield while the other sort of kind of can but the Pirates have enough options where they shouldn’t be considering playing infielders in the outfield anyway. The other advantage Inge has is supposedly power but people seem to forget Mercer has a little pop in his bat as well, it was just 2011 when he lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs. Still arguments over the last bench spot are basically trivial and irrelevant. I don’t get why the Pirates need two (or even one) veteran middle infielders on the bench who can’t hit but in reality the difference between them and the other options is most likely negligible.
With that rather long disclaimer out-of-the-way I figured now was as good as time as any to take a look at the players the Pirates have opted to bring north.
The starting infield is what we expected it to be all along. Russell Martin behind the dish will be counted on to provide solid defense and hopefully will produce somewhere in the vicinity of league average offense from the catcher position. The Pirates likely overpaid for him but if his superior pitch framing skills are actually real and not just a product of catching for guys like C.C. Sabathia then there is a chance he lives up the contract or maybe even provides some surplus value. I’m not expecting much in terms of offense from him but if he can be non horrible and provide the Pirates with an OPS around .700 I would take it.
Garrett Jones likely won’t be playing full-time at first base but assuming the Pirates actually stick to regularly platooning him this season he should get about 70% of the starts. Jones is here for essentially one purpose, to provide the Pirates with relatively cheap power. The rest of Jones’ game is fairly unremarkable from his defense to his baserunning but he is a fair hitter with plus power. That doesn’t make him a super valuable piece but it makes him an asset in the middle of the order. On the hot corner will reside Pedro Alvarez. Like Jones, Alvarez could probably benefit by sitting against some left handers but hopefully the Pirates give him a chance to prove his worth against them. Also like Jones, Alvarez is here to provide the Pirates with some power but unlike Jones, Alvarez has enough power potential where he could develop into an extremely valuable piece. Alvarez is going to strike out too much and not play the best defense at third but if he can show a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and continue blasting home runs he is going to have a lot of value.
Up the middle Neil Walker figures to get nearly every start at 2nd base and assuming Inge takes Harrison spot he better be starting everyday as the Pirates really won’t have a viable alternative on the 25 man roster. He had some back problems near the end of last season which bares watching but in reality any injury to him would really hurt the Pirates. It is unclear whether Hurdle plans to use him near the top of the order or more towards the bottom but given the fact he is one of the few Pirates players with a decent knack for getting on base placing him near the top (or eve at the top) of the order would probably be the wisest decision. Up the middle with Walker is Clint Barmes. Barmes’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to field the shortstop position very well but even so he is going to have to improve upon last year’s numbers to be of much use to the Pirates. Over the last 4 months of 2012 Barmes posted an OPS of around .650 and if he is able to do that for an entire season he won’t be the most glamorous shortstop but he will give the Pirates value.
The starting outfield is pretty much what we expected all along. There was a quasi competition for the corner spots but for the most part those were basically just made up as it was rather clear who should be the starters. In center field the Pirates will once again have their superstar Andrew McCutchen. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is likely one of the best 10 players in the game today and in order for the Pirates to have any chance of competing he will need to perform at a MVP caliber level. McCutchen did have a few flaws last year though and hopefully this season he will improve upon them. Last season he struggled stealing bases and was a little on the weak side defensively. Considering the rest of his game these are minor points of course but shoring them up would only make him more valuable.
In the corners the Pirates will use Starling Marte and Travis Snider. I expect to see both of them rested, especially Snider, on a fairly consistent basis but they will both get a long chance to prove themselves. Marte has plus speed and is a great defender so even if he struggles with the bat this season he is likely to still provide the Pirates with value. By no means is Marte’s bat weak though as he has the potential to possibly be the Pirates second best hitter this season behind only McCutchen. Marte is likely going to be forced into the leadoff spot a role he isn’t really suited for since he has some strike out issues but if he can maintain a high average and show any improvement in plate discipline he should be serviceable there. In the other corner will be Snider. He doesn’t have the speed or defense of Marte so he is going to have to hit to create value. People tend to think him hitting is less likely than Marte hitting well but in reality I think its a pretty even race. Snider has shown flashes in the past and comes with more power potential than Marte. The Pirates in order to have a shot at competing probably need one of these two to break out and become a true plus player and the other one will have to at least hold his own and be an average starter.
