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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Huntington Discusses the Lack of Outfield Experience With the Outfield Replacements

PITTSBURGH – Starling Marte’s suspension has lasted five games so far. In that time, the Pirates have started John Jaso and Jose Osuna two times each in right field, with one start going to Adam Frazier. The common trend here is that none of these guys are really outfielders.

Sure, Osuna started off as an outfielder. Then he moved to first base due to defensive issues, and only moved back to the outfield when he was blocked at first base by Josh Bell, preventing him from continuing to move up in the minors. Frazier moved to the outfield part time in 2015 in Altoona, due to all of the other options the Pirates had in the infield at the time. And Jaso has worked in the outfield before, playing nine games at the position in the majors prior to this season. But the Pirates don’t have a true outfielder for their right field spot.

This was the plan going into the season. The Pirates had so many super utility types that they decided they would be better off going for versatility, rather than focusing on a guy who could play the true outfield spot. That came back to bite them when Marte went down for 80 games with a suspension for PEDs, leaving the Pirates in this situation for about half a season. And it looks like they’ll continue to progress with this approach.

“If we felt that we were best served by someone that had outfielder next to their name on a roster, we would certainly do that,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday. “John Jaso showed athleticism in Spring Training. He actually ran a couple of balls down in St. Louis. Frazier has obviously been out there a bunch in terms of Triple-A experience. Alen Hanson’s been out there a bunch in terms of Triple-A experience. We’re exploring external options and if we find something that we believes makes us better, we’d certainly look to move in that direction. As we’ve done in the past, sometimes we have to do things somewhat unconventionally. We feel comfortable with our guys out there.”

Huntington said that they like the group they have, and that the Pirates are looking for external options. However, he said that trades are hard to come by at this time of the year.

“For those that are curious, go back and look at how many significant trades are made in April,” Huntington said. “Typically, it’s at the end of May and typically it’s an overpay. There are more teams that are open in their intent at this point in time than there was 10 years ago or 15 years ago, but we like this group and if we thought there was a way to upgrade upon this group that was realistic and practical, we absolutely would do it. We haven’t found that.”

Part of the plan during the offseason was that the Pirates had Austin Meadows in Triple-A, likely arriving at some point this season. Unfortunately, Meadows was not going to be ready this early, and is not ready. I didn’t need Huntington to say that to know it’s true. But he said it anyways.

“We love Austin Meadows,” Huntington said. “Austin Meadows is not the answer right now. Our hope is to have him ready to be an answer for us at some point this season.”

So the Pirates will move forward with a rotation of players who aren’t really outfielders, hoping that the group works out well enough that they won’t need an external option, or hoping that Meadows is ready at some point to take over.

Starling Marte’s Downtime

Huntington said that players on suspension either spend time in the MLB city, or they go to the Spring Training site. In Starling Marte’s case, the Pirates are aiming for the latter.

“We’re working toward Starling getting to our Spring Training site,” Huntington said. “He can play in extended games once we feel that’s appropriate. We’ll be able to keep him as sharp as we possibly can until we get him out on the 15-day rehab about July 4.”

Marte should be able to return to the majors on July 18th. Extended Spring Training goes until early June. So the biggest challenge for the Pirates would be keeping Marte sharp in the time between the end of the Extended Spring Training schedule, and the start of his rehab. That’s right after the draft, and there are usually intrasquad games during that time to get drafted players up to speed, so that could be an option to keep him sharp.

McCutchen’s Spot

In his first game back in center field, Andrew McCutchen ranged far to make two catches, and after the second one, was shown shouting that “This is [his] spot.”

I could write an entire column on the situation, discussing how Marte is the best center fielder the Pirates have, and how McCutchen has been declining defensively over the last few years, and how the Pirates were absolutely correct in making the switch, even if the response was that they somehow wronged McCutchen. That article would also include the fact that you want to see this type of attitude from McCutchen, since you always want to see a player thinking he can play a spot. At the same time, McCutchen is wrong if he thinks that he should be there over Marte.

Huntington discussed McCutchen’s reaction on the field, and what went into the decision to make the switch, noting that the Pirates simply thought Marte was better.

“We moved [McCutchen] because we felt like we had a guy that was going to make our outfield better, not because we didn’t think Andrew could play center field,” Huntington said. “The narrative to the contrary to that is wrong. We believed Marte was our best center fielder and we believed Andrew was our best right fielder given that construct. We believe Andrew can play a good center field and we’re supportive. He plays with energy. He’s playing with passion and that’s a great thing.”

