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.
Over the course of the last two seasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have come a long way. From losing 100+ games in 2010 to flirting with a playoff spot deep into August in 2012. From looking like a franchise void of any direction to having a bright future just on the horizon. The future looks better than now than it did just two short years ago but right now isn’t the time to worry about that. This is the time of year we ask ourselves not how future Pirates teams may look or perform but rather about how this year’s version of the team will look and perform. The Pirates have a large group of players returning and have added a handful of players they hope will be able to compliment the returning group well. In addition to the players added this offseason the Pirates will be counting on full seasons of players added to the roster last year and improved performances by last year’s regulars to improve the overall performance of the team.
The group of players the Pirates will be sending out on to the field Monday is most people’s opinions the most talented group the Pirates have fielding in quite a few years. Still there is no mistaking this group for a complete team which should be able to easily handle all the obstacles thrown at them and glide into the playoffs. The Pirates are a work in progress and as such the roster will be yet again in a constant state of flux during the 2013 season. Just what the expectations are for this team is difficult to pin down. As an improved group over the 2012 version one would assume an improved record should be in the forthcoming but the 2012 group was probably a little lucky in some regards meaning they actually finished ahead of where they should have. Still one gets the sense that if improvement in terms of record is not achieved some major changes in terms of coaching staff and front office will likely be coming either during this season or after the year.
What does this Pirates team have to do to be a success? Does this group have to make the playoffs? Just make a serious run? Just finish above .500? Just show improvements in overall performance regardless of the record? That is really up tom personal opinion but in my mind it is the last one. The group the Pirates have assembled isn’t a real contender and for that reason as long as they don’t post an awful record whatever their record winds up being is less important than how they go about achieving that record. If the core of the team takes a step forward and veterans like Burnett, Martin and Barmes struggle which causes the team record to be less than ideal I can live with that but if it happens the other way around things will be a little less pretty. A disclaimer here though in terms of whether there will be changes I don’t think how the Pirates go about achieving a substandard record will matter; if they post one changes will almost certainly be coming.
All of this still leaves me with the question of what am I expecting from this team this season. Above all else I am expecting growth. I’m expecting the team to find some young players to help compliment McCutchen. This would likely be players from the Alvarez, Marte, Snider and Tabata group. I’m expecting some youth to lay claim to rotation spots next season. This would be players from the Cole, McPherson, Locke and Irwin group. The Pirates have to be at a point at the end of this season in which they know what they have with this group. It is vital so they know how to proceed next offseason. Finding which players can truly help this team in 2014 and beyond is in my mind the most important thing that come out of 2013 however one can not completely ignore the overall performance. I still expect this team to play well.
When you slice right through it the talent on this team appears to have the talent of roughly a slightly below average team meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of 78 wins. However the range of possible outcomes for this team is huge. If things break relatively wrong for this team it could quite possibly lose 95 games but if things break relatively right for this team I could see it posting 90 wins. Either extreme though seems rather unlikely. Truth be told as it nearly always does the actual result will lie somewhere in the middle. This Pirates team will likely win somewhere between 75-85 games making them for all intents and purposes an average team. As for my actual prediction this year feels different but I have never actually predicted the Pirates to finish the season with a winning record. I don’t like this team enough to break that trend but on the other hand there is a different feel about it so I have do something different. It pains me to do this as it is the ultimate cop-out by my prediction for the record of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates is: 81-81
When it comes to evaluating how well a draft worked out for a franchise be it baseball, football, hockey, basketball or really any other sport I am one who always feels that 5 years is a fairly reasonable time frame. Of course in baseball and to some extent hockey the evaluations have to be done a little differently because not everyone from those drafts are going to be established players but for the most part we should have a fairly good idea as to what kind of player they are. Typically speaking I think the 5th professional year for a draft class, particularly and MLB one is a huge year. The quick risers are likely in their 3rd pro season or so, the slow risers are likely entering their first full season or just ready to contribute and the wildcards are likely on their final chance. Its been five years since Neal Huntington’s first draft class and of course 2013 will be that class’s 5th full year of professional baseball experience. So according to my rule of thumb it should be a big year for them and indeed it is. To my research there are twelve players who still have at least some level of significance to the Pirates franchise, I have broken down those 12 into 6 different categories and will discuss what the 2013 season holds for them. Think of this as a primer for what to look for out of the 2008 draft class this season.