As I have previously stated the construction of the bottom of the bench really doesn’t matter a whole lot but the players near the top of the bench will likely get a lot of playing time so they will matter a good deal. The top player on the bench is likely Gaby Sanchez and he is expected to pick up the 30% or so of the starts that Garrett Jones doesn’t get at 1st base. Ideally Sanchez would bounce back to his 2010-11 form but that doesn’t really seem likely. In reality all the Pirates need him to be is a good bat against LHP and a good PH option off the bench two roles I think he’ll have no problem handling. Jose Tabata could potentially wind up in a similar situation to Sanchez only in right field. It is possible he winds up platooning with Snider and if that is the case he too will have to hit very well against left handed pitching. Tabata has the upside for more though. At this point he isn’t likely to develop into your traditional starting corner outfielder but he has very good plate discipline and that alone has the potential to make him a valuable asset atop the order. His speed although it has been questioned is still above average and his defense is probably around average as well. Tabata has the makings of an OBP first starting corner outfielder or a solid 4th outfielder. He is likely to be the second most important bench player.
The third most important bench spot and the last I see with much value will go to Michael McKenry. As the backup catcher he is likely to get at least 60 starts this season and will need to continue hitting as well as he did last season to provide value in those starts. His defense is decent but often overrated by Pirates fans but his bat can make him a solid backup catcher. The last two spots are currently slated to go to Harrison and McDonald but Inge will likely eventually assume Harrison’s role. In my mind the most important of these spots is the Harrison/Inge spot. This is supposedly the offensive first infield bench spot so whoever holds it down is going to have to actually you know hit at a respectable level. McDonald will serve as Barmes backup and though he is probably a touch worse both offensively and defensively his presence in the lineup for a day here or there shouldn’t really cause a noticeable difference.
Right now the Pirates rotation is a bit of mess. At the top of it the Pirates have probably one of the best one-two punches they have had in a while in AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Neither one is a true ace but both seem like fairly safe bets to put up solid numbers this season. At 36 and 34 years old respectively there is of course the chance that either Burnett or Rodriguez has reached the end of their rope as pitchers but with how both of them pitched last year it seems likely they probably have another year or two of value left in them at least. Behind them is James McDonald who si the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates. If there is a true ace currently in the Pirates rotation it is James McDonald. McDonald showed us in the first half of the season last year that he has the talent to be a number one starting pitcher but he showed us in the second half of the year that he isn’t ready to be that yet and possibly never will be. What James McDonald the Pirates get this year, potential ace, borderline #5 starter or somewhere in between will probably be one of the biggest factors in how the Pirates season winds up.
Rounding out the rotation are a pitcher who amazingly actually has a wider range of possible outcomes than McDonald and a pitcher who looks like a fair bet to be a solid a back end guy but who has yet to prove it at the major league level. Jonathan Sanchez is another wildcard in the Pirates rotation but he is even less likely to pay off than McDonald. If Sanchez can keep his control problems at a minimum he will have an excellent chance of being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Pirates but if he can’t he will most definitely be a total disaster. The Pirates really can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be expecting much from him. If Sanchez can give the Pirates 3 or 4 non-horrible starts in the month of April without completely exploding then it should be considered a success. The other pitcher Locke is a different story. Locke pitched exceptionally well in AAA last season but in his short stint in the majors was the victim of a very unlucky high home run rate. Assuming the high home rate drops this season which it will almost assuredly do I’m fairly confident Locke can become a solid #4 starter for the Pirates and mange to keep them in almost every game. He isn’t the flashiest pitcher but his performance in AAA has earned him this shot.
The back of the bullpen will consist of Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. These four actually make for a fairly solid quartet of arms. Grilli has been successful in a set up and middle relief role the last two seasons and will inherit the closer role this year. Melancon struggled last year in April and was sent down to the minors but when he returned to the majors he pitched pretty well The two of them , Grilli and Melancon, will likely be the Pirates 8th and 9th inning duo. By no means is this the best back end duo in the league but the tandem should be able to close out most leads that are handed over to them. Watson and Hughes were rather successful last season in their middle relief roles and will be counted on this season in later inning situations. Hughes will probably inherit the 7th inning role and Watson will continue being the top left handed releiver in the bullpen. The success of these two last year makes it fairly likely the adjustment should be relatively smooth.
