In addition to trying to figure out the best way to supplement their roster externally the Pirates will have some internal decisions to make about their roster coming up. Basically the status of every internal player who may be on the 40 man roster can be broken down into 5 categories: 1) Rule V draft eligible 2) 0-3 Years Experience 3) Arbitration Eligible 4) Under Contract 5) Free Agents
Rule V Draft Eligible
As always there are a lot of players eligible for the Rule V draft but in reality I think only 5 have a chance at being added to the 40 man roster and of the rest few have any chance of being selected. The five players in this group are:
Tony Sanchez, C
Ramon Cabrera, C
Gift Ngoepe, SS
Phillip Irwin, SP
Victor Black, RP
Analysis: It is essentially a guarantee that both Sanchez and Black will be added to the roster and I feel almost as confident in saying that Phillip Irwin will be added as well. Cabrera and Ngoepe are the two interesting ones for me. Normally teams do not select a catcher in the Rule V draft and if they do I would think most would look for a strong defensive one so that he could at least provide that value as a backup, Cabrera is shaky defensively making it seem unlikely to me that he would be selected. Due to this I think the Pirates leave him off the roster. Ngoepe is very raw and may not be ready for a spot in AA let alone the majors but good fielding, light hitting middle infielders are fairly common selections in the Rule V draft meaning there is at least some chance Ngoepe would be selected. Due to this and the fact the Pirates seem to view Ngoepe as a legit prospect I wouldn’t be surprised to see him added, however since he is so raw right now I’m going to lean towards the side that the Pirates will not add him to the 40 man roster, though this one is a tough call.
0-3 Years Experience
This is the group that the Pirates can elect to retain for any salary that wish above the league minimum. Typically first year players earn the league minimum and players who have been on the roster a little longer earn a touch more. These players have no salary concern so the only real question is are they good enough to stay on the roster. The Pirates of course have a lot of players in this category:
Chris Leroux, Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague, Duke Welker
Some of the above will obviously be retained while others their future with the club is murky at best.
Will Be Retained: Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Duke Welker
Uncertain Future: Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague
Analysis: The first group that is consists of players I believe will definitely be retained is pretty self-explanatory. Some of the players are going to be expected to be key contributors (McKenry, Watson, Hughes, Snider, Marte, McPherson, Locke, Morris) while others will be brought back as depth (Harrison, Presley, Mercer, Holt, Wilson, Welker). The second group is the more interesting one when it comes to roster decisions. Not all of them will be let go but I believe a large number of them will be. Of the second group I believe Chris Leroux’s spot is the most secure as I seem him being in line to be the long relief man out of the bullpen next season. The removal of anyone else would not come as a surprise to me but I’m leaning toward d’Arnaud and McCutchen being retained and the rest being left go. Navarro and Hague were not brought up in September which says the Pirates aren’t too high on them. VandenHurk and Clement looked pretty bad during their short stints in September. I think it is nearly certain Clement will be gone but VandenHurk has a chance at staying. I can’t imagine the Pirates attempting to carry Nunez next year under his Rule V restrictions so I expect him to be gone. Finally Fryer seems rather exppendable with Sanchez and possibly Cabrera being added to the roster. As for McCutchen I think he stays since he has another option left and can be a fungible 9th or 10th bullpen option who can be stashed in AAA and d’Arnaud stays because he started to show some signs of getting back on track near the end of the season.
These are the players who go into next year not under contract but still under Pirates control but they can not just be assigned a salary. Typically this group makes up a rather large chunk of the Pirates payroll for a season and this season will be the same thing. This year’s arbitration class is:
The Pirates will have to decide who of the above will be worth the salary they are likely to command through the arbitration process. I believe 5 of the above 8 players will definitely be tendered while the other 3 all have at least a chance to be. For the first time in a while I see no blatantly obvious non-tenders.
Will Be Tendered: Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, James McDonald, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez
Might Not Be Tendered: Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop
Analysis: Each player in the first group will be tendered a contract by the Pirates that is all but guaranteed but there are questions about all of them such as will they play with the Pirates in 2013 and if so what will their role be? Walker seems to be the most stable but his back issues throw even his status into question. Of the other I can’t see the Pirates not tendering Karstens but there has been a lot of talk that suggests that such a thing is possible. I could see them tendering and then trading him or trading him before he needs to be tendered (ala Jose Veras) but not just non-tendering him. Morton is the one who I believe has the strongest chance of being non-tendered. His injury is going to keep him out until at least the middle of the year and paying a pitcher of Morton’s quality probably just a little under 3 million for a few months of work is something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I suspect that the Pirates and Morton will try to work out a minor league contract though so he remains in the organization. Resop is the ultimate 50/50 propositions. He is likely going to cost somewhere between 1-1.5 million this season which isn’t bad but he is a middle reliever who struggled to miss bats this season so the Pirates could choose to move on and go with a younger/cheaper option. Of this group I expect Hanrahan and Karstens to be traded, Morton to be non-tendered but signed back on a minor league deal, Resop to be non-tendered and probably sign elsewhere and the other 4 to return and play a significant role with the 2013 Pirates.