The interesting thing will be seeing how all of this plays out when Marte returns, and whether the Pirates move McCutchen back to right field.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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joe s

Kutch stunk up the stadium over the weekend. Not catching an easy fly ball that fell behind him and then letting two bloops dink in front of him on Sunday. Lets not even mention Jay Hay can’t field his position, neither can Frazier, Jaso or Freese. NH thinks he needs an outfielder to cure his teams ills, then he has drank the cool aide.

Thomas H

This is true too. They need an outfielder for sure, but they are really not deep at any position, despite being a team made up of light hitting infielders.

wilbert m

Rockies have a spare OF. Discussion on MLB radio this morning.

Bill Harvey

Many teams have OFers to target, very very few would even consider a swap in April.

Biagio

NH did make a good decision with Nova. (The proverbial bone is tossed to the angry crowd). Now let’s get back to bashing NH.

Roberrto21

Huntington us kidding himself if h e thinks he doesn’t need an outfielder playing right field! Maybe he should spend 5-seconds thinking about the Pirates’ history and remember a certain outfielder who is known as the Great One for a reason and then he can remember why they need an outfielder out there. Move Polanco back to right where his arm plays and he’s obviously more comfortable. Take the few million this team will lose in paid attendance if this comedy of errors continues and go out and sign Angel Pagan if he’s playable. Talk to the Mets who are overloaded with outfielders about Juan Lagares (maybe they’ll even take Bastardo back!). If I know these things in Australia, why can’t NH even consider them. By the way, thanks Jung Go an d thanks Starling – that’s why I d value a character player l I keep Cutch any day. And would be looking for a way to keep him. What about trading Nutting for an owner with adequate resources to run the team properly!

Biagio

It’s crazy that this organization does not have a bona fide outfielder in AAA ready to play. Hurdle is placing players in positions that is not providing defense.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

Hey NH….remember that stupid Broxton and Supak for Jason Rogers trade?

Bill Harvey

We could look at a lot of examples over the last couple years. Willy Garcia, Broxton, Walker, Ramirez. It is a painful thing to look back and see.

Wilbur Miller

Broxton is hitting .146 and striking out in half his ABs.

Thomas H

I repeat Jaso is battling.077 and is a defensive liability, yet he is the first guy off the bench most of the time. You sure the Pirates wouldn’t have room for Broxton?

John W

Seriously… what a load of horseshit this is:

“As we’ve done in the past, sometimes we have to do things somewhat unconventionally. We feel comfortable with our guys out there.”

Roberrto21

Total unadulterated bullshit.

Scott K

Not adequately replacing Joyce was a failure by NH. Nothing he can say will make me change my opinion. He took a similar approach to the OF position that he took to the rotation last year. Hope for the best until the highly ranked prospect comes up after Super 2 deadline passes. It bit him on the butt last season, and now the other cheek has bite marks, too.

God help us if Polanco or Cutch gets dinged in the next two months.

Thomas H

Pish posh. The roster has a good mix of young, on the rise, talent, supplemented with proven veterans. Just because it lacks the outfield depth of most other clubs, doesn’t mean it’s incapable of playing defense well enough to be a playoff team. Just because they lack the power potential of most other teams, doesn’t mean they can’t score enough runs to be a “contender.” Neil Huntington is a super-smart freaking boy genius and he never makes mistakes

Joe Nastasi

Joyce was awesome last year, but hitting 170 something this year. Sometimes moves work, sometimes they don’t. I hated the Gosselin trade, not because we gave up to much, but because we got to little of the same thing we had an abundance of already. I’m not sure if it’s Hurdles lovefest for flexibility or NH. I just know Hurdle loves to try to make himself look smarter than everyone else by bouncing everyone around. I’m not sure if Hurdle is running the team or the 20 stat geeks they’ve hired. Pirates get on base more, they just don’t score more.

lfhlaw

Well, the Mariners just DFA’d Lenny’s Martin though he’s more a glove 1st and not a great of batter.

Michael D

If he was concerned he would move Bell

mitch t

Assuming you mean to the outfield rather than trade. Cant because our first base depth is our outfield depth. Jaso 1B/Bell RF might be tried.

thecrow124

Just imagine the shit creek we would be up searching in futility for a paddle, if Huntington had traded McCutchen during the offseason.

