Not much going on in Bucco World recently so I’ve been pretty quiet but I thought I sum on the recent minor moves and give my reaction.
Jones and Hanrahan Rumors
There have been some rumors swirling around that the Pirates have made Garrett Jones and Joel Hanrahan available in trade talks. These are absolutely moves the Pirates need to consider making. Hanrahan is going to make approximately 7 million dollars this season and any value they can get for him would be a positive. Jones on the other hand has three years of control left and therefore has more value. He will also be harder for the Pirates to replace. However he is probably at the peak of his value right now so if a young controllable shortstop or pitcher can be acquired or if a large overpayment occurs the Pirates should move him as well. Still while the Pirates should be open about moving these two they also need to be open on the possibility of starting the season with both of them on the roster should the offers they get not be satisfactory.
Non Tendered Pitchers
The Pirates have been linked to a number of pitchers that have been recently non-tendered. They include Manny Parra, John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny. I have no problem with considering these options as long as it is done in the right context. None of these players are the solution to the missing rotation candidate but could be useful as 5th starter candidates or as bullpen help. Hopefully the Pirates are considering these players only on minor league contracts or on low salary one year contracts.
Cabrera for Oliver
The Pirates made a trade with the Tigers where they swapped Ramon Cabrera for Andy Oliver. Oliver appears to be another broken once top prospect who Huntington is trying as a reclamation project. Acquiring players like this isn’t a bad strategy and Cabrera isn’t really a high price to pay for one but I still really do not like this move. Cabrera while he isn’t a high end prospect looks like a useful upper level catcher who provided depth for the Pirates at a position they were very weak in meanwhile Oliver just adds to the Pirates fairly large stable of good stuff relievers with poor control. I think similar players to Oliver could have been acquired for much less or even no cost at all.
No Rule V Pick
The Pirates opted to select no one in the Rule V draft. The decision to not select anyone came as a bit of a surprise to me. The Pirates currently have a very unsettled bullpen and the Rule V draft was an opportunity to add a potentially useful arm for a very small amount. Even if the Pirates didn’t think the player could stick it still would have been worth taking a player just to have an extended look at him. On the positive side the Pirates had no player selected in the draft so we will not have to worry about that.
Mark Appel and Scott Boras
I’ll keep this short there was a report that came out that stated Boras said something to the effect that Huntington never contacted him or Appel before drafting Appel and that had he done so he would have told him he had no chance at signing Appel. Huntington is indeed at fault for not contacting Boras but at the end of the day he made the right move by drafting Appel. The way things should have happened is Huntington calls Boras he tells Huntington the Pirates won’t be able to sign Appel and then if Huntington truly believes Appel is the best player available he drafts Appel and calls Boars’s bluff. So really there is no story here and for me this closes the Appel situation once and for all.
I’m not even sure what to make of the reports from the other day which said Grilli would decide by 10 AM followed by the next few reports that he had signed with the Pirates followed by the retraction of those reports. The situation was more hilarious than anything as Grilli should not warrant that kind of coverage. Don’t get me wrong I am hoping Grilli resigns with the Pirates but whether he does or not will not make or break the Pirates 2013 season. SO for now until we hear something a little more firm I’ve had enough of this Grilli talk.
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
Garrett Jones: Garrett Jones nearly pulled off what would have been quite a rare feat I imagine. He led the Pirates in PA from a 1B and was only 1 behind Jose Tabata for most PA from a RF. However I see Jones as more a 1B than an OF so I’m covering him here. Jones had what can only be described as a great season for him. He struggled defensively some and seemed to actually get worse as a base runner but he brought his bat with him and provided the Pirates with a nice steady option for the middle of the order. Jones isn’t the ideal cleanup guy but with how he performed this season he was more than adequate. Jones will enter next season in his 2nd year of arbitration since he was a Super 2 candidate and while I wouldn’t say he is a non-tender candidate he is certainly someone the Pirates could consider selling high on and trading to another team for a missing piece say at catcher, shortstop or pitching. However it is my expectation that Jones will be back next season manning 1st base. Overal Grade: B+
Casey McGehee: Casey McGehee played a lot of 1st base for the Pirates, almost as much as Jones actually, and he was defensively sound at the position which was somewhat surprising given his limited experience there but McGehee struggled mightily with the bat. If you look at his splits McGehee performed very well hitting wise at 3rd base and as a pinch hitter (granted small sample size applies) but was bad at first base. He never really materialized as the right-handed platoon partner for Jones the Pirates envisioned and was dealt at the trade deadline. His tenure with the Pirates while disappointing needs to be taken with the fact he was never expected to do too much other than hit lefties decently and be a respectable pinch hitter and he was asked to do more than that. Overall Grade: C-
Gaby Sanchez: Sanchez came over at the trade deadline and replaced McGehee as Jones platoon partner. He struggled his first couple of games with the Pirates but quickly reverted back to putting up the kind of numbers he did in Miami/Florida the two years previous. These numbers are not spectacular but are solid enough for the small portion of the 1st base platoon. The Pirates were having Sanchez work on some 3rd base during the season and I imagine his work will continue into the offseason and he will attempt to not only be a right-handed alternative to Jones but to Alvarez as well. He has some 3rd base experience in the minors so I don’t foresee this being an issue but only time will tell. Sanchez will be a first time arbitration eligible player next season and I expect him to be retained. Overall Grade: C+
Alex Dickerson: Dickerson the Pirates third round selection last season played in A+ this year and put up solid numbers but that weren’t quite what you would hope for from an advanced bat first college player. This takes nothing away from what he did but more was definitely hoped for. Even with his not as good as it could have been showing Dickerson is a near lock to move up to AA and if he manages to improve on his numbers even a little bit there he will move into legit prospect territory. Dickerson is probably the Pirates best hope for a legit 1st base prospect in the near future.
