One thing that has really been bothering me about a lot of Pirates fans this offseason is this insane idea that the Pirates are good in left field with Starling Marte but really should have looked for a better option in right field. The fans are quick to dismiss Snider, Tabata, Sands and Presley and I’m not really sure why they do so especially considering they are willing to accept Marte starting. Taking Presley out of this discussion for a moment all the players are still young at 24 or 25 years old and all of them including Presley have very similar production at the major league level. Just look at their career wOBA at the major league level.
Marte doesn’t stand out in that crowd and as I stated he is not noticeably younger than the rest of the group either since Marte is 24, Tabata is 24, Snider is 25, Sands is 25 and Presley is 27. Perhaps other ratios have been better like his ability to steal bases (SB%) or his home run ability (AB/HR).
Marte: 70.6 SB%, 33.4 AB/HR
Tabata: 62.3 SB%, 97.5 AB/HR
Snider: 72.0 SB%, 30.1 AB/HR
Presley: 63.3 SB%, 41.7 AB/HR
Sands: 50.0 SB%, 55.3 AB/HR
Well finally we may be getting somewhere Marte’s rates are clearly better than 3 of the other 4 players but the other player has him beat on both accounts. Snider so far in his career has been a more efficient base stealer and has hit home runs on a more regular basis. So once again this doesn’t explain why Marte is held so far above the rest of the corner outfield mix. Let’s look at something else, perhaps Marte has been good in some areas of Pirates weaknesses most notably plate discipline. Below are the career numbers for each players in terms of K% and BB%.
Marte: 27.5 K%, 4.4 BB%
Tabata: 14.7 K%, 8.1 BB%
Snider: 26.7 K%, 7.8 BB%
Presley: 19.2 K%, 5.1 BB%
Sands: 23.9 K%, 10.4 K%
Marte definitely stands out here but that is for terrible reasons as he has the highest career K% and lowest career BB%. Obviously at this point the reason Marte gets excluded from this list of question marks is not because of what he has done at the major league level because it is essentially indistinguishable from the rest of the crop. So perhaps Marte was definitely more highly touted than the rest or had a stronger showing in AAA. Below are the highest ranking each player received by Baseball America going into a season and each player’s career OPS at AAA.
Marte: 73rd, .847 OPS
Tabata: 27th, .767 OPS
Snider: 6th, .976 OPS
Presley: NA, .851 OPS
Sands: NA, .914 OPS
Marte looks to be right about in the middle of the pack as far as pedigree goes. So right now I’ve concluded that Marte has not been markedly better than any of the other players at the major league level nor does he really have a much better pedigree than the rest so the question remains why are Pirates fans giving him a free pass while criticizing the rest?
To be honest with you I’ve known the answer all along. Quite simply it’s for the same reason fans can go from not liking Jason Bay (when he was originally acquired) to getting mad when he is traded away. Pirates fans, and sports fans in general, have a very short attention span. They are only ever concerned with the flavor of the month and only want to focus on the most recent data set. This is obviously not true of every sports fan or every Pirates fan but for quite a decent amount it is the case. Marte was better than either of those 4 players in 2012 and has less major league experience so therefore he is better than the rest and has the most room to improve or so the logic goes. There is course plenty wrong with that logic but it is essentially how the casual or I might even go so far as saying average sports fan thinks. In theory there is nothing wrong with it but in practice it leads to situations like this where a group of 5 players (or 4 if you want to discount the older Presley) have nothing discernible separating them but one is held head and shoulders above the rest of the group because he is the new guy on the scene.
The truth is any of these guys, with the possible exception of Presley, has what it takes to break out and become a starting corner outfielder in 2013 and conversely all of them could just as easily fail and be relegated to bench duty or even AAA by season’s end. We are dealing with a group of players that up until this point have been league average offensively in their career. I will add a plus here for Marte as he probably has the highest floor of the bunch as his strong defense and plus speed is likely to make him at least a solid 4th outfielder even if his bat and plate discipline never develops. Then again Marte isn’t too dissimilar from another outfielder the Pirates have in camp who I didn’t even bother mentioning until right now, Felix Pie. He too was once a highly regarded prospect with a lot of tools who just couldn’t cut it.
