This was the most up-in-the-air position on the team last season. The reason was simple: with PNC Park's left field dimensions, the suits decided that a dual-CF approach was the road to take.
So the RF spot was the corner for a thunder stick, but no matter how hard they tried, the FO couldn't find anyone to fill the bill.
First, Brandon Moss, 27, was thought to be the answer. He wasn't, and is probably not going to earn a spot on the 40-man roster this year. Ryan Church, 32, was given ample opportunity for PT; instead he got a ticket to Arizona.
Lastings Milledge, 25, was moved over from left when Jose Tabata arrived, but hasn't shown the power or glove to be a comfortable fit. Ryan Doumit, 29, got his moment in the sun, John Bowker, 27, got an audition in September, and Alex Presley, 25, sipped a cup of coffee with mixed results. Delwyn Young, 28, got a spot start or three.
The verdict? Garrett Jones, 29, is probably the best answer right now. And he has a split that begs for a RH bat to platoon with in front of the Clemente Wall. But he may remain at first base in 2011, too. Aye carumba!
With the talent on hand and assuming no off-season moves, the best scenario is a platoon between Jones (.262/15/59 in 424 AB vs RHP in 2010) and Milledge (.320/4/17 in 125 AB vs LHP in 2010). The fielding is the difference maker; Jones had a -3.5 UZR/150 and Milledge a -4.1 rating, vastly superior to Bowker (-17) and Dewey (-40). And Thrilledge is the only RH hitter in the bunch.
But if Jones sticks at first, Bowker and Doumit offer comparable sticks as platoon players: Bowker's line against lefties in his career is .248/17/68 in 491 AB; Doumit's is .282/11/35 after 277 AB in 2010.
We like Presley, but as a fourth-outfielder type, where his speed and punch-and-judy offense play better off the bench. One-year wonders are more common than guys that suddenly saw the light; next season should show which category Presley's 2010 season falls in.
Moss had a nice AAA year, but didn't appear any better suited for MLB duty in September than he did in March.
Their contract years are ticking away, too: All but Presley are out of options, while Milledge and Young are up for arbitration. Both are on the bubble but should return; the price is right and no one is really pushing them from within the organization.
For the Pirates to maximize what they now have, it's key that they utilize a platoon system. JR, for whatever reason, was lukewarm to the concept, and cost himself some production by his dartboard lineup choices.
As for the fielding, well, the new skipper will hopefully value versatility a little less than consistency and try to get guys in their everyday positions during the spring instead of waiting until mid-season.
There is no help on the horizon; Gorkys Hernandez, 23, is the most MLB ready, and he's a speedy top of the order CF/LF candidate; Sterling Marte, who turned 22 this month, may migrate to a corner, but he is still at least a couple of seasons removed from the show and has yet to show much power at the plate.
Andrew Lambo, 22, Quincy Latimore, 21, and Rogelios Noris, 20, are the best of the true minor league corners. Latimore and Noris hit from the right side, an added bonus. All have youth, the ability to launch a baseball, and time on their side right now. That may not be true in a couple more seasons, as none is a slam dunk to reach PNC Park.
Robbie Grossman, 20, a sixth round high-school pick in 2007, may also fit into the mix. He played center at Bradenton last year, although he's probably slated for a corner position. Grossman struck out too much and showed little muscle, but he's young for a High A player and may still develop.
Another possibility is Exicardo Cayones, the 19 year old (he turned 19 in October) Mexican OF signed for $400K in 2008. He's just beginning his pro career and seems destined more as a LF type in Pittsburgh. Cayones has shown no power yet, but that's not unexpected for an kid who playing pro ball as an 18 year old.
The Bucs could use some outside help to solidify right field. Assuming that they're not looking at Jayson Werth, guys like Jonny Gomes or Jason Kubel would make sense; unfortunately, both had their options picked up. That leaves a slim group led by Austin Kearns available on the market.
In lieu of a free agent, resolving both Doumit's status and the first base logjam would at least limit the options a bit and help set the lineup in 2011.