At the front of the bullpen trying to bridge the gap to the back 4 guys will be Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux and Jeanmar Gomez. All 3 pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings and all will likely be called upon to do so throughout the year. Wilson provides the Pirates with a second lefty and one who is more of a strike out pitcher. Leroux and Gomez will likely pick up most of the long relief duties. Both are out of options and one of them is likely to be released once pitchers began to get healthy so it will be sort of an extended competition for the duo. Leroux appears to have the more upside but Gomez has more major league experience. Leroux and Gomez are both fairly replaceable relievers so they will have to pitch well this season to remain with the team.
With only 11 days left until Opening Day I thought it was time to take my final crack at predicting which 25 guys the Pirates will take north with them.
Catchers: Russell Martin, Michael McKenry
Both Martin and McKenry are healthy and appear ready to begin the year. There has been some talk about the Pirates looking for a catcher but I imagine that would only be as a depth option for AAA. These two have been locks to make the team since Spring Training began and nothing has changed that.
1st Base: Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez
Despite battling an injury early in the spring Jones now appears at full strength and should be ready to open the year as the Pirates regular 1st baseman. The plan all along this spring was to have Jones be the starter and for Gaby Sanchez to platoon with hm and pick up the starts against left handed starters. Sanchez has also been working out at third this spring and will hopefully be a viable alternative there.
2nd Base: Neil Walker
Fairly straight forward here. Walker is healthy and is the Pirates everyday 2nd baseman.
3rd Baseman: Pedro Alvarez
Again no rocket science here. Alvarez struck out a lot last season and has been struggling this spring but the Pirates have little choice but to let him have a shot at being an everyday or close to it 3rd baseman.
Shortstop: Clint Barmes, John McDonald
Before yesterday it wasn’t so clear just who would be backing up Barmes but the acquisition of McDonald clears things up quite a bit. Barmes will start on most days but when he needs a breather or is pinched hit for late in games McDonald will see some time in the field at shortstop.
Left Field: Starling Marte
Contrary to popular belief I don’t think Marte had a starting spot nailed down headed into Spring Training but from all reports he has looked great and his numbers have been solid so he will now undoubtedly as he should start the year as the everyday left fielder.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen
Duh, who else would it be?
Right Field: Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
Some thought Sands or possibly Presley or even Hawpe may factor into right field mix at the beginning of Spring Training but it became fairly clear early on that the spot was Snider’s to lose and that in all likelihood Tabata would make the team as the 4th outfielder and split time with Snider in right taking most of the starts against left handed pitchers.
Starting Pitcher: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Locke
Burnett, Rodriugez and McDonald have long been assumed and nothing from this spring changes that. The three of them will form the Pirates top 3 going into the season. The last two spots have looked like a bit of mess all Spring Training as Liriano hasn’t been healthy at all and Karstens really hasn’t been either. Locke hasn’t exactly separated himself from the pack but he was a favorite for a job headed into spring training and no one has really over took him at this point.
Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux
Things have gotten a lot less settled in the Pirates bullpen in the last couple of days. Grilli, Melancon and Hughes were all assumed to essentially be locks since the beginning and nothing has changed on that front. Also considered near locks were Tony Watson and Bryan Morris bu Watson has only pitched sporadicly and Morris apparently has an option remaining meaning he could start in the minors without the Pirates having to risk losing him. Leroux is out of options and has had a pretty strong spring so I expect the Pirates to keep him on the roster and not risk losing him.
For those of you not keeping track at home that is only 20 players meaning there are still 5 spots available. These are the 5 that I think still come with some uncertainty.
Bench (1): Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Alex Presley, Felix Pie, Brad Hawpe, Jordy Mercer, Ivan De Jesus, Jared Goedert
At this point there is only one bench spot remaining and all the above players still vying for it. With the acquisition of McDonald I assume Mercer and De Jesus are out of the running. Non roster invitees Hawpe and Goedert seem like long shots and are unlikely to make the team. That leaves Harrison, Inge, Presley and Pie. I would prefer to see the Pirates use this last spot on the best offensive player but knowing how Huntington and Hurdle like to construct a roster I think this last bench spot is likely to go to an infielder with some versatility so that eliminates Presley and Pie. This final spot in my mind is down to Harrison and Inge. To date Inge has shown nothing tha hints he would be an asset to this team so I expect the Pirates will opt to carry Josh Harrison as the final bench player.
