First Pitch: Tony Sanchez and All of the Question Marks For the First Base Position

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.

**Prospect Watch: Allie and Tucker Homer, Rodriguez Struggles in Return to Starting Role

**Two Altoona Curve Players Named to Season-Ending All-Star Team

**The Details on Tony Sanchez Making His First Career Start at First Base

**Prospect Rewind: Josh Harrison is Exceeding All of His Old Prospect Reports

**Pirates Playoff Odds: Impact of the Losing Streak and the Most Important Week Coming Up

**Clint Barmes Gearing Up For a Return to Pittsburgh

**Morning Report: What Happened to That Great West Virginia Outfield?

  • lonleylibertarian
    August 23, 2014 5:46 pm

    Why not move Walker to 1st – he is an awful 2nd baseman and first would be less stress on his back.

    Takes the need for a platoon off of the table.

    Finding an ok second base option until Hanson is ready could be easier than an external 1st base fix

    • Id take a look at the 2B free agents next year. Its emilio bonafacio and a bench of guys that have no business being a starting 2Bmen on a playoff team. Id rather play some roulette with guys like Lambo/Pedro/Gaby than move Walker and try to find a decent 2Bmen. Itd put a lot of chips in the “we have to sign Emilio” camp.

    • Dave Parker's Unfiltered Camel
      August 24, 2014 8:49 am

      Josh Harrison is the key. He can play second as well as third so if the Pirates moved Walker to first, they could look for a third base option or a 2nd base option and trade/sign for the best option.

  • For as much as they cost dump both Alvarez and Davis and sign a free agent that can hit and play the field both. Both are a waste of a roster spot.

  • Tim, what would be the trade value for either Davis or Pedro? I love Pedro. He is my favorite player based not on results but due to people being down on him. If we were to trade him, could we get a similar haul like Trumbo did for the Angels? I have said it to coworkers and classmates, I am all for trade anyone on the roster as long as the return is good!

  • If Sanchez is not the Pirates catcher of the near future, the team’s drafting of him was not only a reach – but a horrible pick given the fact that not many teams considered Sanchez first round material. I’m sure he would probably enjoy a change of scenery as well, after the team has jerked him around the past couple of years.

    I do agree, however, that in the long run Diaz may be the better catching prospect. He is MLB caliber defensively, and that kid has some pop in his bat. If he can hit .250 to .270 as a starter, he will be a fixture at catcher.

  • Tim I always enjoy reading your articles, but i don’t always agree with your opinions.

    In this article, I really find your opinion interesting that Ike Davis has been better than Alvarez this season, and throughout his career.

    I went back and compared their stats, to see how they actually stack up – because I am just shocked that you would have such an opinion.

    First, 2014: Other than average (.237 vs .229), I see no evidence that anyone could conclude that Davis has had a better year than Alvarez. Alvarez has twice the number of HRs and 11 more RBIs. At best, I think you could say they have had equally poor seasons.

    Now Career to date:
    ABs 2B 3B HR RBI AVG SLG OBP OPS
    Davis 1783 96 2 75 258 .241 .423 .337 .760
    Alvarez 2049 90 6 101 319 .234 .432 .307 .739

    In reviewing the above, I don’t think either player can make a clear case that he has been better than the other, over their careers. Their stats are pretty close, even if you allow for the AB differential. I think we can agree – they’ve been both very bad. And, I would prefer to have both of them be somewhere else in 2015 – along with Gabby Sanchez. If I had to choose one, I would take Alvarez only because he was a Pirates draftee and he has greater upside and the potential on having an above average year during his contract year next year.

    I hope you are wrong about how the team view’s Lambo – I hope to see him get another shot next Spring. The bar at first base for this team is set pretty low, so it would not take much for someone to improve upon the incumbents.

  • The pirates catching situation reminds me of “The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner”with water,water everywhere, but not a drop for drink”. In other words a ton of catching prospects none of whom are ready for the show. Not an enviable position to be in with the lack of catchers available this off season, making martin the only viable although expensive option. Time for the front office to either fish or cut bait, to remain a contender they better fish, track record suggests they will cut bait. This is going to be an interesting off season for the pirates to say the least.

  • I think both Pedro and Ike will be moved off the roster this offseason. I can see Gaby returning in a platoon role with Lambo. Both will be place holders until Bell is ready, hopefully midseason. I also think a veteran (Carp for example) will be signed to a minor league deal to push Lambo. If Tony can play some first base he could push Gaby out of the picture, but really neither one is doing much at the plate. Gaby does provide a veteran presence and also solid defense at first. I also feel he is a solid option off the bench. Signing Martin will be the #1 priority this offseason and I agree with most comments here that the best way to make that happen is to transfer the money from the first base position. I think at this point you have to have Jay Hay penciled in as the starting third baseman going forward. I would definitely have Snider expand his role with some work at first base in the offseason and Spring Training as well as Walker. If Walker’s power is legit he could be the answer at first when Hanson is ready or they could acquire a third baseman and have Jay Hay take over at second. Lots of moving pieces and options available.