The Pirates have what I believe is for them an abnormally high number of players under contract for next season. Granted that is only 5 players plus 2 options but still that seems a touch higher than past year’s but then again I could be wrong on that front. Anyway those players are:
Under Contract: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Clint Barmes
Has An Option: Pedro Alvarez, Rod Barajas
Analysis: First lets deal with the option year players because they are rather simple to evaluate. Alvarez’s option will of course be picked up and Barajas’s will of course be declined. Unfortunately I am not ready to rule out the possibility of the Pirates resigning Barajas at a lower rate. As for the players under contract Burnett and Rodriguez will be back and headlining the front of the rotation and McCutchen will continue to be the face of the franchise and the key player in the lineup. Tabata and Barmes are two players the Pirates may look to move but I’ll expect both will be back Barmes as the starting shortstop (hopefully sharing playing time with someone else) and Tabata as the 4th outfielder possibly splitting time in right field with Travis Snider.
The Pirates have 4 players on their roster who are going to be free agents and while it is not the Pirates way to resign players they deserve mention here as well. The 4 players are:
Free Agents: Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli, Hisanori Takahashi, Chad Qualls
Analysis: I don’t see any way Correia will return; I can see the Pirates possibly wanting him back but I don’t think that feeling will be mutual. Takahashi and Qualls are two fungible relievers whom the Pirates could possibly consider resigning when it comes time to cobble a bullpen together but I expect that they will go another direction. The last player, Jason Grilli, is one I expect the Pirates to make a serious effort to try and resign. It would not be wise for the Pirates to sign Grilli to a big contract but something in the neighborhood of 2 years and 8 million dollars could make a whole lot of sense. However I believe we have seen our last of Grill and that the back of the bullpen will have a very different look next season.
So there you have it. Below I’m going to post a summary of whom I predict will be affected by these internal roster decisions.
Rule V Players Added: Tony Sanchez, Phillip Irwin, Victor Black
League Min Players Let Go: Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Yamaico Navarro, Matt Hague
Arbitration Eligible Players Not Tendered: Charlie Morton, Chris Resop
Options Not Picked Up: Rod Barajas
Players Traded: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens
Players Leaving Via Free Agency: Jason Grilli, Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls, Hisanori Takahashi
Clint Barmes: The Pirates biggest (at least monetary wise) free agent signing this offseason has been Barmes. Given a 2 year, 10.5 million dollar contract there is no question the Pirates overpaid to get him to come to Pittsburgh. However a lot of Pirates fans have taken this to mean that Barmes is a bad player and not an upgrade over Cedeno, this is simply not true. On the defensive side it is a close call with Cedeno probably having the better talent but Barmes not having the mental lapses. However on the offensive side it is not even close, Barmes brings far more to the table than Cedeno. My prediction is that Pirate fans will be slightly disappointed with his performance but it will be what should be expected. His OBP will be right around .300 and his slugging percentage will be in the .370-.390 range. His defense should be excellent and greatly assist the pitching staff.
Gustavo Nunez: Taking by the Pirates in the Rule V draft Nunez will likely get the first crack at the backup middle infield job. If he makes the team he will likely play a similar role to what Ciriaco did last season, meaning he will be barely noticed and only make the occasional appearance. His bat is poor and will make a non-viable option on the bench for this reason alone he will hopefully not stick too long. Nunez does have good defense and has had success in A+ ball but it is rather obvious he isn’t major league ready. Since the Pirates have no real option at SS in AA it would be nice if they could work out a trade with the Tigers but short of that I don’t see him having much of a future with the Pirates.
Chase d’Arnaud: Coming off a disappointing major league debut last season d’Arnaud will likely start off in AAA. With Barmes, Nunez, Navarro and Harrison all likely in front of him on the infield depth chart (to start the season at least) d’Arnaud will likely not see time in the majors until later on in the season. He has the talent to assume the starting SS job by the end of the year but will have to improve on a few areas before receiving that chance. I don’t know what it is about d’Arnaud he appears to have all the tools to become a solid MLB starting SS but for some reason I just don’t see him developing into that. He will likely get another chance in the majors some time season but I once again foresee a disappointing campaign.
Jordy Mercer: On the flip side of my pessimistic view of d’Arnaud is my optimistic view of Mercer. Having led the entire Pirate minor league system in home runs last season Mercer would be quite a nice power bat to have at the usually offensively challenged shortstop position. Mercer’s defense at short is definitely good enough to allow him to stick there and with the potential of his bat he could become and above average starter at shortstop. I see a nice season in AAA from Mercer this season. I see him putting up similar numbers in AAA this year to what he did in AA last year, meaning a .268/.329/.487 line.
Drew Maggi: This is a big year in Maggi’s development. He has yet to put up a great season although he does a few solid ones. He has played mainly shortstop but he is actually more of an athlete than a shortstop and could ultimately end up as a center fielder. Maggi has good speed, gap power and is fairly sound defensively (though his game does need some work). He profiles as a Chase d’Arnaud type player and his value will be greatly impacted by this season’s performance. Being in a hitter friendly park Maggi has the potential for a great season. I expect Maggi will have a good season but not quite good enough to be viewed as a legitimate shortstop prospect.