Rotation (1): Jeff Karstens, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeanmar Gomez
Before his disastrous start yesterday I would have said McPherson would get the last spot if Karstens wasn’t ready to go but now I’m not too sure. I still can’t imagine any scenario in which Gomez gets the nod but the Pirates are keeping Sanchez starting and have to make a decision on him by the 24th. I think there are serious doubts that Karstens will be ready by the start of the season but right now I’m still inclined to say he will take the last rotation spot.
Bullpen (3): Bryan Morris, Tony Watson, Jeanmar Gomez, Justin Wilson, Ryan Reid, Mike Zagurski, Jonathan Sanchez
Although he still has an option remaining Bryan Morris remains in my opinion one of the Pirates strongest options for the bullpen so despite the fact there is now a chance he could start the year in the minors I still expect to see him as part of the bullpen on Opening Day. Watson has me legitimately concerned at this point and I am now leaning towards the idea of him not being ready by Opening Day and actually starting the season in the minors. I’m expecting the Pirates to carry two left handers in the bullpen to start the season regardless of Watson’s health so assuming everything breaks as I predict that leaves no room for Reid or Gomez and makes the final two spots a battle between Wilson, Zagurski and Sanchez. At this point I can’t see Sanchez making the team unless they opt to have him start in the rotation so my prediction is the final two spots will go to Wilson and Zagurski.
Lineup: Marte (LF), Walker (2B), McCutchen (CF), Alvarez (3B), Jones (1B), Martin (C), Snider (RF), Barmes (SS)
Bench: McKenry (C), Sanchez (1B-3B), McDonald (2B-3B-SS), Tabata (OF), Harrison (2B-3B-SS-OF)
Rotation: Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, Karstens
Bullpen: Grilli (CL), Melancon (SU), Hughes, Morris, Leroux, Wilson (LH), Zagurski (LH)
Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
Barmes had a rough offensive season for the Pirates in 2012 but what most people don’t realize is that he was actually on terrible for the first two months of the season. From June 1st to the end of the season Barmes slash line was .255/.306/.344 good for a .650 OPS. Now that is still a bad line but given his strong defensive play it is an acceptable level. Barmes is not going to wow anyone with his bat but if he can be a .650 OPS hitter while providing excellent defense from the shortstop position he is a valuable player to have around. In 2013 I expect Barmes to continue to be a strong defender for the Pirates and I expect to see his offense have a slight uptick. I’m not sure he’ll reach the .650 OPS level I set from him but something in the area of .235/.295/.345 for a .640 OPS feels about right. Again I’m not trying to pretend that is great production it is below average even from a shortstop but Barmes game is not about offense. Last season with his glove alone Barmes was worth 2.1 WAR according to baseball reference and his UZR/150 was 15.3. Bottom line Barmes is an excellent fielder and should continue to be so in 2013. With his good glove and a bat that is non horrible it is reasonable to expect Barmes to be somewhere around a 2-2.5 WAR player in 2013.
I currently have Mercer projected as my 5th bench player but there is a good chance he begins the year in AAA. I tend to be a little higher on Mercer than most actually believing the Pirates should be giving him a fairly significant number of starts at shortstop this season. Barmes’s contract is up after this year and Mercer appears to be the only internal option who has shown some offensive and defensive ability. Mercer isn’t as good a defender as Barmes and isn’t a great hitter but he did lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs in 2011 so he does have a little bit of power. Even if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training Mercer will almost definitely be with the team at some point in 2013 but I fear he will be seldom used much like he was last season. Mercer is an intriguing player who I believe has what it takes to be a passable starting shortstop for a year or two but I don’t believe the Pirates view him that way. My expectations for Mercer is that he’ll get about 125 PA this season mostly in a utility role off the bench and really won’t be able to do much with those limited opportunities.
