The Pirates placed 3B Neil Walker, OF Jose Tabata, RHP Jeff Sues, C Steve Lerud and RHP Ronald Uviedo to its 40-man roster yesterday. They added RHP Evan Meek a couple of weeks ago, or he would have been eligible for minor-league free agency. The 40-man roster is now full once again.
They slid the five into the slots vacated by the four Pirate free agents: Chris Gomez, Jason Michaels, Dirt Dog Doug Mientkiewicz, and Luis Rivas, plus one prior opening. It doesn't look hopeful that Dirt Dog or Michaels are gonna re-up, at least any time soon.
The suits had cleared more space in October, when they scratched RHPs Ron Belisario, John Van Benschoten, Yoslan Herrera, Marino Salas and Frankie Osoria off the list. RHPs Ty Taubenheim and Bryan Bullington, along with OF Chris Duffy, got their walking papers in September, elbowed out by the call-ups.
Walker, Tabata, and Sues were no-brainers. Lerud and Uviedo were longshots that the Pirates predicted may be on someones wish list.
As Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com wrote about Lerud: The Pirates have a deficiency of catchers in the organization, and the risk of losing Lerud was too high to leave him unprotected.
"He can catch and throw," Neal Huntington told her. "He's left-handed. He looks the part. We wanted to buy ourselves some time by ensuring that he stays in the organization."
It also suggests to GW that Ronny Paulino is as good as gone, and the 24-year old Lerud is the only option left in the system that could potentially make the move to AAA if Robinzon Diaz gets the call to PNC Park in 2009. Still, that leaves five catchers on the 40-man roster, and that's a crowd.
Uviedo is an interesting, upside prospect, but he's never pitched above A ball. He throws a 94 MPH heater and has a nasty curve - he struck out 88 in 87 innings of work at Hickory and Lynchburg last year.
A quick glance at whom the other teams protected shows that at least a dozen other A players have been put on the 40-man in the past couple of days. The Pirates must have a sense that the 22-year old Venezuelan wasn't flying under the scouts' radar, and that A players were going to be fair game this year.
It's also somewhat telling who they rolled the dice on and left off the protected list: OF Jamie Romak, RHP Juan Mateo, LHP Kyle Bloom and RHP Eric Krebs. All four have a shot at being snatched by someone on December 11th, Rule 5 draft day.
Romak is one of the few power sticks in the organization, but he's a low average, high strikeout batter that the Pirates are trying out at first, although he can play the corner OF if need be. He could be someones bat off the bench.
Mateo was a highly considered Cub prospect until arm woes slowed down his career. But he looked sharp out of the pen at Altoona and been in the show with Chicago, though he is a one-trick pony, throwing mid-90s heat and little else, though that alone is pretty nice stuff. But it's what earmarks him as a bullpen fixture instead of a starter and limits his future value.
The Pirates signed him as a minor league free agent, and used him as a middle reliever in AA. He's a free agent again, and being neither starter nor closer, the Bucs decided to risk exposing him. There's always a chance that they could sign him again further down the road if he clears the draft before inking a deal.
Krebs also throws in the mid-90s, and has struck out more batters than innings worked in the past three years. He was beaned with a liner during the season, and was pulled from winter league work with elbow problems. The suits are hoping that his injuries raise a red flag for the rest of the teams.
Bloom put together a super stint in Hawaii. He's a fastball-slider-curve pitcher, and has had control issues to go along with a respectable strikeout rate. Bloom's 25-years old and pitched in AA, and a LHP to boot. It's a safe bet that someone's looking over his computer file.
But here's the rub - the Pirates aren't protecting guys based on upside or potential. They're rating them by who is MLB ready. Even if they lose a player or two, if they can't last the season out with their new team, they have to be offered back to the Bucs. So that's the only question that counts - is this player capable of spending a season on someones major league roster?
"It's one thing to be selected," Huntington told Langosch, "but it's another to be carried on through all year long."
It's also a little curious as to who they left on the roster - LHP Dave Davidson, RHP Jason Davis, who is up for arbitration and isn't expected to get it offered, and RHP Romulo Sanchez. But that may have nothing to do with their ability and everything to do with holding potential spots the suits can clear if they sign anyone new.
So maybe there's a deal in the air. Let the games begin.