First Pitch: What if the Pirates Keep Everyone This Off-Season?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to have an interesting off-season. In the last two weeks I have been recapping all of the individual positions, noting what happened during the 2014 season and looking ahead to future years. Aside from the Russell Martin situation, and all of the decisions to be made on pitching, the Pirates have a lot of decisions to make that could go a lot of different ways. Here is a rundown of each situation.

**Should they keep Travis Snider as an expensive bench player, or try to deal him based off his second half success?

**Should Josh Harrison be a starter, or a super utility player, getting starts all over the field?

**Which of Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, and Gaby Sanchez should the Pirates trade?

All of these moves are connected. For example, if you have Travis Snider as an expensive bench player, then that reduces the possibility for Josh Harrison to get time in the outfield. That means Harrison has less value as a utility player (basically a backup infielder) than he does as a starter. If you start him at third base, then Alvarez isn’t needed at third, which means you don’t really need Davis and Alvarez on the roster. And you might not need Sanchez, unless you want him as a backup third baseman, which wouldn’t be necessary if you keep Alvarez.

I’ve given my thoughts on what the Pirates should do: keep Snider, start Harrison at third, trade Alvarez, and start Davis and Sanchez. Some of you have disagreed with me on certain ideas, and that’s totally understandable. This off-season, especially the situation involving first base, is full of decisions that have no clear right answer.

You don’t know if Travis Snider will repeat his second half, so paying him through arbitration again, and giving him some starts in the outfield might be risky.

Josh Harrison has more plate appearances where he looked like a struggling bench player, compared to plate appearances where he looked like an All-Star. He definitely should get a chance for regular playing time, but this is another area where the Pirates have some risk.

There’s no consensus choice between Davis and Alvarez. Davis has actually been better than Alvarez in his career against right-handers, and the two were about the same in 2014. Yet, Pirates fans don’t like Davis and prefer Alvarez. I’m guessing the situation would be reversed if Davis was drafted by the Pirates, and Alvarez came over in a trade only to have a down year. As for Sanchez, it’s a question of whether he just had a down year, or is starting his decline. The risk at first base involves picking the right guy(s). Even if the Pirates traded Alvarez and got a good player in return, it would hurt seeing him bounce back next year, especially if Davis doesn’t bounce back.

I wanted to play Devil’s Advocate with my suggestion for these guys, thinking about the benefits of keeping everyone. What if there weren’t really set positions, but just a plan for everyone to get X amount of at-bats. This would help negate some of the risk involved with these guys, and make it less likely that the Pirates have holes on their roster.

Take Pedro Alvarez, for example. If you keep him around, even with Davis on the roster, you’ve basically got a very expensive bench player for a small market team. But Alvarez provides the chance for insurance at two positions. If he bounces back and shows that he can once again play third base, then he’s insurance for Harrison. If he bounces back and Davis struggles, then he can take over at first base. And if both players are productive, and Alvarez is also productive, then you’ve got a huge power bat off the bench.

A perfect scenario with these guys involves Alvarez, Davis, and Sanchez to bounce back to their career norms, with Harrison and Snider staying hot after their breakout seasons. That would give the Pirates a lot of depth. They’d have a team of super utility players, with Harrison getting time all over the infield, and some time in the outfield. They’d have Alvarez splitting between first and third. Snider would be starting insurance in the outfield if someone struggled or went down with an injury. And as for other injuries, they’d be covered and wouldn’t have a situation where Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel were starting games — unless they dealt with several injuries at the same time again.

The downside to this approach would be that they could only do it if they didn’t bring back Russell Martin. And they definitely should prioritize Martin. If he does end up signing (which seems unlikely), then they wouldn’t be able to afford the expensive bench, all while adding the necessary pitching that they will need in the rotation and bullpen. But if Martin doesn’t return, then a “keep everyone” plan might be a good way to help replace his value, as the contingency plans involved here could help keep the Pirates with a top offense, even without Martin.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**AFL: Thomas Harlan Struggles With Control in One-Sided Loss

**2014 Recaps: Is Josh Harrison the Future at Third Base For the Pirates?

**The Pirates New Affiliate in Morgantown Will Be Called The West Virginia Black Bears

**Winter Leagues: Alen Hanson Homers During Team’s 5-3 Victory

First Pitch

  • The more I examine it, the more I like the idea of going after Rivera or Grandal if we can’t get Martin back. Both are excellent framers and can hit. The Padres have Hedges on his way, probably in 2016. That’s a logjam of catching talent. What they don’t have is any sufficient 3b close to the big leagues. Solarte is blah at best, and all of their 3b prospects are young, young. Perhaps we could convince them that Pedro can still play there?
    Not sure what it would take to get one of those and perhaps Kennedy if possible, but I think they just line up as trade partners pretty well.