Look this writing isn’t meant to be critical of Marte. I like him and I think he has the potential to be a very strong outfielder for the Pirates going forward but let’s just say I’m a bit more realistic here. In my opinion Marte should absolutely make the 25 man roster but so should Snider and Tabata. I discount Presley because of his age and I opt to hold Sands back because his strong AAA showing has all come in the PCL so for me there is indeed something for him to prove in the International League. Marte, Snider and Tabata though have nothing left to prove at the AAA level and deserve the chance to see what they can at the major league level. It is true Tabata and Snider have gotten longer looks than Marte already but doesn’t that say something about their talent if they have already received long looks in the majors despite being roughly the same age as Marte? I think people tend to forget that point, Tabata, Snider and Sands aren’t players in their late 20s just looking for one last chance to break out, they are players in their early to mid 20s looking to become established just like Marte is trying to do. Ideally the Pirates would have two established corner outfielders but the truth is they don’t. Less ideally but still preferable to the current situation they would have one and would let the other battle it out for playing time in the other but again they don’t have that either. I’m not asking Pirates fans to be happy with what the Pirates have, all I am asking is that they know what the Pirates have and that isn’t 4 question marks competing for 1 spot but rather 5 question marks competing for 2 spots.
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.
The Pirates current right field situation is a bit of a mess but as of now it appears Travis Snider has the inside track to become the everyday starter. Snider and the right field position as a whole is a big wildcard for the Pirates. The Pirates need to get some consistent production out of first base and need to do so while keeping Garrett Jones at first base. Snider has shown flashes of power in the past but didn’t really hit for much when he was with the Pirates. That could have been due to a hamstring injury he suffered soon after or to adjusting to a top of the order role or it could be the Pirates were working with his swing to make him less pull happy. Then again it could be a truly troubling sign and Snider’s power might not develop. Due to the discrepancy between the flashes Snider shown while with the Blue Jays and how he played in his short time with the Pirates it is difficult to say what just to expect from him in 2013. Snider could definitely flop or then again he could wind up being an above average right fielders. Projection systems have Snider all over the place from .715 OPS to an 8.13 OPS. I found when things seem this uncertain that the truth usually falls somewhere in between. So I’m expecting Snider to be worth about 1.5-2.0 WAR and post a slash line of around .260/.320/.440.
Tabata is sort of a puzzle to us Pirates fans. In 2010 Tabata had a strong rookie season and the following year his numbers were still decent but not as strong and then last year his performance fell off a cliff. Tabata’s build makes him susceptible to leg problems and that has proven to greatly affect his game. When healthy Tabata has the look of being the thing this Pirates team is most missing and that is a true top of the order hitter. Tabata’s performance in 2012 is often harshly criticized as it should be but from June to the end of the year he posted a .362 OBP with the major league team. It was a relatively small sample but a number that good on a team this starved for base runners can not be so easily dismissed. Tabata is out of options and has quite a few years left on his contract so it appears likely the Pirates will keep him in the majors and let him serve as a 4th outfielder and compliment to Snider in right field. Unless Tabata really shows something in his limited playing time and/or Snider struggles in right field he is not likely to get a chance to win back his starting job but he could still be a valuable asset for the Pirates coming off the bench. Tabata has some speed and on base skills which could nicely compliment the Pirates heavy tilted power lineup and his right handiness could compliment Snider should he struggle against left handed pitching. For this year it is difficult to say what Tabata may do. He could revert to his April/May form or he could build off his moderate success in the second half of last season. I’m thinking Tabata’s true talent level lies somewhere near where his 2011 performance which means I’m expecting a slash of something like .265/.345/.365 from him in 2013. He won’t get much playing time so I see his overall value being about 1.0-1.2 WAR.
