Last night I talked about how the biggest need for the Pirates right now was adding an infielder to replace Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison. They wasted no time in actually filling this need, acquiring Aramis Ramirez from the Milwaukee Brewers today in exchange for Yhonathan Barrios.
For my thoughts on the deal, you should check out the article from the trade, which also includes quotes from Neal Huntington. In short, the Pirates didn’t have to give up anything, and added a good short-term replacement for their injured players. Ramirez may or may not be a huge steal, depending on whether he can maintain his hot hitting in July for the rest of the season.
But let’s fast forward a bit, and skip past the part where Ramirez helps the Pirates fill their immediate need for an infielder while Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer are on the shelf.
In fact, before we fast forward to that point, let’s rewind a bit to Spring Training. The Pirates had a lot of talk about the “Golden State Warriors” plan, where they would shift players around and give players breaks in order to keep them fresh.
For most of the season, the Pirates haven’t been able to do this. A big part of this has been due to a lack of a third base option that would free Josh Harrison up to play that super utility role that would give everyone else a break. The only option on the roster was Jung-ho Kang, and he was unproven at the start of the year.
By the time Kang started looking like a starting option, the Pirates needed him at shortstop to replace the struggling Jordy Mercer at shortstop. But then Mercer reclaimed the role, starting all but one game from June 2nd to July 19th, while posting a .725 OPS during that stretch, along with his strong defense at the position. During this same time, Harrison started 12 games at other positions over the span of about a month, after starting just nine games at other positions the first two months of the season. Meanwhile, Kang got 17 starts at third base until Harrison went down.
The Pirates had the Golden State plan for about a month until the Harrison injury, which forced them to go to Mercer at short and Kang at third. The injury to Mercer put Kang in a flex role, playing shortstop when Brent Morel started at third, and playing third when Pedro Florimon started at short. But the addition of Aramis Ramirez puts Kang at shortstop until Harrison or Mercer return. And when those two return, the Pirates might finally get their Golden State situation back, and better than ever.
Having Ramirez on the roster allows Harrison to be freed up to play other positions. He can spell Neil Walker for a game at second. He can provide insurance in right field if Gregory Polanco isn’t working out. He can fill in for Starling Marte on occasion, or play left and allow Marte to play center when Andrew McCutchen needs a break (actually, he might play right in that scenario, with Polanco moving to left). And of course he’d play some third base as well. The Pirates could get Harrison about five starts a week in this type of role, while giving Walker, Polanco, Ramirez, and Marte/McCutchen at least one day off each week.
Then there’s the shortstop position with Mercer and Kang. Between the two, Mercer has the better defense, while Kang has the better offense. That offense slumped during the month of June, but Kang looks to be back on track, hitting for a 1.161 OPS over the last few weeks, not counting tonight. The Pirates could give Mercer a few starts, specifically when Charlie Morton is on the mound. But this is a team that could use some extra offense, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start Kang, and then replace him late with Mercer in order to protect a lead. This is a strategy the Pirates have already been using frequently at first base with Pedro Alvarez and Sean Rodriguez.
When Harrison and Mercer return, the Pirates will be set up with a lot of options. They won’t be able to start all of those options every single game. But with the addition of Ramirez, they can free up Harrison to play other positions in that super utility role that he thrived in last year. They can have Kang get an occasional start at third base, but mostly dividing up the shortstop role with Mercer, turning to Mercer when the team needs stronger defense. They can give the rest of their guys a day off here and there, keeping the entire team fresh and productive.
The addition of Ramirez really helps the Pirates in the next few weeks with Harrison and Mercer out. But when they get back, this addition will lead to a much stronger overall team, where we might finally see that Golden State strategy take place.
**One note here: I had a lot of people asking tonight if Ramirez could move to first base when Harrison and/or Mercer returned. Considering that Ramirez hasn’t played first base in his career, that wouldn’t be a smart move, especially in the middle of a playoff race. The Pirates would be better off trying to add a first baseman from the outside.
**Pirates Acquire Aramis Ramirez For Yhonathan Barrios. Full rundown of the trade, with my thoughts, along with a lot of quotes from Neal Huntington.
**Pirates Working on Another Trade, Possibly For a Reliever. I’d be shocked if they spend big, just because that’s not their style. But they seem aggressive this year, adding Ramirez and quickly moving toward a reliever a week before the deadline.
**Pirates Reportedly “Want to Get Rid Of” Pedro Alvarez. This is no surprise, although in the article I detail why I don’t think there would be many takers.
Live Pirates Coverage
**Pirates Offense Gets Back on Track in Convincing Win Over the Nationals. Pete Ellis with the game report, along with a few other notes and reactions to the addition of Ramirez.
**Prospect Watch: Angel Sanchez Continues Strong Season, Allie Homers Again. Angel Sanchez could be emerging as a strong depth option in the second half if the Pirates need a few starters, especially if he continues putting up numbers like he has been putting up lately.
**The Pitch That is Most Important to Tyler Glasnow’s Development. Sean McCool takes a closer look at Tyler Glasnow’s most recent start, along with what he needs to work on going forward in Altoona.
**David Todd Podcast: Breaking Down the Pirates Depth and Top 50 Prospects. My weekly radio segment with David Todd. Also, I was going to post this tomorrow, but here is my radio segment on TribLive today, discussing how the Pirates need to trade for an infielder. There are still some other relevant things in the podcast, even after the Ramirez trade.