I’m really rooting for d’Arnaud to somehow win a bench spot this spring training. He is the one player in the Pirates organization that seems to have some definite idea of how to steal a base. Others like Marte are decent at it but get caught too much for the speed they have. d’Arnaud’s speed off the bench would be a great asset for the Pirates in 2013 but in order to be able to carry him on the bench he needs to show that he can hit at least a little bit. d’Arnaud brought a lot of excitement when he was with the club in 2011 but really didn’t perform all that well. His speed is nice but his struggles both offensively and defensively made him a liability to play. If he can at least be respectable at the plate and average-ish in the field he would be a good 25th man to have because of the athletic ability he has. However I don’t think d’Arnaud can hit enough to hold down a bench position and due to that he is destined to return to AAA this season. Currently I have him slotted a distant 5th in the 5 person battle for the two infield bench spots and I don’t see how he claims one. He very well might get a short stint with the majors this season but I’m not expecting it to be as much more than a pinch runner. Hopefully he proves me wrong in AAA though as a guy with his speed could really help the Pirates bench.
The Pirates have made a few moves so far this offseason but the team is by no means complete. Logically this raise the question what should the team do next? Well I figured this was as good a time as any to take a look at where the team as constructed stands.
Starter: Russell Martin
Backup: Michael McKenry
Depth: Tony Sanchez, Ramon Cabrera, Ali Solis
Outlook: The Pirates have a solid starter in Martin who will hopefully put up average numbers for the position and a decent backup in McKenry they know is ready to step up and take a good chunk of playing time should he be called on to do so. In addition the Pirates have two solid prospects in Sanchez and Cabrera waiting at the AAA level and added Solis to serve as emergency depth just like Eric Fryer did last season. In an ideal world you would like to see the Pirates add a veteran 3rd catcher, much like Jose Morales last season, but in all likelihood what you see is what you are going to get here and that really isn’t a bad thing.
Starters: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes
Backups: Brock Holt, Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer
Depth: Anderson Hernandez, Jared Goedert
Outlook: The Pirates have two of thier key regulars in Walker and Alvarez manning 2B and 3B respectively. At the other starting positions Clint Barmes provides a great glove but a weak bat so in an ideal situation looking for an upgrade over him would be on the agenda. In the real world immediate upgrades at the shortstop position are hard to come by so the Pirates should be looking for a replacement for Barmes in 2014 and beyond. The bench provides an interesting cast of characters who can play all 3 positions but not one of them is a proven commodity. Keeping two of them on the major league bench would be a bad idea so the Pirates should be exploring the market for a backup at these positions. As far as depth is concerned the Pirates have a couple minor league veterans should an emergency arise.
Starters: Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider
Backups: Clint Robinson, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley
Depth: Matt Curry, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Adalberto Santos
Outlook: The Pirates have a lot of talent in the 1B/OF department but also a lot of question marks. At 1B Jones and Sanchez has the making of a good platoon but the Pirates are shopping Jones which is the right move considering his contract situation and the year he is coming off of. The Pirates shouldn’t trade him for nothing but a good return such as a shortstop for 2014 and beyond needs to be taken if offered. In the outfield the Pirates have one of the best players in the game in McCutchen and two young unproven players in Marte and Snider. Ideally you don’t want both players starting in the outfield to begin the season but once again this isn’t an ideal world. The Pirates should be considering bringing in a more proven outfielder but I understand the reasons they may choose not to do so. As far as the backups go Robinson provides the Pirates with an interesting fall back choice should they be successful in trading Jones. It would be risky to go into the season with him and Sanchez manning 1B but it might just be worth it. As the roster is currently constructed Presley and Tabata figure to fight for one bench spot. Presley is the more prototypical 4th outfielder but Tabata has the OBP skills the team is missing and since he is a righty would be able to spell Snider against tough lefties. Between those two the Pirates should have a solid 4th outfielder. As far as depth the Pirates have two solid prospects in Curry and Santos waiting in the wings and have a plethora of minor league depth to call upon if needed.
Locks: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald
Competing: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Rick VandenHurk
Depth: Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton, Brooks Brown, Zach Stewart, Chris Leroux,
Outlook: Burnett and Rodriguez look like solid pieces of the rotation. They are getting up there in age but the Pirates have little choice but to move ahead with them. McDonald is a big question mark but with all the positives he showed last season the Pirates agin have little choice but to move on with him as part of the rotation. Following those 3 the Pirates have a handful of players who look like non-horrible candidates to start the season as a 5th starter but in no way should two of them be counted on to begin the year. The Pirates absolutely have to look to acquire another starter who is a lock for the rotation. I believe this is the most important thing left to do. I would also like to see a more major league testes starter brought in on a minor league contract to compete for the 5th spot. Locke and McPherson would be solid 5th and 6th starters to begin the season but as 4th and 5th starters with little behind them the Pirates have a big hole. The rest of the players competing will ideally be reduced to bullpen roles or AAA depth. As for the depth the Pirates have a mixture of solid prospects, minor league vets and bullpen arms capable of making a start if needed. Aside from that there is Morton who will hopefully be back mid season and Cole who will hopefully be polished enough to make his debut by mid season. Those two will hopefully being to boost the rotation come the middle of the year.
