First Pitch: Will Aramis Ramirez Unlock the Golden State Strategy?

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.

Trade Rumors

**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.

**Jordy Mercer Discusses Injury

Prospect Coverage

**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.

**Morning Report: Two High-Profile Signings Experiencing Injury-Filled Seasons

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 24, 2015 1:39 pm

    What would it take to get Jake McGee from the Rays?

  • ARam is not going to 1b. Brewers wanted him to and he wouldn’t do it.

    I did find this nugget when Googling for “shortest first baseman”:
    “Since 1900 the shortest was Lew Drill, Fred Haney, and Heinie Mueller who stood 5 feet 6 inches.

    If you add a 100 game minimum then you have quite a few at 5’9”. Matty
    Alou (168 games), Ripper Collins (894), Jimmie Dykes (148), Buck Freeman
    (256), Joe Harris (522), Germany Schaefer (145), and Matt Stairs (242).

    Steve Garvey was probably the most famous “short” first baseman standing at 5’10”.

    Josh is listed at 5’8″. Given he’s an overachiever, maybe that’s worth two inches. Or he can have two pairs of cleats, one regular, one with lifts for defense 🙂

    fwiw, as long as Kang continues to hit and plays passable SS, I don’t really care much what Jordy does. Maybe he can play 2b vs. LHP.

    • Jordy’s 6’4″ and has a career 144 wRC+ against LHP. If there’s one guy on the field that should be able to throw on a 1B mitt and fake it for a hundred AB or so it’s the shortstop.

    • Gregg Jefferies was a very short first baseman

  • Marte should be open for a uncontested 3 if all goes well.

  • Keep bringing more help in NH. As Tim has noted, we have a deep farm system.

  • Positives that ARAM brings:

    *we will not have to face him for the 7 more games with the Brewers. Now if we can find a way to get Fiers traded to the AL, it would even be better

    *he becomes the 7th player on the active roster from the DR and 9th if we count 2 players on the active roster from Venezuela. A very comfortable setting.

    *his 18 doubles, 11 HR’s, and 42 RBI’s will fit very well into the lineup

    *if there was anyone in baseball who can relate to the frustrations of Pedro Alvarez it is this guy. He was Pedro at one time. Since leaving the Pirates and maturing, he developed into a solid fielder with the Cubs and Brewers, and a clutch hitter with excellent power.

    *he is retiring at the end of 2015 and it is fitting that he is getting a chance to go out with a team fighting for the post season..

    • Pedro was NEVER the hitter ARam was.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        July 24, 2015 1:22 pm

        agreed, Ramirez has been a pretty solid and consistent hitter and run producer for 10-12 years……10 seasons with 25 or more HRs, 7 seasons with 100 or more RBIs, 7 seasons hitting .300 or better….no comparison.

        Plus, he was never a gold glover candidate, but he also wasn’t a defensive liability that Pedro has always been.

        • BFS/foo: ARAM was a better hitter, but I think he had 23 errors at 3B at the time he was traded around mid-season – that is a defensive liability!

          What I meant was he was the guy that the Pirates fans wanted more from for his contract which I think was $3 mil at the time – lot of similarities to Pedro in that vein – more expected. He lucked out going to the Cubs who had many veterans and he settled in as the #7 batter, and was allowed time to mature at 3B and at the plate.

        • Here are the fielding stats for both players in their most productive year as a Pirate (2013 for Pedro and 2001 for Aramis)
          PA/AR – Chances 458/452 – Errors 27/25 Fielding% 941/945 – Innings 1328/1345
          I hated to see Aramis traded and patience is often the best practice.

          • exactly….how old was ARAM that year? Expecting a plus fielder at the hot corner at 22/23 years old is ridiculous

      • I think you’re forgetting much of Ramirez’s time in Pittsburgh, Foo.

        Granted he was inexplicably called up at just 20 years old, but he was a negative value player for parts of three seasons before posting his only above average season with the club in 2001. We all knew the talent was there, but there’s no question he didn’t actually tap into it until moving to the Cubs.

        Ramirez was a 90 wRC+ hitter over 2253 PA with the Pirates.

        Alvarez has been a 104 wRC+ hitter thus far in 2601 PA.

        enjay is a lot closer than people are giving him credit for.

  • I think this should allow Marte to move back into the top two spots where he belongs for now. Otherwise, It’s going to create a log jam of righties with Cutch,Marte,Kang,and Ramirez. Switch Marte and Walker.

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