Sands was one of the main pieces the Pirates acquired in the Hanrahan trade this past offseason. He has shown flashes of power in the past and has been an average major league hitter during his brief stints in the show. At AAA he has been a masher but that was in the PCL, an offensive paradise. With Snider and Tabata both being out of options it appears unlikely Sands will make the major league team out of Spring Training but the Pirates and Sands could probably benefit from him having some time in the less hitter friendly International League anyway. Sand will undoubtedly be a part of the major league club at some point this season but the performance of those in front of him as well as his own performance in AAA will go a long way in determining when he makes it and how much he plays. Sands also has played first base in the past so I would expect him to be considered an option there should the need arise. On the major league level I’m not expecting to see Sands until the middle of the season and while here hopefully there will not be a need to give him much playing time. In AAA I think its predictable Sands will not hit as well as he did in the PCL but I still expect a solid showing from him. I don’t think he’ll get a ton of playing time in the majors but I think he will show the Pirates enough that they will plan on him being a part of the 2014 squad.
Presley is the 4th outfielder battling for playing time in the outfield and he is probably the most versatile of the bunch as he can handle center field and is probably a better option for left field than the other three players listed here. He has the look of a very solid 4th outfielder but unless the Pirates opt to carry 5 outfielders, a possibility I’m not dismissing, he is likely to begin the season in AAA. The Pirates could certainly use Presley on the major league bench as his left handed hitting could be a big plus as would his ability to play center field and his speed. Ideally one of Snider or Tabata will step up this year freeing the Pirates to trade the other one and Presley will take the 4th outfielder role but that is unlikely to shake out for a while. I’m fairly confident Presley will be with the major league club for a decent amount of time this season. In fact I’m expecting him to receive probably close to 150 PA. As for how well he will produce I tend to agree with the Steamer projection system which has him tagged at a .262/.313/.415 line with a 0.4 WAR. I think Presley should be right around that this upcoming season.
One aspect of the game the Pirates have struggled with a lot in past seasons is production, both offensively and defensively, from the bench. Pirates pinch hitters hit well below league average and with a team that isn’t exactly full of superstars this is a big problem as production is essentially needed from everyone. Well as we sit here more than two months away from opening day we have a good handle on 4 of the Pirates 5 bench spots.
McKenry will definitely start the year as the backup catcher and if he can replicate his performance from 2012 he will be a very good asset off the bench and should even allow the Pirates to rest Martin on a fairly regular basis.
As things stand right now Sanchez will likely platoon with Garrett Jones at 1B but since Jones will take up the lion’s share of the playing time he will usually be on the bench. At the very least he is a good right handed stick for the bench and he has the upside of returning to his 2010-11 form and returning to his average major league 1B form.
It appears as if Travis Snider is going to get first crack at starting in right field which means the out of options Jose Tabata will be relegated to the bench. It is possible Tabata will receive some playing time in the OF especially if the Pirates sit Snider against lefties but he appears likely to be the usual 4th outfielder. He has shown some decent OBP skills in the past and if he can refind his stolen base ability he could be an interesting option, otherwise he is probably just another averageish bench player.
Although the Pirates technically have Jordy Mercer and Ivan De Jesus who will be competing with Harrison I find it difficult to believe the Pirates will not keep Harrison in the majors. Harrison gives the Pirates a very flexible player who can play 2B, 3B, SS and even a little RF. He isn’t really a good hitter but he has shown some decent contact skills so he does have some value.
The last spot basically comes down to another middle infielder on the bench, which is how the Pirates usually go or another 1B/OF type who will give the Pirates a better bench offensively. Mercer and De Jesus are the top candidates should a 2nd middle infielder be carries and Sands and Presley appear to be the top candidates should another 1B/OF be carried.
There are pros and cons to carrying either one but I think considering how Ciriaco (2011) and Mercer (2012) were wasted on the bench the Pirates need to strongly considering carrying a better offensive option and of the two main candidates the left handed Alex Presley appears to be the best option as the 4 people I previously have mentioned are all right handed. Another option I think the Pirates should strongly consider is bringing in a middle infielder from free agency but with my preference for him to be a left handed batter the only two real options appear to be Adam Kennedy or Kelly Johnson. Johnson has gotten little interest in the free agent market and if the Pirates could convince him to come be part of the bench and an insurance policy for Walker’s back he could be the perfect addition to the Pirates bench. Johnson would need to be willing to try to be a little more versatile than just 2B as he would probably be asked to dust off his OF glove and maybe even take some reps at 3B. Kennedy on the other hand plays 1B, 2B and 3B and would be another decent add although his bat is a little weak. Johnson would provide some power for the bench and Kennedy would probably be not much more than an average left handed bench stick.