Bill Harvey

I don’t think the plan was for Marte to use PED’s either, but here we are. But to be honest, if they had traded McCutchen, they would not have signed a better player. That would have left them trying to trade for a better player, and as we saw with Adam Eaton, even a relative equal player would have been cost prohibitive.

Roberrto21

Plan? They look clueless.

mitch t

What he said ^

leefoo

Fans here and on other blogs have been begging for a 4th OF’er back in ST. Guys such as Gutierrez, et al, were out there. Even Gorkys would’ve been better on the roster than Gosselin!!!

NH fanned bigtime here.

dr dng

Where is Gorkys?

Is he somewhere where we can trade Hanson for him?

Ok folks, don’t beat me up for that above line.
If the managers is not going to use him, we might
as well get something for him.

Travis P

The same Gorkys who is batting below .100 for the Giants? I could only imagine how long he would be the happy pick up before he was crucified on this site. Lol… I give it 20 ABs with no hits.

Thomas H

Jaso is battling .077 and is a defensive liability, yet he is basically the first guy off the bench now that Marte and Kang are out. You positive Gorky’s not an upgrade?

Their roster – top to bottom – just isn’t deep enough for them to be a contender in a 162 game season and in my opinion at least it never was.

Now I will say this: They are playing much better than I expected at this point largely due to the excellent pitching they are getting. I’d be very surprised if the pitching held up all year, but if it does they could do something.

dr dng

Is that much worse than our current 1st basemen playing
right field who are also not very good fielders either?

Also consider this. Is McCutchen playing the next
70-89 games without a break What happens
if he needs a day of rest when his bat hits a cool spell?

John W

I said this month ago(in response to Tim’s article describing someone such as Pagan as a “luxury”) just to be clear I’m not doing some Monday Morning quarterbacking. Just an absolute joke NH decided to rely on a basket of “superutility” players inept at multiple positions(and trust me there were many, many people saying the exact same thing as I was so I’m not looking for any credit on this- it was basic common sense)

I find referencing signing someone such as Pagan as a “luxury” pretty comical. Let’s say Marte gets dinged on hand in WBC or late in camp and has to miss meaningful time in center. Your options are to move Cutch back to center(where he was horrible last year) and then plug someone like Frazier in right field? Osuna? Hanson(are you fricking kidding me)? Josh Harrison is a very poor outfielder and shouldn’t be seeing anytime there more than a few innings)). And with Kang not likely to start season with the Pirates you have Freese starting at 3b(should be on bench) and the depth taking yet another tumble in the infield. An infield with Freese, Mercer, Jhay and Bell has to project as one of the weakest in MLB. And I bring that up because the best next in line as far as depth would be Frazier and he would probably be the first choice to fill in the outfield.

bucswsbound

Really solid work from John W and Kris Mosley in this sub-thread. Spot on with the MLB analysis. Between Tim doubling down on his defense of the lack of 4th OF (Osuna looked lost out there tonight against the Cubs) and WTM defending Bastardo in the pen last week, I’m thinking the readers are doing a better job of scrutinizing the goings on at the MLB level.

bucswsbound

It’s not about doom and gloom. its about correctly recognizing situations at the MLB level. The analysis of what’s happening in Pittsburgh from you and WTM has been so-so.

bucswsbound

I disagree.

joe s

looks to me that he will sot out the remainder of his career unless his ego stops stopping him from playing. He is not the answer anyway.

John W

Tim when you look for a place to live do you also view indoor plumbing as a “luxury”? Just curious.

And let’s be clear- you said he was a luxury before there was any indication he was sitting out. The “options” they have to fill in the outfield are a collection of lost toys NH has assembled and termed “superutility” players. You know, the type that are inept at a multitude of different tasks.

piraddict

Glad to hear you are thinking about 3BR homes vs. apartments.

Bill Harvey

Give it a couple years……or maybe just one visit, after that, the gf’s parents are out of luck, your brother get the third bedroom. Just for future reference, neither you, nor the better half want in-laws in the house.

John W

LOL. I’m not surprised by your rationalization Tim. Regardless, how this plays out… if RF contributed more than -1 WAR before Marte comes back you would still defend the process.