    • I highly doubt the Padres see Solarte as “blah”. At least not meh enough to think Pedro is clearly better. You get more power with Pedro but much less OBP and much more K ability. If the Padres were worried at all about Pedro’s defense itd seem a bad risk. They have a dependable but not overwhelming 3Bmen as is.

      • Solarte is a 27 year old who was a minor league free agent just two years ago. He had a wRC+ of just above average and projects to have one just below average next year. He also finished at -3 defensive runs saved as a 3b (an admittedly small sample size). The Padres may not consider him “blah” because…well…they’re the Padres, but they should. There’s really no upside there.

  • lonleylibertarian
    October 23, 2014 4:27 pm

    I jusThet seem to come from a different place than most on this. I would be trying to find ways to make my team better at every position every year. Keeping guys like Davis and Gaby locks you into a 2 WAR at first base if all went well – and it won’t. I also think that there are options that need to be explored internally – can Mel Rojas hit major league pitching well enough to fill the 4th outfielder role? Can Lambo be a bat off the bench and part time player at corner OF and 1st base? Can Tony Sanchez be an effective RH bat and 3rd catcher – heck could he be the RH 1st base platoon option. The need for Snider would depend on how all these turn out. I am a huge Pedro fan – but unlike Tim I think he has worn out his welcome with a lot of fans and it might be best for him to move to the AL – assuming someone wants him enough. Two or three year down the road I predict that we will hear a lot of complaining about how could the Pirates let someone with that raw power go!

  • If the pirates keep everybody it would make as much sense as nipples on a breastplate. The two main questions are, how much is martin gonna cost and can the pirates afford to sign him ( or afford not to) and what are they getting in return for pedro. The second tier questions are what reclamation project is coming on board (pitcher)and figuring out a solution at first base. They did post winning records and made the playoffs the last two seasons, all I see that is needed is a little tweaking. Let’s see what the solution is, then watch to see if it works. I’ve said for the last two years that 2015 is going to be the year of the pirate. When the pipeline from the minors will be in place, the core is set and revenue is up. 2015 will be the bucs first series appearance since 1979.

    • So if the buccos can only get a b-type prospect in return for pedro and decide to keep him. . Aren’t ya saying the same thing suggested in the article..

    • Exactly. Why would anyone want to keep everyone ? the other teams in the division are going to make moves to get better. The pirates are going to have to do the same. 1st thing. Get rid of EVERYONE involved with 1st base. There’s not a good one in the bunch. Then you have some options. 1. get a 1st baseman. 2. Move walker there and get a 2nd baseman OR move josh to 2nd and get a 3rd baseman.
      Forget about Martin. When he hits the FA market he’s gone. NO matter what the PIrates offer someone can beat it. And they will. Find another option. One NOT named Tony Sanchez.
      Offer the QO to Martin AND Liriano. Neither will accept so you get 2 picks. And if Liriano does accept it’s one year. Not a franchise wrecking deal. Then find another pitcher. If Liriano doesn’t accept, find 2.
      Let Polanco and TS battle it out in ST. Best man wins. OR trade Snider ( too expensive to be on the bench0 and start Greg.
      Yeah, they did get to the playoffs the past 2 years. But it’s going to be very compeitive in this division next year. Not going to be any truely bad teams either They have to get better in order to be comptitive. If they don’t their gonna slide back.

      • I keep thinking the rangers would be a great fit for pedro, they have a glut of corner infielders being blocked by beltre and fielder the pirates should be able to get one of them and a low b or high c for pedro. The rangers have a need for a dh it’s a bonus that pedro can fill in at first and third as needed. It’s a perfect match, therefore it probably won’t happen.

    • nipples on a breastplate…

      ah, that’s a good one.

      -BB

  • I’m personally all for this idea.. even keeping internal to replace martin… I think it was mentioned that would put us at $65m? Leaving us $20m to add to rotation. . Could possibly get McCarthy or a couple of reclamations..