Organizational Players: Benjamin Gonzalez, Jeremy Farrell, Zachary Foster
Essentially this group has no expectations for the 2013 season. The three above players were drafted and signed in 2008 but have evolved into organizational filler; they will likely serve as bench depth or bullpen arms for one or multiple levels in 2013. They aren’t expected to contribute to the major league team and at this point really have no discernible prospect value. +
Wildcards: Jarek Cunningham, Quinton Miller
Cunningham and Miller are not that far from bien organizational players but both remain in the system and unlike the three organizational players I have listed do have somewhat of a ceiling. Cunningham is capable of playing 2B and has plus power for the position and Miller was a fairly highly regarded prep pitcher at the time he was drafted. Both of them face uphill climbs to ever make the majors let alone become a significant contributor there but each of them have enough upside that they will have essentially one last chance to rebound in 2013 and show they have some value. Miller is likely to work out of the bullpen at A+, a level he’ll be playing at for a 3rd season and at 23 years old is pushing the high side for a prospect at that level. If he shows signs of progress the Pirates may opt to send him to AA early on to give him one last chace but that appears highly unlikely. Cunningham is a little farther along than Miller as he will likely repeat AA this season and should be the starting 2B. At 23 years old he isn’t a terrible age for the AA level but another failed year could prove costly to the little prospect status he has remaining. There is a little more hope for Cunningham than Miller as he showed progress last season with his plate discipline, if he can manage to build off that, refind his power and stay healthy (something that has been a struggle for him) there is a chance he could regain his prospect status. Cunningham is facing an uphill climb but it appears he at least has a fighting chance.
Major League Depth: Matt Hague, Michael Colla
Not much to say about these two. Hague and Colla are essentially organizational players but they have advanced far enough along that either one could be potential non horrible at the major league level meaning they will serve as depth in 2013. Hague is well known by Pirates fans because of his hot spring training last year and the fact he subsequently made the Pirates bench. He struggled with his chances with the big club though and spent most of 2012 in AAA. Hague doesn’t really profile to hit for much power so his ceiling at the major league level is limited. Hague will almost certainly start the 2013 season off in AAA but this year he won’t have a starting position and will be forced into a utility role. The utility role could be a good thing for Hague though as his best chance of making it back to the majors is probably as a utility player who can make decent contact. Colla has spent the last two years in the AA rotation. His numbers over that time are actually fairly decent. In reality he doesn’t profile as a starter and unless he returns to AA for another season will not be one in 2013 but as a reliever he has a chance to become a decent depth middle reliever who could fill in at the major league level when injuries or ineffectiveness occurs. Colla and Hague don’t come with much upside and aren’t really players that will determine if the 2008 draft was a success or failure but 2013 will be a pivotal year in determining whether either one can carve out some sort of a major league career.
Slow Movers: Justin Wilson, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud
Wilson, Mercer and d’Arnaud are ultimately going to play a large role in determining how well the 2008 draft worked for the Pirates. A good rule of thumb is that a good draft should give you 3 solid major league contributors. Well the Pirates have one who we will discuss later and have one more who could pay some dividends for them at the major league level but if they are to get any additional help from this class it is going to have to come from these three players. Wilson undoubtedly has the highest upside of the bunch as if he were able to find some control he has the stuff to be a top of the rotation arm. Mercer and d’Arnaud look like their ceiling is likely a major league average shortstop and that may be pushing it. At the end of the day three solid major league contributors doesn’t mean three superstars essentially if the team is able to draft one very good regular, a solid back end reliever and a good bench option it has had a decent year. None of these three except maybe Wilson look like they will develop into a solid regular but they all look like potential secondary pieces. Each player has two options remaining meaning they could in theory be brought back next season if they fail to establish themselves but in reality this is a big year for all three. Should any of them not establish themselves as at least a serviceable major league player they will be in great risk of being removed from the roster after the season and unless claimed by another team that usually severely hurts a player’s chances of having a good major league career.