At the start of the 2012 offseason the Pirates had a glut of utility infielders on the 40 man roster. They resolved this issue fairly quickly by waiving Gustavo Nunez and trading Yamaico Navarro and Borck Holt. However now they face another glut of 1B and corner outfielders. The Pirates have 8 players vying for 5 positions in the majors in Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Clint Robinson, Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Jerry Sands. Robinson, Marte, Presley and Sands all have options remaining so there isn’t necessarily a need to clear any of these players out but with the possible exceptions of Robinson and Presley there are reasons to believe the Pirates will want to start the rest off in the majors.
None of this means the Pirates have a surplus at these positions as the only 2 proven commodities they have are Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez. The Pirates glut is with unproven players and they are going to have to roll the dice with at least a few of these options. There has been some speculation that Garrett Jones could be traded but I’m not really sure I see the benefit of that. Snider and Tabata would probably share RF duties and Marte would likely start in LF which would leave Sands and Sanchez to share 1B duties. Since both Sands and Sanchez are right handed a time share between the two wouldn’t be practical. Sands is limited to 1B and the OF and Sanchez most likely is limited to 1B so there isn’t even really enough positional flexibility here for one to be used purely as a reserve. Sands could possible be used as a bench player but with 4 OF on the roster his presence would not really be necessary.
Another option could be a trade of Jose Tabata or Gaby Sanchez. These make more sense as it would free up a spot for Jerry Sands to platoon with either Travis Snider or Garrett Jones. However the Pirates would likely be selling low on either player and that is something they should probably avoid in almost all circumstances. So this leaves Marte, Snider and Sands as the other options. I would think the Pirates wouldn’t flip Sands or Snider since they just acquired them and Marte appears to be nearly untouchable.
So all of this leaves us with 6 players competing for 5 major league jobs and it makes little sense for the Pirates to send any of the 6 away in a trade. So what are they going to do? Well I wouldn’t have a problem with keeping the depth and starting Sands in AAA but I’m not sure the Pirates are going to do that. So the next most likely scenario would be trading Tabata or Sanchez. However neither probably has much value so the idea of trading the one player with a lot of value in Garrett Jones comes back up. From a position of roster makeup that may not make sense but from a position of getting fair value in a trade no other option makes sense. It is a bit of a conundrum the Pirates have themselves in and I’m not really sure what the plan is going forward. I would think Sands is not going to start in AAA but for that to happen someone is going to have to be dealt and of all the options only Jones has value but again moving him doesn’t make sense as it leaves only two right handed hitters or 1B making a platoon impossible and keeping one as a bench option troublesome.
The Pirates are likely just about done making moves this offseason but this is the one area left with the biggest question mark. They have plenty of options but not many proven ones. All of the players have significant upsides but at the same time it wouldn’t be hard to imagine any of them including Jones struggle in 2013. The Pirates have themselves quite a puzzle here and it should be interesting to see just how they go about trying to solve it.
I know this news is a day old now but I thought I would chime in with my own thoughts. Hanrahan was a great player for the Pirates for the last 2.5 years and will be missed as he should be but there is no reason to express outrage at the Pirates having traded a relief pitcher. Was the return the Pirates got for him great? No but I feel it was adequate and matched up with his value fairly well. Small market teams such as the Pirates need to concentrate their resources to the everyday lineup and the starting rotation not towards the bench and the bullpen and for that reason Hanrahan had to be moved so the scarce resources could be better distributed. Still the Pirates dealt away a good pitcher and I know I am going to miss seeing him pitch and getting excited for hammer time. I will admit some times I root against players when they leave Pittsburgh but that isn’t the case with Hanrahan I hope he saves 50 games and is named an All Star once more. Good luck in Boston.
