Tonight, Tony Sanchez played his first game at first base in Indianapolis. Ryan Palencer wrote about the details behind the move. I don’t want to read too much into the move, since the main reason is probably to get Elias Diaz some time behind the plate in Triple-A. The fact that Sanchez is playing first base is interesting for a few reasons.
1. There is a designated hitter spot. He can stay in the lineup without the need for a new position. Worst case, this pushes Jose Tabata or Michael Martinez out of the starting lineup.
2. The Pirates have talked about Sanchez as an option to start next year if Russell Martin doesn’t return. You wouldn’t put your potential starting catcher of the future at another position, especially when he needs to show you more proof that he could be the starter.
I really don’t think the Pirates will go with Sanchez as the starter in the future. My own opinion is that Diaz has passed him on the depth charts. Defensively, Diaz could be in the majors now. Offensively, he probably needs some time in Triple-A.
If Sanchez is moving to first base to be an option there, it adds another person to what is already a crowded situation for next season. On top of that, the crowd doesn’t necessarily mean that the Pirates are secure at the position, since all of the players in question have question marks or drawbacks. Here is a look at the internal options, along with the options in free agency. Note that these are the options for opening day, and not necessarily guys who could be up later in 2015, or in 2016.
Ike Davis/Pedro Alvarez – I’m grouping them together for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t see this three-person platoon remaining in the future. The Pirates will have to deal one of these two guys in the off-season, and could go with the other as the first baseman in their platoon (if they keep a platoon). As I wrote earlier in the week, Davis is the better option over Alvarez. He has had better offensive numbers than Alvarez in his career. Neither player is having a great year offensively this year, although Davis has once again been better. I’m not sure that either player is a great option to rely on next year, especially since either one will cost about $5-6 M or more through arbitration.
Gaby Sanchez – If the Pirates do go with a platoon, it will be interesting to see if they keep Sanchez around. He’s making $2.3 M this year, and could top $3 M next year. Paired with Davis or Alvarez, that puts the platoon at around $8-9 M, which kind of removes the value of having a platoon. Sanchez could be an option at third base, although not a very good one. That price tag could be too much for a guy who only goes up against lefties.
Tony Sanchez – If Gaby can’t go, then maybe Tony Sanchez could be the new option against lefties. His numbers this year have been weak, but in the past he has done well against left-handers, including better numbers against lefties than right-handers over the last three years.
Year: OPS vs RHP / OPS vs LHP
2014: .811 OPS (265 PA) / .549 OPS (85 PA)
2013: .775 (281 PA) / .934 (98 PA)
2012: .676 (262 PA) / .865 (136 PA)
2011: .627 (356 PA) / .757 (113 PA)
2010: .892 (185 PA) / .807 (65 PA)
Right now I see Sanchez as the backup catcher in Pittsburgh next year, unless Russell Martin isn’t brought back. At that point, he could be the starting catcher. If Martin does come back, and if Elias Diaz is deemed ready at the start of the year, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sanchez factoring in against lefties next year. However, that’s a huge leap, since his limited career numbers in the majors against lefties are horrible, and his numbers over the last two seasons are small samples.
Andrew Lambo – I feel like the Pirates aren’t going to go with Lambo at any position at this point. He would have been called up by now if this wasn’t the case. But he has good numbers once again in Triple-A, and deserves a shot somewhere.
Travis Snider – He has been picking up the pace offensively in the second half. There’s no room for him in the outfield with Gregory Polanco locked in for the long-term. If he keeps hitting like a starter, then finding a spot for him at first base wouldn’t be a bad idea. Snider would also be cheaper than Alvarez or Davis, and possibly more productive. The downside here is that we’re dealing with a small sample size, and that Snider has already failed in starting roles in the past, only to show promise off the bench (like last September).
Free Agency – The free agent market doesn’t have much available next year. Looking at the list on MLBTR, the best option seems to be Michael Cuddyer, who is still productive in Colorado, but also comes with injury concerns at the age of 36. He has already missed a lot of time with injuries this year. Billy Butler is the only other interesting name, although he seems like a DH only, his numbers have been down the last two years, and he might not even be a free agent if the Royals pick up his option. You’d like to think that the Pirates could find a better option than the platoon route, but it doesn’t look like that option will be available through free agency.
This past off-season saw the Pirates going after guys like Davis, Logan Morrison, Corey Hart, and other question marks at first base. Most of those question marks were on the trade market. This off-season, the Pirates could be the ones shopping around the question marks with Davis and/or Alvarez. The first base position seems like it will be another big topic. This time, it will probably revolve around finding the right internal option, rather than finding a question mark from the outside.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.