Traded: Robbie Grossman (Wandy Rodriguez)
The importance of Robbie Grossman who was the key piece in the Wandy Rodriguez deal might often get overlooked when discussing the success or failure of the 2013 draft but it shouldn’t be. Grossman may no longer be in the system but the reason teams have prospects is not for only developing them for their own use but for using them to acquire major league talent through trades, in short they are assets. How Grossman performs this season is largely irrelevant to how the Pirates 2008 draft should be viewed but how his return, Wandy Rodriguez, performs is in my mind a critical part of it. Rodriguez is an established major league and a good performances by him in 2013 will help push up the value the Pirates were able to get out of the 2008 draft. As I stated this will be often overlooked but in my mind the return for Robbie Grossman may very well end up being the 2nd most important aspect of the 2008 draft.
Fast Movers: Pedro Alvarez
At the end of the day the performance of the other 11 players I’ve discussed mean very little compared to the draft 1st round pick. The success or failure of that draft will forever be linked to how Alvarez performs in his career as a Pirate. Last season saw some encouraging progress from Alvarez at the major league level but the strike out rate was too high. Alvarez at this point is an established major league player and looks like he has a strong chance of developing into a regular however his upside is so much more. He possess the power needed to develop into a true impact bat. This upcoming 2013 season will be crucial to his development. If he is able to build off his success in 2012 Alvarez begins looking like a cornerstone player but if he struggles like he did in 2011 he will once again look like a big bust. As his fortunes go so will the fate of the 2008 draft. Even in an optimist scenario where Wilson develops into a solid middle of the rotation arm, Mercer is able to be a decent place holder at the shortstop position for a year or two, d’Arnaud starts to hit and becomes a good spark plug off the bench, Cunningham regains his prospect value and Hague or Colla carves out a major league niche for themselves the 2008 draft will still feel light on talent if Alvarez fails to produce. In order for him to be a success and by extension the 2008 draft Alvarez doesn’t have to perform all that much better than his 2012 numbers going forward but he has to prove that he can that type of player and not be subject to wild down seasons like 2011; building off of 2012 and taking another step, even a small step forward would go a long way in proving just that.
I really don’t have anything new to add to this discussion but with the Liriano deal still being unofficial and now reports of a potential minor league deal surfacing I figured I needed to chime in and say something about this crazy situation. First let me just say can this offseason get any weirder for the Pirates. I mean think about their 5 big moves this offseason: signing Martin, resigning Grilli, non-tendered than resigning Karstens, (supposedly) signing Liriano and trading Hanrahan.
Originally it was reported that the Pirates offered him a 3 year deal but the general consensus seemed to be that the Yankees, who were known to want Martin back would eventually offer him a contract good enough to entice him to resign. It never happened and the Pirates managed to sign away a player from the Yankees who they had a definite interest in keeping. As most of you know I’m against that signing and right there is a big red flag for me but nonetheless that seems like it should be impossible to occur.
One day we heard he had narrowed his choices down to 4 teams and was supposed to sign that afternoon but the afternoon came and went and we heard nothing from Grilli. A while later it was reported that he had resigned with the Pirates but then that report was refuted by Grilli himself which only led to another report of him resigning with the Pirates to be reported just a few minutes after his denial of such a deal. The second report of his resigning was then retracted. All of this coupled with the high-profile of his agent, Gary Sheffield, and the very slow news day made Jason Grilli and his future new home a hot topic of baseball conversation, seriously it was. However the day came and went and nothing was heard until a few days later when we finally got official confirmation that the deal was done.