Now on to the actual trade. I see the trade as having two parts a major part and a minor part I would first like to discuss the minor part which I feel was Brock Holt for Ivan De Jesus and Stolmy Pimentel. Honestly I don’t see much value in these 3 players. Holt was decent with the bat in his brief major league appearance but is really poor defensively even as a 2B and since he doesn’t hit for any power that makes him basically just a utility infielder that probably shouldn’t even fill in as a shortstop. De Jesus is a very similar player to Holt as he has shown some ability to hit (mainly in the minors) and has struggled defensively at SS. On the plus side though De Jesus does seem like a capable defensive 2B and can probably play defense at shortstop well enough to serve as a bench option. Overall I would say Holt is slightly better than De Jesus but the difference is small and when speaking of two players who might be utility infielders it is probably negligible. Now as for Stolmy Pimentel I will admit he appears to be an interesting prospect. Pimentel has some definite talent but he has stalled in AA the last two seasons and with this being his last option year is really running out of time. I don’t think there is enough time for the Pirates to keep trotting him out there as a starter in hopes he develops into a back of the rotation starter so I imagine we will see him moved to the bullpen to begin the year. There is a reasonable chance that like quite a few other players in the Pirates system that Pimentel could thrive there and quickly become an asset for the Pirates. Pimentel has the talent and is an interesting lottery ticket in this trade. Still in reality this trade isn’t about these 3 players Holt and De Jesus are essentially an equal swap and Pimentel is a lottery ticket who if the Pirates hit on great but if not its no big loss as he was really just a throw in. This trade for all intents and purposes is about the major part of the deal.
What I call the major part of the deal is Hanrahan for Melancon and Sands. I’ve already discussed what I think Hanrahan brings to the Red Sox and in reality when discussing what the Pirates got back whether Hanrahan performs well or not is meaningless. Melancon looks like a nice reliever for the Pirates. Last season with the exception of his ERA his stat line actually was better than Hanrahan’s. That isn’t to say Melancon is a better pitcher than Hanrahan but it should say that he is a good reliever. The Pirates have control over Melancon for the next 4 seasons and as an added bonus he has experience pitching in the back end of a major league bullpen as he was the Houston Astros closer in 2011. Last season Melancon was beat up in his first few outings with the Red Sox but that came because of an insane home run problem which is unlikely to be a recurring problem as he is actually a ground ball pitcher. This season Melancon looks like a good bet to start the season as the Pirates primary set up man for Jason Grilli and there are plenty of reasons to think he will do well in that role. Having Melancon in this deal makes me feel pretty good about the Pirates chances of at least getting something in return. The last player in the deal and the one who I thinks plays the most pivotal point in deciding the fate of this deal for the Pirates is Jerry Sands. Really I’m not sure why the Pirates acquired Sands as Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata appear set to play either of the roles Sands would be the best in but I’d imagine his acquisition is a precursor to another move (more on that later). Sands has displayed some good power numbers in the minor leagues but they come with the caveat of him having played in a hitter friendly league and in a hitter friendly park. However Sands also held his own in the majors in 2011 when the Dodgers had him in the show. Sands could definitely develop into a nice right handed stick for the Pirates either at 1B or RF but he comes with risks as well as the power he showed in the minors was absent in his major league stint. Sands defense isn’t bad but since he is a 1B or corner outfielder his bat is going to have to carry him and I have my doubts it will. I really don’t like Sands and I think his ceiling is a Matt Diaz type and that he is likely to just be a AAAA slugger but he does have some potential. If Sands develops into a successful major league this deal is a huge win for the Pirates but if he doesn’t I still think Melancon can salvage this deal for the Pirates.
Overall this was an adequate albeit not exciting return for Hanrahan. Melancon should come close to matching Hanrahan’s production and will be controlled by the Pirates longer and Sands gives the Pirates the potential to possibly have this deal tip heavily in their favor. Add in Pimentel who is a lottery ticket with decent odds and a fairly meaningless swap of utility infielders and the Pirates package might actually be just a touch higher than Hanrahan’s actual value. Overall this a deal from a fan perspective I hate to see happen but from a baseball perspective I understand why it had to be done. Now the only question remaining is what happens next?