Locks: Joel Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris
Competing: Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart, Chad Beck, Duke Welker
Depth: Victor Black, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Mike Zagurski, Ryan Reid
Outlook: The bullpen is a mess right now. The Pirates are considering trading Hanrahan a move which they should consider but the value is likely to be low so if they don’t get something worthwhile he could always return and be the anchor for the pen. Outside of him Hughes, Watson and Morris look like sure bets to be part of next year’s bullpen and all of them should be solid. Next up is a large number of players competing for those final bullpen jobs. Its really anyone’s guess as to who will get them and to be honest the Pirates should feel perfectly comfortable with 2 arms coming out of that group. Serving as depth should injuries mount is a typical assortment of minor league depth and Victor Black who looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. If he shows improved control he could be a quick addition. If Hanrahan is traded a proven bullpen arm or two should be added but even if he remains the Pirates should probably look for one anyway.
What They Need To Do?
1) Acquire a starting pitcher who can pitch a lot of quality innings.
2) Acquire a starting pitcher who will be able to compete for the 5th spot and provide depth in AAA
3) Keep their minds open to all possible trades especially Hanrahan and Jones
4) Look for a future replacement for Barmes at SS
5) Acquire 1 or 2 solid bullpen arms
6) Continue to stockpile bullpen options for the final 2 spots
7) Acquire a good utility player capable of playing the middle infield to improve the bench
Moves that Would be Made in an Ideal World
1) Acquire a veteran 3rd catcher to serve as depth in AAA
2) Acquire a proven 1B/OF so Marte and Snider don’t both play everyday
3) Acquire an immediate upgrade at the shortstop position
4) Acquire 2 young pieces to the starting rotation which would allow the possibility of moving Burnett or Rodriguez
5) Acquire 2 or 3 good arms for the bullpen
Neal Huntington and the rest of his front office are about to enter a very interesting offseason and it will be an unusual one for the Pirates. The Pirates enter this offseason with no glaring holes on their roster. Before anyone jumps on me there are many places that look like they could use some suring up but there are none that look like the big gapping holes we seen last year at catcher and shortstop. The Pirates will no doubt look to sure up some of these sof spots but the question becomes which ones. The Pirates do not have the resources or frankly the roster spaces needed to try and beef up every soft spot. The Pirates will almost certainly bring in a catcher to compliment McKenry and do something with the roitation and as always we are likely to see some work done to the bullpen. So putting those aside for the moment where else will the Pirates find it necessary to dedicate their resources to.
Of the other 7 positions on the field the Pirates appear set at 2B, 3B, CF and 1B/RF (whereever Jones plays). Thats leaves three positions which could use some work. The Pirates have Barmes at shortstop and he is great defender but the Pirates can’t afford another year of his weak bat but Barmes did show some positive signs near the end of the season. There is little doubt Barmes will be back as the starter but what will the Pirates do as a backup plan? Will they stick with Harrison and Mercer or pursue other alternatives? In my mind this should be a no brainer the Pirates need to bring in some sort of backup plan and looking at free agency the best bet in my mind is Macier Izturis but we shall see what the Pirates Front Office decides to do.
This leaves LF and 1B/RF as soft spots for the Pirates. Brining in extra support seems like a no brainer but its not that simple. The Pirates have Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley and Sanchez all vying to fill these roles. It may be easy to say just to move on from some of these guys but the Pirates might not see it that way. Marte, Snider and Tabata are all young outfielders (Marte and Tabata will play next season at 24, Snider at 25). Sanchez is the most established of the bunch having two good seasons on his record. Presley is probably the easiest one to ignore here but he has an option remaing and has the look of a good 4th outfielder which has some value. The Pirates front office absolutely has to be thinking of bringing somebody in to serve as a backup plan should Marte, Snider and/or Tabata falter. I mean Jones can do that but then that sort of makes the backup plan Sanchez and how much faith do you want to put in him coming off a down season?