The decision to non-tender Karstens was a questionable one at the time and rightfully received a lot of criticism (from myself included). Dejan Kovacevic, a well-known Pittsburgh sports columnist, seemingly with some inside information even wrote that there was no way that this would be one of those situations where the player would resign at a lower rate and said Karstens was gone. This obviously seemed to point to a broken relationship between the club and the player. However Karstens had a very vague tweet about not believing everything you hear that might have been referring to Kovacevic’s statement or it might have been referring to the Pirates statement that they tried to work out a deal with him and also tried to trade him or it is possible his tweet was not connected to either case and was independent of all these events. Later when there was little interest in Karstens it was speculated the Pirates must have known something about his health and that was the reason they non-tendered him; this time Karstens directly challenged that statement saying something to the extent of come look for yourself my health is fine. All of this eventually led to him somehow resigning with the Pirates for not only less money than he would have gotten in arbitration but less money than he made in 2012.
The first reports to surface were that the Pirates were looking for a starting pitcher in return for Hanrahan. There was so much talk about a potential Capuano for Hanrahan swap that the deal seemed almost inevitable but alas of course it wasn’t. Then there was finally news of a deal being worked out with the Red Sox but no names were known and no one even to be entirely sure that Hanrahan was in the deal, although it was widely assumed he was. Later on it was confirmed that Hanrahan, Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel were all part of the deal but that it wasn’t finalized yet and that more players were involved. This led to speculation that it might be Garrett Jones or even a notable Red Sox payer in the deal. Later that day we started to hear that Mark Melancon was probably going to be included in the deal but that each side was still going to give up another player. At this point the trade speculation stopped and nothing was heard about it for around a week. Things picked back up shortly after the Christmas holiday and the trade was shortly announced as official but there was no mention of the other two names, although Melancon was confirmed to be in the deal. Finally only a little after the deal was made official the names of the final two players came to light and their identities were underwhelming considering all the build up and speculation of just who they might be.
Now we get to what might be the most interesting case of all. It was reported in mid December that the Pirates had signed Liriano to a 2 year, 14 million dollar deal and that is was pending a physical. Not long after it was reported Liriano lost a little over a million dollars and the deal was said to be 2 year, 12.75 million. Nothing else was heard about the deal for a while; there was no official announcement or anything. Shortly after Christmas news came out that Liriano’s deal wasn’t finalized because with the holidays the Pirates were not able to get him in for a physical. Which ok that seems a little strange but it is at least reasonable. A week or so later we learn that Liriano had actually suffered a right arm injury that was preventing him from flying and that the deal was put on hold. The Pirates were said to be contacting other pitchers but they were also known to be staying in touch with Liriano. Come just about a week ago it was announced that the Pirates had once again agreed to a 2 year, 12.75 million dollar deal with Liriano but this time he was assuming risk in case he missed the start of the season due to his right arm injury. At this point we still had no idea what actually happened to his arm but the story continues. Over the course of the next couple days news about how he injured his arm, falling in the bathroom, comes out and we all get a good laugh out of it but still hope that this will only cause him to miss at most the month of April. However the story doesn’t stop there, the deal was never finalized and on Monday we heard reports the Pirates were in talks with Freddy Garcia who if Liriano signs wouldn’t have an obvious spot with the Pirates and on Tuesday we heard reports circulate that the deal could in fact be of the minor league variety. We still really don’t know what is going on with this situation and are not even certain if he will sign and even if he does we have no clue just how severe this injury is and what his recovery timetable would look like.
The Liriano story may be the Pirates strangest story of this offseason but it certainly isn’t there only one. Every significant move the Pirates have made this offseason seems to have at least some sort of drama surrounding it and while the moves themselves from a baseball standpoint have been mediocre the story lines behind them has made this a very compelling offseason. Best (or worst) of all is it isn’t over yet, the Liriano story lives on and who know if the Pirates have anything else up their sleeve.
The Pirates recently avoided arbitration with Garrett Jones by signing him to a 1 year, 4.5 million dollar contract but yet there remains rumors and some debate about whether the Pirates should consider trading him. This is a situation that isn’t quite as clear as many think it is. There are two relatively vocal groups in the blogosphere one who thinks the Pirates need to capitalize on his peak value and trade him and another who believes he is too valuable to this Pirates team to be dealt. In truth the answer as it almost always does lies somewhere in between.