  • Keep them all? First of all, it isn’t going to happen, the Pirates will make many moves for various reasons. Follow the money, the Pirates don’t have money burning holes in their pockets and deadwood is something they will move, they can’t improve by standing pat.
    I would have to think the Giants are waiting like vultures, knowing the Pirates will cut loose or trade what they consider scrap and the Giants will consider them intricate pieces, someone like Tony Sanchez or Gabby Sanchez, the Giants are one of those teams that know how to get best out of a player. The Pirates do it well with pitchers, but not very well with other players.

    • I defy any team on earth to make something out of the turd that is Gaby Sanchez. One B only, Vasilly.

      • Yeah, itd be shocking if any team was able to get him to hit .291 against LHP since that is uncharacteristic of him in his career….Is it really that impossible for some fans to realize a player can have flaws (struggling against RHP) and still be a quality option? Gaby Sanchez is a career .291 hitting against LHP with decent defense. He aint a stud, but he isnt the “turd” some geniuses want to make him out to be. Its the price that makes Gaby valuable or not, not his play.

        • Ooh, he can almost hit .300 against lefties! Because there isn’t anyone else who can do that. How many guys out there who can hit over .220 against righties? Anyone? Bueller?

  • Lee Foo Young
    October 23, 2014 6:33 am

    Tim…the answer to all of your questions is why NH gets those big bucks (and all that criticism!).

    It’s going to be an interesting off season.

    However, my prediction is an IF of Pedro, Walker, Mercer and JHay. I think Frankie and Russ are gone and we will sign EV for 2/$17-19 mil.

    I also think that, since chicks dig the long ball and not walks, Pedro stays and Ike gets traded for a Sadler-like pitcher.

    I also think we may make a run at Chad Hutchinson.

    I also think Greg P may start the season in AAA and Snider will get the starts in RF.

    Also wondering what they’re going to do with Lamboghini.

    • Drew Hutchinson?
      Unfortunately I think you’re right on the infield.
      I’ll be surprised in Polanco doesn’t start in Indy next year.

    • Lee Foo Rug Bug
      October 23, 2014 12:46 pm

      I actually meant Justin Masterson. If Searage could work his magic with Chad H (former QB)’ he’d truly be a miracle worker. Lol

    • I think you are right about the likely infield including maybe Walker and JHay switching positions – Walker’s range at 2d seems to be limited, but his dives would play at 3d assuming his back holds up. I also think you are right about Greg P – maybe, the only way it doesn’t happen that way is if he has a big spring and T S has a mediocre/slow spring.

  • Lee Foo Young
    October 23, 2014 6:29 am

    Tim….we can try Pedro at 3rd, but how soon after his first ‘yip’ do we pull him? How many ‘yips’ does he get?

  • With money saved from RM and possibly Frankie leaving, I say tender and sign everyone possible and trade em if need be later. Hopefully not when their value is at it’s worst like Pedro.
    I’m ok with a obp>power 1st baseman like Ike. I say keep Ike and trade Pedro cause he’ll bring back the most cause u know how GMs+fans love raw power. POWER!!!
    All we need is one sucker. Sadly AZ & philly already have 1st basemen…maybe NH trick em into thinking Pedro’s still a real 3rd baseman.

    • Lee Foo Young
      October 23, 2014 6:28 am

      Philly has Ryan Howard. That is not like having a real 1bman anymore. 🙂

    • Even with ike at 1b the buccos faired well in the Power category. . I’ve supported ike cause I like walks, nmr made a comment about walks having less value in the bottom of the order that made sense.. he’s not going to be batting in the two hole.. what does the idea 6 hole hitter look like

  • Scott Kliesen
    October 23, 2014 5:33 am

    1B position will be determined by whether or not Martin is re-signed as the article points out, but it also is dependent on what they are offered for Alvarez. I’m in favor of keeping Alvarez, but it will not surprise me in the least if he’s traded this off-season. If they can secure a SP or a couple promising prospects for him, I would think the Pirates would be tempted.

    • SK: All of that could be correct, but Martin is opting for FA and they would be nuts to get into a bidding war for his services. We have 3 first basemen that do not add up to one good one at this point. We have a 5 tool 2B in AAA, and our current second baseman bats from both sides of the plate, hits for both average and power, and has also played Catcher, 3B, and 2B, Can he play 1B? If he can’t, we have a scoop!