For my money how the Pirates handle the quintent of Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley and Sanchez is the most intriguing part of the Pirates offseason. It seems like a fairly safe bet the Pirates will do something at catcher, the rotation and the bullpen and whether they add a bench middle infielder or continue with the young players probably has little overall impact but what the Pirates choose to do here could reshape the team. I think the most likely sceanrio is the Pirates stand pat with Marte in LF, Snider in RF, Tabata on the bench, Presley in AAA and Sanchez serving as a platoon partner for Jones and the backup plan but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Pirates go a different route. Tabata with the good OBP skills he has shown in his carrer could warrant another look as the leadoff hitter. Marte with his plate discipline issues could warrant more time in AAA. Sanchez could show something that suggests he is back in 2010/2011 form which would probably force the Pirates to start him at 1B and send Jones to RF. The Pirates could opt to send Jones to RF and acquire a 1B. The Pirates could opt to bring in a leadoff hitter and play him in the outfield leaving only one starting spot availabe to these five. The Pirates could even opt to trade one or two of these five or who knows maybe even non-tender Sanchez or Presley. There is a hundred ways the Pirates front office could play this and how they choose to do so is likely the largest unknown variable that will shape the 2013 team. The other additions will of course matter as well but I think we have a reasonable idea of how the Pirates will likely handle those situations. Here, I don’t think we really do. It should be fun to follow this offseason.
Clint Barmes: From June until the end of the season Barmes was exactly what the Pirates should have expected when signing him this offseason. He played great defense and posted an OPS around .650. However his performance in the first two months were pretty bad and that drags down hos overall performance. Barmes bat is of course not even average for a shortstop but he led the league in most defensive metrics which makes him and adequate starting option. Considering Barmes is under contract next season for a not insignificant 5.5 million dollars I fully expect him to be back as the starting shortstop next season. Overall Grade: C
Jordy Mercer: This season’s Pedro Ciriaco. Mercer spent a lot of time with the Pirates this season but played very sparingly as he very seldom received a start and was used as the 3rd string shortstop behind not only Barmes but Harrison. Mercer was often forgotten this season because of his infrequent play and because of the other young shortstop options on the Pirates roster. However none of the other young options are as complete a shortstop as Mercer is. Mercer plays both good defense and has some power making him a decent albeit not spectacular option. My hope is that Mercer will share time at shortstop with Barmes next season but my expectation is that he will either be barely used or be in AAA. Overall Grade: C+
Alen Hanson: Alen Hanson had a big breakout season this year in A ball and is now considered one of the Pirates best prospects. Hanson has a strong bat but there are questions about his defense and some scouts think that he will eventually need to move to either 2B or 3B. Even as a 2B or 3B Hanson would still b a very valuable player as his bat would play at those positions as well but of course his value would take a knock of some sort. For now the Pirates will continue to play Hanson at shortstop and hopefully he will be able to show some improvement next season which should only further increase his value. Hanson should be the regular shortstop in A+ next season.
Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe appears to be the opposite of Hanson as his bat is very weak but his glove brings high reviews. On the stregnth of mainly his glove work along Ngoepe was named the 20th best prospect this season in the Florida State League. He is a raw player who hasn’t played a lot in organized baseball so there is still some hope his bat will develop in the coming seasons for now though he will have to carry himself with his glove work. Ngoepe’s bat isn’t ready for AA yet but due to Hanson pushing him I suspect Ngoepe will move up anyway and hopefully he will show some progress.
Max Moroff: Moroff was drafted this past season in the 16th round but signed for $200,000 over slot which shows he isn’t your typical 16th round selection. There are some questions whether Moroff can stick at shortstop but for now the Pirates are going to try him there. Moroff played shortstop this season for the Pirates rookie ball team and had a great start to his pro career, in fact the start was strong enough that it seems likely the Pirates will send him to full season ball next season and allow him to be the shortstop in A ball. Moroff’s bat seems advanced enough to handle the push and his glove work was at least adequate for now so he is definitely one to watch heading into next season.
Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:
1. Starting Pitcher
5. Corner Outfield
Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.
Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.
Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.
Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.
Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.
Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.
Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.