    • Whichever one of pedro or ike the pirates get the better offer for will be the one who goes, my money is on pedro going. The only way I see both is if they get a bonafide first basemen nullifying the need for either one, except maybe as a backup or bench option. This is like I said earlier, going to be a very interesting off season for the pirates front office.

  • I am sure there are several reasons for Sanchez’s move to 1st base. The Pirates don’t use their catchers the way they should use them IMO, Martin can play 1st base, when Stewart is catching, I would rather have him there than Sanchez (either Sanchez). IMO, they need to fix 1st base permanently, getting spare parts to try and make a whole part doesn’t work. If it is me, I try to move all 4 of them and give something up for a real 1st basemen, they don’t have to limit themselves to free agents, there are a lot of blocked players in AAA that might work. Since they are likely to lose Martin in the off-season, they need to sign Stewart, he is a good veteran backup. I am not in favor of a rookie as a backup, the rookie starts or stays in AAA IMO. The Reds and Brewers threw their rookies out there and let them sink or swim and they both turned out to be top of the line catchers, if the pedigree is there, let them play. Maybe we could make Pedro a catcher, perfect build, strong arm.

    • Just a question leadoff ? Which rookie catchers did the Brewers and Reds throw out there, and when did this occur ?

      • Lecroy, Mesoraco

      • Leadoff : neither Lucroy or Mesaroco were really ” thrown in there ” as far as I know. Lucroy played in 75 games in ‘ 10, 136 in ‘ 11 and 96 in 2012 before earning the full time job last season. Mesaroco played in 18 games in 2011, 54 in ‘ 12, and only 103 last season while splitting time with Ryan Hannigan. If you consider that ” throwing guys in there ,” I really am not sure what your meaning of the term is.

        • To make a long story short, what I am trying to say is that the Reds and the Brewers brought both of these catchers along when they were no where near what they are now, they did not give up on them. When they thought they were ready they handed them the starting role. Hannigan went free agent and they let him go, that left the Reds with Mesaroco to sink or swim, no safety net. The same with Lucroy. The Pirates could have taken the same approach with Sanchez, but they preferred the veteran back-up, therefore they have no choice but to throw Sanchez into the starting role next year or go find someone and give up on Sanchez, someone whom they have much invested in.

          • Well, if you think you are correct in how you a young catcher should be handled, then why not just throw Elias Diaz in there due to the fact that he is a much better defensive catcher than Sánchez, and actually can throw would be base stealers out ? Keep Stewart around,and also possibly Sánchez as a catcher/1st baseman/PH. By the way, the Reds do have veteran catchers around if Mesaroco is injured, same with the Brewers. What many people do not seem to recognize ( yet ) is the fact that Diaz is a tremendous defensive catcher, while Tony Sanchez is not in the same category.

            • I would not have a problem throwing Diaz into the mix, talent is talent, Diaz is a fine looking catcher. If the Pirates are developing these talents they have to give them a chance is basically what I am saying, but I don’t think that will happen, I think the Pirates are more inclined to go with veteran catchers.

              • To be quite frank, my guess is if Martin goes, and Diaz holds his own offensively the rest of the way in AAA, and then in Winter ball, it will be his job to lose next March. And I think they will re-sign Stewart or a similar vet catcher.

  • Dom DiDominic
    August 23, 2014 10:08 am

    NH was clear a couple weeks ago on the radio that Tony Sanchez would play the corner infield positions and can help the big club there in September. Seemed to me that he may have more faith on Tony on defense than Alvarez at 1B. Just having Tony up early in September will free up Russell to PH when he is not catching. Huge upgrade to the bench when Stewart starts.

  • Tim, do you think there’s any chance that the Pirates could make a very aggressive push with either Stetson Allie or Josh Bell getting thrown into the mix in Spring Training?

    I know it’s extremely unlikely, but I was thinking that you could cut loose with any combination of Alvarez/Davis/Sanchez in a trade(s), put lots of the saved money on those guys towards signing Martin and a starting pitcher, and just going with a bit of a inexpensive risk at 1B, like Allie or Bell or making one of them a part of the platoon.

    You have to wonder how much of a drop-off that you would get with Allie or Bell. To me, it would be worth it if you free up cash to shore up the catching position and rotation.

  • Tony Sanchez seems like a no-brainer as the starting catcher next year. He hits well enough at AAA to deserve an extended opportunity. His defense seems okay, but that is only based on my “eye test,” and I am definitely not a scout.

    It seems more likely a 1Bman would be available in a trade as opposed to the free agent market. The Red Sox might be willing to move Allen Craig, and coming off a terrible year he should be available at a reasonable cost. The Astros would probably make Chris Carter available, since they have Domingo Santana and Jon Singleton ready to take over at LF and 1B.