Getting back to the indoor plumbing example. Our “superutility” options don’t represent a pull out couch. Their versatility is more along the lines of a 5 gallon bucket. You can use it to carry stuff in, you can also use if to… I think you get the picture.

John W

Fair enough. I would add that in my opinion, if our current options in right field represented a living room, they would be a room about 30 square foot in aggregate that most GMs called a laundry room or closet but NH insisted could function as a living room/dining room/bedroom or home office.

Kris Mosley

Those people will tell you Osuna should be here over Gosselin or Jaso. And that the 4th OF should have no impact as to whether or not Osuna gets a chance to play.

Roberrto21

Compare that to Bryant, Russell, Baez and Rizzo!

freddylang

You nailed it. I had the conversation all winter and prior to the season with friends about them having no backup CF or SS. It’s a just hope for the best situation. Even years ago they had Mercer & Barmes. Now with the defensive issues they’ve had they say they don’t want to overspend. They sound just ignorant right now. I’m usually someone that sits back and lets the front office be the experts and me be a moderate superfan but this is stuff we knew. If Mercer tears up his knee tomorrow they have no defense up the middle other than catchers that throw below average.

John W

Thanks but numerous people were saying exact same thing including yourself The most predictable posts going forward will be “yeah I guess NH is supposed to know marte gets busted for steroids” in an attempt to absolve him of accountability. Just flat out stupid.

NMR

“yeah I guess NH is supposed to know marte gets busted for steroids”

2017’s version of “the stars were the problem in 2016”.

John W

Yep, precisely. I can already hear it.

Roberrto21

Zero backup plan, zero fourth outfielder, zero accountability from NH equals almost zero chance at competing for the WC with this team as constituted. A real shame because the starting pitchers look strong!

freddylang

..

leefoo

Freddy….John W speaks the truth.

We had no valid 4th OF’er for when (not if) Marte went down.

John W

I’m not calling you stupid Freddy. I’m calling nhs decision not to sign a better depth option stupid. I agree with you 100 percent

freddylang

Ha! Ok. I apologize and retract.

John W

No worries.

mtw247

Is it true that most super utility guys are good defensive at one of the positions? Or is that atypical?

thecrow124

One would surmise that if a team were going to carry multiple Super U players, the ideal situation would be one that is good defensively and one that can hit. Pirates fans get the best of both worlds, the Super U’s they employ can neither hit or field.

Doug W

Frazier can’t hit?

Bill Harvey

You said it wrong. I’ll try.

Frazier can’t hit.

Scott Kliesen

Only b/c he’s on the DL.

freddylang

Super utils can be many things. They are usually guys you can put anywhere and they play solidly and they aren’t that great of a hitter… or they are guys that are solid hitters and aren’t a total disaster in the field and can catch what is hit their way with below average range but a solid arm or something like that. S-Rod last year was a freak occurrence. He could do it all. But that is one season and it is rare. It all comes down to the point that if you had all the tools you needed you would probably be starter. A util will almost always have some skill lacking. There are plenty of 4th OF that are really solid players but they lack HR power, or they have power and can’t field worth a damn. There is always some fatal flaw.

freddylang

“If we felt that we were best served by someone that had outfielder next to their name on a roster, we would certainly do that,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday.

You may like your “internal options” but the fact is they need another OF that can play a solid CF and put up a .700 OPS and if they have to deal a current guy like Osuna or Frazier to get it then I think they should.

freddylang

I don’t even know about the .700 OPS. Maybe even less than that…they just need another cf. Unless Cutch has some amazing resurgence out there. But even then…after him, what do they have. Polanco in Center? I am not a fan of that at all.

beaverjp

Huntingtons point is that they have to trade someone the magnitude of Keller for an outfielder who’s average at best and he is unlikely to complete said horrible deal before the end of May.

freddylang

Agreed. This was a hole that wasn’t addressed before the season though…and now here we are. Good CF’s are almost like good SS’s, they aren’t always easy to find. But they made no effort to get a true 4th OF. So stopgaps and hope for the best it is until Meadows is ready. I like Osuna’s bat. But he is just another probably below average field corner. So you have Osuna, Jaso, Frazier, and maybe Bell as options. It’s not ideal.

piraddict

I think they should just platoon Frazier and Osuna in RF and live with it until Marte returns. It is probably more important to get the infield straightened out defensively to support the starting pitching, which may be this teams only strength. Play Hansen at 2B; Freese at 3B against RHP, 1B versus some LHP; Play Bell at 1B vs RHP and some LHP; Fire Jaso: Bring up Ngoepe, play Gift in lieu of Jordy until Jordy straightens out his bat. Play Harrison at 3B vs LHP and vs RHP return him to the super utility role he once excelled at. Fire Gosselin when /if Kang returns. Fire Bastardo, bring up Santana.