Alen Hanson: Hanson made his US debut last season and put up strong numbers in the GCL. It was a little surprising to see him get so much playing time at SS considering Barrios and Carvajal were at the level and were more highly regarded. However his performance justified the Pirate’s decision and in fact he performed so well there is a though he could skip short season ball and go straight to A ball. I don’t see Hanson as quite polished enough for that level and since I have Ngoepe repeating the level there really isn’t an open spot for him. Hanson should start the season in extended spring training and could be sent to A ball later on but I see him going to short season ball and I actually think he will do quite well there. The low level performance won’t be enough to vault him up the rankings but it will allow him to become a little more known.
Summary: Shortstop is a weak position for the Pirates and although they have a few intriguing options down in the minors no one player stands out. Barmes will hopefully prove to be solid enough for the Pirates this season and hopefully one of d’Arnaud, Mercer, Navarro or even one of Nunez or Holt steps up and takes the future shortstop position. The Pirates really need to find a shortstop of the future and if it doesn’t come from this group of players it could be a long time before any other candidate emerges. The 2012 season is going to be an important year for the Pirates in terms of the sho
Neil Walker: Probably the most certain part of this team going forward is Neil Walker at second base. Walker appears to be one of the most durable players on the Pirates and once again I am expecting 150+ starts from him this season. Hopefully Walker is able to shake off hi sophomore slump of last season and return closer to his rookie numbers. I do see him getting closer to them but not quite matching. His batting average should stay in the 270-280 range but where improvement will come is with his power as I expect his slugging percentage to be around .450. With another year under his belt at the second base position Walker’s defensive game should continue to improve and it would not be surprising to see him be average defensively at the position this season.
Gustavo Nunez: I am hoping the Pirates will not go with Nunez as the middle infield backup to begin the season but as of right now it appears rather likely that will be the case. I am not going to get into Nunez too much right here because he profiles more as a shortstop than second baseman. However I will say he is likely to be Walker’s backup to start the 2012 season, how long it will last is another matter.
Anderson Hernandez: Another rather odd move by the Pirates this offseason was signing Anderson Hernandez. It is always nice to have a veteran middle infielder down in AAA in case of emergencies but there does not appear to be a spot for Hernandez. In theory Hernandez will be given a chance to win the backup middle infield job out of Spring Training but in reality the only way I see him even sticking in AAA is if the Pirates opt to carry an extra reserve infielder at the expense of a 5th outfielder. Either way Hernandez should have little to impact on the Pirates this season.
Others: If there arises a need for Walker to be spelled for an extended time chances are it will be neither Nunez nor Hernandez that fills the role. Instead it will likely be players whose primary position is either shortstop or third base. The four likely candidates are Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Yamaico Navarro and Josh Harrison. I will get more into those four at their primary positions but one or all of these players could see time at second base this season. Navarro and Harrison are candidates to make the major league team out of spring training and could end up serving as Walker’s backup.
Jarek Cunningham: The top 2nd base prospect in the Pirates system could rank amongst the Pirates top 15 prospects if he could just manage to stay healthy. He has some strike zone and defensive issues but his bat has the potential to make him a good major league second baseman. He should be moving up to AA this season but due to his injury filled 2011 I am expecting him to repeat A+. If Cunningham manages to stay healthy I could see him posting a good season and become a very good prospect for the Pirates. However his injury history combined with his lack of strike zone discipline makes me doubtful that will happen.
Brock Holt: Holt appeared destined to be moving up to AAA to start this season but the acquisitions of McGehee, Nunez, Navarro and to a smaller extent Hernandez likely means he will repeat AA. With no real option to play shortstop in AA I see Holt getting the majority of the playing time there even though he is better suited as a second baseman. He does a lot of things well but nothing great. Holt has some speed and has shown a fair amount of plate discipline along with decent defensive abilities but he lacks anything that makes him stand out. Most likely Holt’s upside is that of a Major league utility player. Hopefully he proves me wrong but I think this will be the year Holt begins to lose his prospect status and starts to settle in as organizational depth.
Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe is an interesting case. He was the first black South African to sign a pro-baseball contract. At the time of his signing he garnered a lot of attention even being featured is a Sports Illustrated article. He is a very good defensive player and he runs extremely well. Last season he was beginning to show signs of his offensive game improving but an injury early in the year cut his season short. He is a candidate to be moved up to A+ but with missing so much time last year I see the Pirates having him repeat A+. Unless the Pirates are aggressive with a GCL player there is really no prospect to man SS in A ball so I am expecting to see Ngoepe get a lot of playing time there. I am expecting Ngoepe to keep improving his offensive game in 2012 and become a legit prospect for the Pirates.
Summary: The position for now and for the immediate future is Neil Walker. The Pirates do have some options that can fill in if necessary and even have a few intriguing prospects in the middle levels but I just don’t see any way that Walker does not remain here for the next few seasons. The position will basically succeed or fail with him this year but it is in good hands here. The Pirates have nothing to worry about here and appear set for the next few seasons. Should a prospect develop the Pirates could move them to another position or use them as trade bait.