Matt Curry: Curry’s season in a lot of ways was very similar to Dickerson’s. He had a strong showing in AA but it wasn’t quite what was hoped for an advanced college hitter repeating a level. He was still called up to AAA at the end of the season and should no doubt start the season there and with a good showing by him could even get a shot in the majors by the beginning of next season. Curry profiles as a similar player to Dickerson but doesn’t have the power potential, he could develop into an average major league 1st baseman though and that would be a huge improvement over what the Pirates have had in recent seasons.
Jose Osuna: Osuna was one of the 4 Latin American players making the jump from rookie ball to A ball this season. Like the other 1st base prospects I listed he did ok but not as good as was hoped. He is defensively limited to 1st meaning his offensive game will have to carry him and while the power potential is there he really has only shown flashes of it. He did have solid power numbers this season but that came in streaks and his overall line was not too impressive. Even with his struggles I believe Osuna has done enough to warrant a promotion to A+ next season where he will definitely be a break out candidate.
I’m going to cover a mystery player here today. A Pirates player who has receive a lot of grief this season, a lot of it deservingly so, but who has been overlooked and is thought to be performing far worse than he actually is. For the past couple of months this has been my argument about Clint Barmes but I have a new player to discuss today. This player since June 1st has hit for a line of .273/.364/.373/.737. Admittedly the slugging percentage leaves a lot to be desired and the sample size we are talking about here along with being fairly arbitrary is a small 189 PA. However that .364 number sticks out to me. The Pirates have very few players who are capable of psoting an OBP like that over a sustained amount of time. In fact I would argue it is only two. One of them is the face of the franchise and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and the other is the much maligned, despised, criticized and basically hated Jose Tabata.
Look I’m a Tabata advocate and I’ll freely admit there is a whole lot wrong with Tabata’s game. He appears to have lost a step even though I beleive how much he has lost has been greatly over exaggerated. He is not the best base runner, specifically base stealer but really this can be said about essentially every Pirate and hios defense this year at times was poor to say the least. I believe the base running/stealing is a coaching issue which will hopefully be addressed this offseason (but that is another discussion) and I beleive the defensive problmes he showed early in the season were a result of playing hurt or gingerly (ie his head had him convinced the injury was still there and going to act back up). Tabata has problems that require a lot of work to fix but one thing he can do and do rather well is get on base. Prior to this year Tabata had two seasons with an OBP over .340. This may not sound like much but the one thing the Pirates offense is really lacking are table setters, guys to get on in front of McCutchen, Jones, Alvarez and even Walker. Starling Marte and Travis Snider don’t fit this description and quite obviously neither does Clint Barmes.
For the last couple weeks (months really) I’ve been considering ways to improve this team and I cam up with a few (I’ll discuss later) but one of the first things that came into my head was that this team needed to be deeper. It needed an outfield with on base skills who could do a good job off the bench and who was good enough to hold down a starting position should an injury arise. My search led me to a few names but the one I liked the best was Reed Johnson. Upon digging a little deeper and realizing Johnson has been rather lucky the past 2 seasons with a high BABIP and after sitting down and giving it some critical thought I’ve determined that Tabata is more suited to the 2013 Pirates than Reed Johnson or an outfielder of that ilk.
Now should the Pirates decide to not move forward with an outfield of Marte-McCutchen-Snider with a little bit of Jones sprinkled in and pursue a higher level outfielder (a possible move I will discuss later on) the issue of cutting ties with Tabata (through a trade of course) becomes much less but as of now I expect the Pirates to keep that outfiled alignment and in the likely event they do I think the perfect 4th outfielder for that group is already with the team in Jose Tabata. He can spell Snider against lefties and help ease in Marte, meaning he should play about 3 days a week and in those days will be able to solidly fill the leadoff spot.
