The Pittsburgh Pirates will get a boost this week, seeing two of their top players returning. Neil Walker has been a hot hitter this year, and is expected back on Tuesday. Gerrit Cole is expected to re-join the rotation this weekend. That combination means the Pirates will have to make a few moves this week. Those moves could include a decision on Travis Snider or Jose Tabata, and the demotion of one of three starting pitchers who are performing well. Here is a look at each situation, and the move that I would make to clear space on the roster for the returning players.
Walker is expected to return on Tuesday, and will almost certainly take over as the starting second baseman. The return of Walker will create two issues. The first issue revolves around the playing time for Josh Harrison. That’s a subject for a totally different article. There will also be the issue of who moves off the roster to create room for Walker.
Currently the top options are Travis Snider or Jose Tabata. It would seem that Tabata is making a stronger case to stick around. He has a .733 OPS this month, which isn’t great, but is slightly better than the .693 from Snider. Furthermore, Tabata is under contract beyond the 2014 season. I doubt the Pirates keep him for the duration of his deal, but I could see them keeping him around to try and unload him and some of that salary in a trade.
If I’m making the call, Snider would be the one gone when Walker returns. I was going to suggest Clint Barmes as a possibility, but his OPS is only 17 points lower than Snider’s, and Barmes brings more value with his defense. The fact that Snider is only barely out-hitting Barmes says a lot about why he should be the odd man out.
The decision with Cole is going to be slightly more difficult than the decision with Walker. The Pirates will have three options to send down in order to make room for their future ace. Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke, and Vance Worley are all in the majors as depth options, and one will have to go down when Cole returns.
The easiest call here is to remove Worley from the discussion. He’s out of options, and would have to be designated for assignment in order to be sent down. With the way he has pitched in his first two starts, plus his time in Triple-A, and the fact that he has previous MLB success, there would be no reason to cut him.
That leaves a battle between Cumpton and Locke. Cumpton is coming off a great start today, and his overall numbers are heavily inflated by one horrible outing on May 31st, when he gave up ten earned runs in 3.2 innings. Outside of that start, Cumpton has a 3.85 ERA in 35 innings of work. Meanwhile, Locke has made three starts since coming back up, and has looked fantastic in those outings. He has a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings, and the most impressive thing is that he’s only allowed two walks. The biggest issue for Locke last year during his poor second half was that he was giving up too many walks. The fact that he’s performing this well so far makes you think that his results might be legit, and doesn’t even have you thinking about the word “regression”.
I’d keep Worley and Locke in the rotation, sending Cumpton down. I still like Cumpton as a starter, and he should be the top option to be called up if anyone else goes down.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.