      Aside to FR – Don’t know much about Roberto Hernandez, but Brandon McCarthy will probably command a 3 or 4 year contract in the vicinity of $45 to $50 mil, and I hope that the Pirates are looking at making a run at him as soon as the series is completed. He struggled in Arizona, but did very well for the Yankees down the stretch in a dozen or so starts.

      • Alen Hanson is a 5 tool player?

        • Lee Foo Young
          October 23, 2014 6:29 am

          Ron…that comment surprised me, too.

        • Ron. Alen Hanson is a (1) tool player. Plus speed (7-8) and (4-5) power. Punch and judy hitter hitting ability (4)- his legs get him quite a few inf hits- Altoona( saw a bunch)! Fielding ability- you tell me! Arm strength- (4). Five Tool- not hardly!

      • Hernandez is 34 years old and has been a journeyman pitcher for the last 3 years. Started with Cleveland then stints with Tampa Bay, LA Dodgers, and Philadelphia. His 2014 salary was $4.5 million.

        • Lee Foo Young
          October 23, 2014 6:34 am

          I want no part of the former Fausto C.

          • Just saying, Hernandez is the type of reclamation project the Pirates tend to go after.

            • Lee Foo Young
              October 23, 2014 7:10 am

              They rarely go after 34 yr olds. They want them younger.

              • A. J. Burnett is now 37 years old (Born Jan 1977). When the Pirates signed him (in 2011) he was 34.
                Jason Grilli is now 37 years old (Born Nov 1976). When the Pirates signed him (in 2010) he was 34.

                Seems that the Pirates like 34 year olds quite well 🙂

      • Brandon McCarthy will have a lot of competition looking for $12.5 to $15 million a year. Shields, Lester, and Scherzer are also free agents this year. Scherzer probably stays with Detroit, but Shields and Lester are likely to be pitching somewhere else. If the Yankees go after Shields, where does McCarthy land?

        • I don’t think there’s any chance of Scherzer going back to Detroit. He already declined a $130mil+ extension. They’ll turn their attention to extending David Price instead.

        • Cubs havent been shy about their wanting to make a splash soon. Somewhat unlikely, but not shocking to think they throw money at both an ace and a McCarthy type. 3-4 years for McCarthy and a big deal to Lester gives the Cubs a solid rotation and young but scary offense.

  • Great article. Only one problem – the Pirates may need to trade for starting pitching. Again, that depends on Martin. If Martin resigns, then the Pirates will look once again at the bottom of the scrap heap for starting pitching (someone like Roberto Hernandez or Brandon McCarthy). If Martin doesn’t resign, then the Pirates will prioritize resigning Liriano and / or Volquez. If the Pirates are unable to resign any of the three, then they will need to trade for young quality starting pitching (Wade Miley and Martin Perez come to mind).

    • Sadly, I don’t see us ever getting a top ace while NH is gm. Not saying that’s the worst thing ever.
      As long as our current FO & coaches r here, we’ll always be Reclamation Capital of he World! Welcome all ye who were hurt, broken or just plain unlucky!
      Just depends if it’ll be a AJ/Liriano type bigger guy, or a smaller+cheaper Volquez type guy.

    • I don’t see how you can consider Brandon McCarthy ” bottom of the scrap heap “. That might be a surprise to the Yankees, who are showing signs that they might want to keep him.

      • The guy is 31 years old and has been the definition of a journeyman pitcher over his entire career.

        2005-2006 Chicago White Sox – 7-9 Record, 4.4 ERA
        2007-2009 Texas Rangers – 13-15 Record, 4.5 ERA
        2010 – Did not play
        2011-2012 Oakland A’s – 17-15 Record, 3.3 ERA (Why did the A’s let him go?)
        2013-2014 Arizona – 8-21 Record, 4.6 ERA
        2014 New York Yankees – 7-5 Record, 2.89 ERA

        Yes he has had periods of success – so had Volquez and Liriano. Maybe “bottom of the scrap heap” is too strong a description? I should have referred to him as a possible reclamation project.

      • You might call him a ” scrap heap ” pitcher, but I guarantee you he will definitely not come at a ” scrap heap ” salary. And that is how you judge a F.A. player, by his cost. Liriano, and then Volquez, came at prices worth a reclamation try. Journeyman ? Yes. ” Bottom of the scrap heap heap ” ? Not this year, if ever.

    • Lester.

      • Cubs will absolutely outbid the Pirates for him. Lester has both Boston and CHC on the phone, thus making us hang up.

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