    I am interested to see whether Josh Bell will advance through AA and AAA quickly. If he plays well between now (whenever healthy) and spring training, he should be an option after the “super-two cutoff” next June. It should be clear that his future is at 1B. He is not a good defensive OFer, and he has suffered a couple of leg injuries, so it might be a good idea to admit he is a 1Bman now.

  • What the current me thinks sounds the most appealing is trading both Alvarez and Davis, moving Snider to first, bringing up Sanchez to be #2 catcher (with the possibility of him also serving as a right hand platoon, which means you couldn’t pinch hit for him), Lambo as the #4 OF/back up to Snider at first.
    However,, maybe that’s thinking a little small. Snider could also make one of the outfielders expendable. What would kind if return could we get on, Marte+Alvarez+6-10 prospect? Could fill 1b big time that way. Call it talent consolidation.
    However, everything all warm and glowy about Snider right now is July/August, or about 100 PA. How much should we really trust those numbers?

    • Pedro is as good as gone. The Pirates can not continue to go with the offensive uncertainty they have to deal with when it comes to Alvarez,and his throwing problems just added to that issue. He has shown absolutely no ability to adjust to MLB pitchers’ game plan for him. I might add, Tony Sanchez isn’t even close to Elias Diaz in defensive ability.

    • I was thinking something similar. Trade Pedro, Ike, and Gaby in the offseason. Use Snider, Lambo, and TSanch as 1B/4th OF/backup catcher. Take league-average production from 1B at a low price, and use the money you’re not paying Pedro, Ike, and Gaby to pay Russell Martin.

  • Joe Sweetnich
    August 23, 2014 8:40 am

    I feel almost certain that Neal Huntington will NOT trade Pedro Alvarez at his current value. Ike Davis didn’t really cost much, or so it seems at this point, so he will be the one to go. Wouldn’t be surprised if Ike if DFA’ed in the offseason. I think Snider stays as a fourth outfielder and don’t see him being transitioned to first base. My opinion…

    • Joe: I agree – trading a guy who was a 30+ HR’s and 100 RBI guy last year at his lowest point would not be smart at all. However, a team from the AL looking for a young power hitter who can play a position and also hit as a DH just may be interested down the stretch. But anyone looking for a bargain need not apply.

  • With the injuries the Pirates have had this year and struggles from Marte and Polanco at times, I would keep Snider as a depth option in the outfield.

    Tony Sanchez would be an interesting option as the right handed bat in a 1B platoon with the ability to catch in an emergency.

    Another option would be to play Martin (if he resigns) at first base against lefties with Diaz starting at catcher against lefties.

    The lefty bat in a first base platoon would be Alvarez / Ike Davis. I can’t imagine the Pirates trading both, though one is likely to go at the end of the season.

  • Trade whichever one of Davis and Pedro give you the best return?

  • Tim: It is fairly impossible to imagine a place for Tony Sanchez on the Pirate Roster in 2015. He was strong coming out of college and his average and everything else was going as planned – then the beanball that broke his jaw and he has not been the same guy since. That is with the bat; I have no guess whatsoever how his defense has dropped like a stone. Last year when he posted an average of .288 with 25 doubles and 10 HR’s in only 260 AB’s at AAA, I thought he had turned the corner offensively, but his D was less than average with 14 E’s and 7 PB’s, and this year has been a bust offensively and defensively in his age 26 season – put a fork in him.

    How are the Pirate first basemen doing? IMO, not so bad. Average is low at around .238, but they have 30 doubles, 2 triples, 14 HR’s, 64 RBI’s, and 71 Walks/117 K’s. Projected out that could be 50+ EBH, 75+ RBI’s, 85+ Walks/ <120 K's. Not top 5 numbers, but fairly average numbers for this year. I like Lambo, but the Pirates have seemingly given up on the 1B experiment, and although he is hitting for a good average at AAA, he needed to come back and start hitting some 'taters. Without that HR stroke, he is doomed to sit at AAA. The Pirates made a strong move when they picked up Chris McGuiness, 26, from Texas, and he may have more of a future at 1B than any of the others. I wonder if the Pirates are hearing from teams regarding Mel Rojas, Jr, Josh Bell, Pedro, JHAY, Snider, etc?

    • Compared to other teams, the Pirates this year have the next to last OPS in the league from their first basemen according to mlb.com. At a position which is suppose to provide offense, and does for most teams, the Pirates have a 674 OPS.

  • Right now I’m leaning Snider with the possibility of Tony Sanchez a possible platoon partner, provided he picks up the position. I maintain a flicker of interest in Pedro although I currently have little to no faith in him, offensively or defensively. The caveat of having Snider/T Sanchez at first will leave that much more money for Martin who I feel they must resign if they want to maintain where they are.

Menu