First lets start by getting an idea of what Jones is and what value he may have. Jones ic going to spend most of the 2013 season as a 32 year old meaning he is most likely past his baseball prime and probably on the downside of his career. We can’t say this with certainty though as Jones got a late start and could still in theory have something left in the tank but it seems reasonable to suggest that his 2012 is likely the best full season of baseball he is likely to produce in his major league career. Exactly how good was Jones career year though. Well FanGraphs recently named him one of the most average-ish position players in baseball for 2012 and he managed to produce a 1.9 WAR. He also continued to struggle against lefties something he is well known to have issues with. So what we have here is a guy who at his peak was an average MLB player. That may not sound all that good but average can’t be dismissed so easily, it can be difficult to find average or even slightly below average in baseball.
So what is Jones trade value. Well conventional wisdom says a player is worth about 5-6 million per WAR he produces. Jones is under control for 3 more seasons and while his WAR has been erratic the past 3 seasons (0.3, 1.0, 1.9) I think a nice sound prediction is somewhere between 1.2-1.5 WAR per season. Let’s split the difference and say Jones will be worth 4.0 WAR over the next 3 seasons. As far as his salary is concerned Jones is set to earn in 2013 exactly double what he did in 2012 which is what you would in theory expect from a Super 2 player. So base on that his salary should be 4.5, 6.75 and 9 million over the next 3 years respectively (or 20.25 million total). Chances are a 34 year old Jones in 2015 isn’t going to be worth 9 million dollars. So lets cut that year off and let’s be optimistic and call him a 3.0 WAR player over the next seasons and assume his salary will be 11.25 million. Taking 5.5 million per WAR that give Jones approximately 5.25 million in value. So in terms of prospects according to all the research I have seen that would make him worth roughly a Grade B hitter not in the top 100 or a C+/B- pitching prospect. For the Pirates that would be a Josh Bell or a Tyler Glasnow.
If the Pirates could truly get that kind of value for Jones he should in my opinion be moved but in reality we are probably shooting high. The price I put on Jones is probably similar to how the Pirates value him but most teams probably won’t value Jones that highly. Chances are they will see his excess value at something closer to 3 million. That would mean probably something like a C+ prospect with a little upside but less impact potential. The Pirates have a plethora of those in the system and for them Jones is more valuable than a guy like that. On the other hand the Pirates have replacement options for Jones who they probably at least have to consider giving playing time to in Snider, Sands, Tabata and Sanchez.
All of this information leaves the Pirates in an odd situation. The Pirates have a player who is reasonably priced for this season and probably next who has a relatively high value to them but not such a high value to outside clubs. However despite the disparity in value the Pirates have two incentives to trade Jones, one is that he an older non-essential player at peak value and two is that they have younger higher upside players ready to be given a chance. It is really a conflicting situation. If the Pirates are only receiving low ball offers there is no reason to move Jones right now and if they are receiving offers equal to the value he currently has to the Pirates there is no reason not to move him right now but if as is usually always the case the situation is somewhere in between the Pirates face quite a predicament. Another possible situation is what if the Pirates can get a major league player for Jones that can help them at a position of need such as SS or SP then would it make it sense for the Pirates to make a deal and in trust the position to the other alternatives? I say yes but I see the case on either side.
The bottom line is that in my opinion the Pirates should keep an open mind to Jones and trade him only under two sets of circumstances: 1) They get equivalent prospect value to him to what his value is as a Pirate (Grade B hitter, Grade C+/B- pitcher) or 2) THey get a major league piece that immediately improves SS or SP.
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?
I normally do not write about every little move the Pirates make like this but I have a soft spot for Clint Robinson. First however I will touch on the two pitchers. Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart add some good depth to the Pirates bullpen. Neither of them particularly stand out but either one could turn out to be a serviceable reliever. Mazzaro is out of options so I would not be surprised to see the Pirates keep him in the bullpen at the start of the season. There are not a whole lot of certainties in the Pirates bullpen and Mazzaro at least provides a little upside over say keeping a guy like Resop around for 1.5 million. Stewart has an option remaining so it would appear the Pirates will more than likely use him as AAA depth. He was once a top prospect so the ceiling is certainly there but so far like Mazzaro the major league success hasn’t been there. Nonetheless Stewart is still probably a more interesting arm to keep at AAA for depth instead of say Daniel McCutchen.
