The Pittsburgh Pirates announced today that Jordy Mercer has a lower leg contusion and a sprain of the medial collateral ligament of his left knee. The injury occurred yesterday during a collision near second base with Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez. Mercer has been placed on the 15-day disabled and Brett Morel will take his place on the active roster. Corey Hart had to be moved to the 60-day DL to create room for Morel on the 40-man roster.
The timetable for a return from this type of injury is approximately six weeks, so Mercer will be out until early September. For Hart, that means he won’t be able to return until August 24th. He was just recently shutdown on his rehab assignment at Indianapolis and went back to Pittsburgh for evaluation.
The Pirates entered the year with what seemed like a ton of depth. They made a lot of off-season moves to build up this depth, including boosting the infield by trading for Sean Rodriguez and signing Jung-ho Kang. This was all in response to a two week stretch last year when they had Brent Morel, Michael Martinez, and Jayson Nix on their roster at the same time, with at least one of those guys getting a start on most nights.
It seemed like they had enough depth to avoid that issue again this year, but it appears that’s not the case, as Brent Morel was called up today. Injuries will happen over the course of a season, and plenty of teams will have guys like Morel on the roster. But how did the Pirates go from a situation where it seemed like this wouldn’t happen, to this actually happening again?
Back in February, I created a series of flow charts to display the depth that the team potentially had. There were a lot of question marks and a lot of possibilities for each position. Here was the third base chart once again:
Just running down the list:
1. Josh Harrison is currently injured, which started the look for a backup.
2. Jung-ho Kang looks like a starting option, although with the injury to Jordy Mercer, he is now needed at shortstop (that’s a totally different flow chart, and skipping ahead, it seems the Pirates prefer Brent Morel for third base over Pedro Florimon for shortstop).
3. Deibinson Romero looked like a sleeper minor league free agent, hitting for a .302/.403/.548 line in 126 at-bats with Indianapolis. However, he was sold to a Korean team, which only happens when the player wants to go play in Korea. The fact that he wanted to go to Korea would indicate that he didn’t have any MLB teams looking to add him to their active rosters. As the Pirates have shown with Clayton Richard, they will give a player that opportunity if he is blocked in their system. This is a pretty standard practice across the league.
4. Pedro Alvarez does not look like a guy who should be moving back to third base.
5. The Pirates seem to trust Sean Rodriguez a lot, although he’s only hitting for a .558 OPS on the year. His biggest role this year has been a late inning defensive replacement at first base. He definitely doesn’t look like he’s got the bat to be a starter at third.
6. Since Romero is gone, and Justin Sellers has been starting and stopping his rehab all year, that just leaves Morel.
You can’t control injuries, so the loss of Harrison and Mercer at the same time is unavoidable. The big complaint here is that they could have kept Romero around, although about two months ago it would have been hard to predict that Harrison and Mercer would have gone down at the same time. Not to mention, Sean Rodriguez had an OPS in the .700 range around the time that Romero was sold (although that was a small sample size and Rodriguez has seen his numbers drop with increased playing time).
I’ll also note that Morel has a .966 OPS over his last 129 at-bats, which is an arbitrary end point, but one that I picked because Romero’s success came in 126 at-bats. I’m also comparing the two because Morel is actually seven months younger than Romero. The big advantage Romero has is that he hasn’t had a chance to fail in the majors, while Morel has had several of those chances, only amounting to a career .600 OPS. That means we should take Morel’s Triple-A numbers with a grain of salt until he can do it in the majors. It also means we shouldn’t just assume that Romero was going to be a breakout guy.
Essentially the Pirates chose Morel as their depth when they let Romero walk. And considering that third base is one of the weakest positions in the farm system, I’d say there was a little bit more of a risk that they’d run into this problem here than anywhere else.
Everything had to go wrong at the same time to get to this point. Harrison and Mercer had to get injured at the same time. Rodriguez and Alvarez had to both be struggling. Romero had to be sold away. Sellers had to stay injured. That’s how the Pirates ended up with Brent Morel once again. You hope that he has finally figured it out this time, but a lot of skepticism should be warranted. So the bigger hope is that Mercer or Harrison return sooner, rather than later, and that injuries at other positions can be avoided.