Roberrto21

That is right play Hanson!

freddylang

I like the Frazier/Osuna platoon for a week or two to see how it goes. I do think Josh Harrison is fine at 2B. Has only walked once but got hit by an amazing 6 pitches already and has a .362 obp. Despite what a lot of people say and his error today Harrison is a decent 2B. Hanson does need some more reps though. Mercer hasn’t hit much yet but he gives you solid AB and takes a lot of pitches. He is a player that is steady everyday like Neil Walker was. He always is always sound and consistent. I am impressed with Ngoepe’s bat since ST and I think he will be up soon. Maybe another month of continued ability make the hard contact he has been making while reducing strikeouts and they will finally have a decent backup SS for the first time since Barmes left.

piraddict

I agree with your evaluations of Josh and Jordy. But I am thinking that the upgrade in defense with Gift substituting for Jordy and Hansen moving Josh to a more suoer utility role is of greater value than the drop in offense that might occur as a result of the change. Especially considering that the best shot of winning is supporting the pitching staff with great defense, and right now the Bucs defense is about the worst in baseball.

freddylang

I don’t know for sure Gift would be a defensive upgrade over Mercer. I assume he would be but haven’t seen him enough or any metrics that would point towards that.

NMR

Gift Ngoepe is 5-35 with 13 K’s in his last nine games.

freddylang

I think that’s still a lower K rate than last year…but that’s not saying a lot.

piraddict

Yes, SSS, but realistically you can’t expect Gift to hit much long term. The expectation is that since his reputation is that he is our best defensive SS, that while Jordy is steady and makes all the routine plays, that Gift will make a play or two a game that Jordy wouldn’t that will save more runs than the drop of offensive production that will occur if Gift plays instead of Jordy.
And Jaso for the season is 2 – 26 (.077 average) and realistically has one defensive position 1B which now can be manned by three other guys, Bell, Freese and Osuna.

AttyMike

I don’t see Jordy as the real problem from a defensive standpoint.

beaverjp

The more I read about Pagan he was a difficult target because he insisted on starting and doesn’t seem real flexible about taking an opportunity with the Pirates because it didn’t happen before the start of the season. However it may have made sense to lock him up for a couple years on the flip side it probably would be taken badly by Cutch.

freddylang

Plus Pagan isn’t a cf anymore so I don’t know if he is worth it. Especially if Osuna hits. I don’t want them bringing in anyone unless they can play a good cf.

beaverjp

I never looked him as a cf but as a former cf definitely a bonus on a corner and had solid hitting numbers last year and has great platoon potential hitting righties well. He would have helped transition Meadows but Pagan doesn’t appear interested in doing that hence his unemployment.

freddylang

I agree. He could have helped but at this point you are paying him who knows what for probably less than two months until Meadows is ready…and when Meadows is ready Marte will be back in a month. These needs had to be addressed before late April. Al of us fans should be happy to be 8-10. It could be worse…but then again it could be a lot better too…so I’m not happy. It’s still early. Glasnow figuring it out, Cole pitching like he can, and maybe one of the AAA relievers coming up and making an impact could fix a lot of things if they quit having stretches where they go 1-30 with risp and score better than 16% of the time when they have bases loaded and less than two out…or 0 out like today.

Joe Nastasi

Or catch a routine grounder

beaverjp

The Mets had been trying like crazy to move grandy or Bruce. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t offload one of those salaries for someone like kingham or Holmes-i know that’s a bad deal for the bucs but I don’t understand why the Mets wouldn’t bite.

Travis P

They would more than bite if the Buccos offered such a horrible deal. Lol. I don’t think you’ll find much argument from anyone about that scenario you are talking about.

freddylang

Jay Bruce has actually reduced his strikeouts 3 straight years and it looks like it is continuing this season. He has played great so far. He would be a rental though. The Mets need him anyways. Especially the way Granderson has played so far…but I’d like to see what bruce could do in PNC with the short RF.

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