As for what the Pirates gave up there is essentially nothing of significance. They gave a PTBNL to Boston for Stewart so that will likely be a low upside player in the lower levels or an organizational player. They gave up Luis Rico and Luis Santos to acquire Robinson and Mazzaro. I never actually heard of Rico before today but the Pirates gave him a fairly large signing bonus of 280K in 2011 so there must be some upside there. Still his 2012 performance was quite poor as he showed essentially no command. Luis Santos posted better numbers in the DSL but this was his 3rd year at the level and at 21 he is old for the level. Neither is much of a prospect though I suppose they do have some upside.
Now for the reason I decided to write this, Clint Robinson. I can’t recall if I campaigned for him on my blog but I was a pretty vocal supporter of the Pirates acquiring Robinson from the Royals this past spring. He will be 28 years old next season so he is not be confused as a prospect but he does seem to have some upside. Robinson has only had 4 major league AB despite tearing it up for his minor league career. The Royals have had Hosmer and Butler in front of him and really had no reason to try him. Robinson has been a good all around hitter in the minors showing power, contact skills and plate discipline. I have no fantasies that he will be an impact player but he certainly looks like he has the potential to be a good bat off the bench or possibly even an adequate starter at 1B. He does have an option remaining so I’m guessing the Pirates will keep him at AAA to start the season but should Jones be needed in the corner outfielder I would have to assume Robinson would be the first to get the call and be given a chance at platooning with Sanchez at 1B. He is a good low risk pick up for the Pirates and who knows maybe he can become our next Garrett Jones.
The 40 man roster is now full but with the tender deadline fast approaching it is conceivable the Pirates could open up a few more roster spots.
With a 7-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers today the Pittsburgh Pirates have pushed their season to the brink. The team currently sits two games back in the wild card standings and appears to be headed the wrong direction. Certainly things are not looking good for the Pirates. However this is not the time to turn on them, call this season a collapse, lose all hope or even tout about how you saw this coming. Now is the time to get behind this team with your full weight. It looks clear right now that the Cardinals are the better baseball team and yes they should beat the Pirates this upcoming series but that doesn’t mean they will. If a new 162 game season were to start today there it is highly doubtful the Pirates could be better than the Cardinals over that span. However that isn’t want we are asking for here. All the Pirates need to be is better than the Cardinals for the remainder of this season a mere 35 games. That is possible. September baseball with expanded rosters can cause all sorts of crazy results if the Pirates can manage to keep this thing close until then all bets are off. How you keep this race close is by winning 2 of the next 3 against the Cardinals. It is a tall task yes but it is one that is certainly doable.
Over the course of the next three days it isn’t really all that dramatic to say that the Pirates season is on the line, that it is do or die, now or never. The Pirates must come out strong, McDonald and Burnett have to pitch like they are the Pirates horses and Rodriguez has to do what he was brought here to do. The offense needs to find itself and begin getting better production and the bullpen needs to stabilize. All of these things are possible and since we are only talking about a 3 game set right now it is impossible to predict if it will happen. Somebody needs to step up and put this team on his back and make these next three days successful. The fate of meaningful September baseball is riding on it.
Having this type of series this late in the baseball season is both nerve-racking and exhilarating. Enjoy it Pirate fans, for the younger generation this is the biggest series you will be able to recall and for the older generation it should bring back some fond (and admittedly not so fond) memories. These next three days are the reason you should be a fan of this club. Win or lose this Cardinal series is sure to be memorable to us all. It might become the final nail in the Pirates coffin or the spark that enables to compete deep into September and maybe even sneak into the playoffs. Either way now is not the time to criticize this team, now is the time to enjoy this team and yes if necessary go down with it. For this is the type of baseball that hasn’t be seen in these parts for 15 years. If our past should teach us anything it is that we need to embrace moments, games and series like this one because you never know when the next one might happen. So in closure say it with me Pirate Nation: LET’S GO BUCS!