Garrett Jones: As of right now it appears Jones will be the larger part of a platoon at first base, meaning he should start roughly 70% of the games. Last season as part of a platoon in right field Jones did his job posting a .808 OPS against right handed pitching. There is no reason to think that Jones should not put up similar numbers this season. Jones is not a player you want starting everyday but as part of a platoon he could prove to be a useful player. I am expecting him to produce similar numbers to last year, maybe actually slightly above meaning I could see an .820 OPS against righties and a .770 OPS overall. He will also provide the power we know he is capable of (15-20 HR). Bottom line Jones will do what any sensible person would expect him to do.
Casey McGehee: He will likely be the smaller half of the 1st base platoon meaning he should receive about 30% of the starts. McGehee is the great wildcard here. If he puts up numbers similar to 2011 the Pirates will once again have below average production from first base. However if he puts up his 2009/10 numbers he can supplant Jones and become the everyday first baseman. Chances are though that the results will be somewhere in between meaning he will be a useful platoon partner for Garrett Jones. I am thinking there is a good chance McGehee posts an OPS against left handed pitchers in the upper 700s or even above 800. With McGehee’s power (10-15 HR in a part time role) combined with Jones the Pirates could manage to get league average production from their 1st baseman, although slightly below is the safer bet.
Nick Evans: Evans was signed as an NRI this offseason and I believe he has a good chance of making the major league team but that is under the assumption the Pirates actually decide to carry a fifth outfielder. Evans has never put up outstanding numbers in the majors but even so I think he could be as good a platoon partner for Jones as McGehee. Evans’s bat lags behinds McGehee’s but his defensive ability at 1st base would make him an asset for the Pirates. Using Evans and McGehee against left handed starters instead of Jones and Alvarez has its advantages but I don’t see the Pirates going that route. Should Evans start in AAA I am not sure of where he would play unless Lambo is held back so my hope is he gets a chance to showcase himself of the bench. I feel he could be a viable player off the bench but it remains to be seen if he will get a chance.
Jake Fox: Like Evans, Fox was signed as an NRI this offseason. He too will be given a chance to compete for the 5th outfield job assuming again the Pirates keep 5 outfielders. If he doesn’t make the major league team I am not sure where he fits into the Pirates plans. The roster at AAA seems pretty full and while it could supports one of Evans or Fox it probably cannot support both. I am assuming the Pirates are going to release one of these two or are counting on somebody opting out. My guess is that Fox decides to opt out.
Jeff Clement: The resigning of Clement came as a slight surprise to me. The only I could figure was the Pirates are figuring on neither Evans or Fox starting in AAA and needed a back up 1st baseman/DH for AAA. That is the role Clement will likely fill in 2012 and while I am rooting for the guy and think he has a chance to be successful in this position I do not see a future for him with the Pirates. I actually think Clement will do well this season and might even put up similar numbers to what Bowker did last season but at this point I would be shocked if the Pirates even considered him an option for the majors.
Alex Dickerson: Dickerson was drafted in the 3rd round of this past year’s draft and is the Pirates best 1st base prospect. He has a good bit of power and has the potential to one day become a force in the middle of the Pirates order. However that is years away and as for this season he will likely start off in A+ with a chance to be promoted to AA by midseason. Considering he is an all bat prospect and will be playing in a hitter friendly stadium I am expecting huge numbers from Dickerson while in A+. I hope the Pirates do not hold him back too long but with the prospect the Pirates have in the upper levels I see him staying in A+ for most of the season.
Matt Curry: I’m not sure what to make of Curry, personally I have never been too high in him but seeing how he dominated A ball last season made him look somewhat promising. He will likely repeat the AA level this season and with Dickerson on the way he will need to put up numbers right away to avoid being an afterthought. To be honest I just don’t see that kind of production coming this season he will adjust and put up better numbers but they won’t be eye popping and he will begin to lose his prospect status.
Matt Hague: I wasn’t sure if I should consider Hague organizational depth or a prospect. Hague appears ready for the majors but since he has yet to play a game he is still a prospect. In the end since I already had three organizational depth guys and since the Pirates are light in 1B prospects I included him here. Hague doesn’t have a ton of upside projecting as a Casey Kotchman type 1st baseman at best. I see him more as a corner utility player in the mold of Eric Hinske. However as far as this season goes I see him once again putting up strong numbers in AAA but unlike last year I see him getting a chance in the majors. I believe there is a decent chance the Pirates try to move Jones at the trade deadline and if they do the Pirates will give Hague a chance to prove himself (assuming McGehee and Alvarez aren’t both mashing). Hague will do respectably but it won’t be enough for him to lock down the position.
Summary: Overall I think the production from Jones/McGehee will prove to be near major league average. That will prove to be the best production the Pirates got from the 1st base position in years but obviously there will still need to be upgrades. Hague will be given the first shot to fill the position but I don’t see him as the long term answer. I have high hopes for Dickerson but unless he gets a chance to prove himself in AA and actually does so the Pirates have no choice but to try and find a long term solution for 1B by any means necessary (draft or trade). There is potential for decent albeit not spectacular production from 1st base for the Pirates this season but the future of the position is hazy and clearing it up should be one of the top priorities for the Pirates this season.