Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Preparing For the Stretch Run

Ok, everyone wants to know who's coming to town. Carlos Pena? Aramis Ramirez? Roy Hobbs? The Pirates are thought to be in the market for a RH hitter with some pop, which means a corner infield or outfield player, and another back-end reliever. Join the club; what contender doesn't have those spots on their wish list?

The best betting line is that many of the pieces the Pirates want are looking for can be found within the organization. And we're not talking Matt Hague, but just the guys that will be trooping back from the DL.

Joe Beimel should be back after the break. That will add another mid-inning guy to the bullpen at the cost of Chris Leroux or Danny Moskos, both who have options remaining. And in the longer term, Bryan Morris at Altoona has taken to the bullpen well at Altoona. He could be in line to join the big club if Evan Meek, who isn't throwing yet, continues to rehab slowly.

Ronny Cedeno should also be back sometime during the Houston series, which will earn either Pedro Ciriaco or Chase d'Arnaud a ticket back to Indy. They both also have options left; the question is which one do the Pirates want to keep on the bench? Ciraco is a seldom used player with plus speed and glove, the seemingly perfect reserve, while d'Arnaud needs the everyday work that'd he'd get with the Indians.

The hardest cut will come when Jose Tabata returns to action, and that should also be shortly after the All-Star break. The Pirate outfield is relatively loaded right now. There's no chance that Alex Presley will leave the big team, and that creates a real roster crunch.

The Pirates like their current fifth outfielder, Xavier Paul, who can run, catch a ball, and has a nice arm for late inning defensive purposes while not being an automatic out. But he would be the obvious player to be left standing when the music stops, although there is one more play.

Keep Paul as the extra hand, and put Presley in Garrett Jones' platoon role in right with Matt Diaz. Move Jones to first, and set Lyle Overbay free. He hasn't lived up to his rep with either the bat or glove. The team would have to eat the reminder of his $5M contract, but they are in a good place financially now, under budget and bringing in a little more long green than anticipated thanks to the gate.

It would be another platoon situation as Jones is hitting .162 against lefties this season. He could alternate with Brandon Wood until Steve Pearce comes back. Pearce has joined the Bradenton Marauders to begin his rehab, so he could be just a couple of weeks away.

We don't foresee them adding to the catcher's spot. Mike McKenry will hold the fort, and Eric Fryer will get the odd game until Jason Jaramillo comes back. JJ was supposed to start his rehab last week, but we haven't seen his name on a roster yet, so we assume he's still getting reps in Pirate City (EDIT - he began his rehab at Bradenton today). Ryan Doumit is expected to start his rehab sometime this month and may race Jaramillo back to Pittsburgh.

The starters have been hale and healthy. Brad Lincoln held his own in his spot start, and he'll be the cavalry if needed during the dog days.

That leaves one big question mark, third base (we're pretty sure Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen will hang on to their spots) . With Pedro Alvarez being sent down to Indy, it appears to be Josh Harrison's spot to lose for the time being. If the Bucs are in the market, this is probably the spot they're looking to upgrade. It won't be easy as there's no ready fit on the marketplace.

The names that pop up most often are Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs, Chase Headley of San Diego, David Wright of the Mets, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nats and Wilson Betemit of the Royals.

Ramirez has said he doesn't want traded, and his contract specifies that 2012 becomes guaranteed for $16M if he is moved. Headley has an affordable ($2.35M) deal, and three years of arbitration to go, but doesn't offer much muscle. Wright has a big contract ($14M this year, $15M next, and a $16M club option in 2013) and is only beginning to run after suffering a back injury.

Zimmerman is also in the middle of a long deal, earning $8.925M this season, $12M in 2012 and $14M in 2013. He'd cost a fortune in talent if available, but the Nats did pick Anthony Rendon in the draft, so he may be. Betemit isn't much of an upgrade over what the Bucs already have.

It could be their best option is to hope Pedro gets it together in Indianapolis and makes it back to Pittsburgh in by the end of the month. It doesn't address the lack of RH power, but it does add a middle-of-the-lineup bat to the order if the latter 2010 Alvarez shows up.

So that's the conundrum. RH muscle is around the corners. The Bucs probably would rather not play with the outfield, although a couple of outside guys like Josh Willingham and Ryan Ludwick are possibilities. If they go after a first baseman, it complicates their outfield rotation. One way to resolve the situation is to trade one of the OF'ers; Jones has been a target for a couple of clubs. But as one of the few power bats on the roster, he may have more value here than elsewhere.

A deal for a third baseman like Wright or Zimmerman would be for the long term, and only makes sense if  Pedro is going to move first base, which he may be. Either player will require a king's ransom.

We'll see what the FO has up its sleeve. We were among the early proponents of adding a bat, but it just may be that standing pat and sticking within the organization is the best play on the board right now.


WilliamJPellas said...

Ludwick and Pena are interesting guys who could be brought in without sacrificing very much. I'll tell you this, I'd much rather have Ludwick than Matt Diaz as the platoon starter in right. He might even be the everyday starter if Jones ends up at first and Overbay is sent out of town on a rail (a distinct possibility).

Pena at first would help us a lot, and you'd think he could do that this season without causing any disruption to the longer term plan, ie, Pedro at first. Then again, with Hurdle putting boot to rear with Alvarez, maybe he's headed for a longer stint in Triple-A than he thought he was. That would not surprise me in the least. Hurdle is not beholden to Huntington in any way, unlike Hurdle's immediate predecessor, and it's pretty obvious that Hurdle has significant input into player acquisition in ways that Russell---a man who was in way, WAY over his head as a big league manager---never did.

Ron Ieraci said...

Pena would be a big upgrade, though I'd rather find someone from the right side for a little balance. I was hoping Diaz could give us some pop, but he's turned into a singles machine (.358 slugging % - his lifetime average is .447).

Ludwick would be a nice addition, too. But we have OFers out the wazoo, and Starling Marte and Gorkys Hernandez are both looking like their time is approaching. To be honest, I wouldn't doubt that both corner guys, Tabata and Jones, are on the market. But that's another post.

I'd like to clear an everyday spot for Presley and find out if he's the real deal or a fourth OFer type. And I can only foresee that happening if Overbay goes and Jones takes over first.

Anonymous said...

Nice post Ron. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that the internal options with Pedro, Doumit, Biemel, et al are far more appealing than .220 hitters like Pena, and money holes like Ramirez and others.

This team has gotten this far due to the "zeitgeist", or belief, that this team WILL win every game. Of course they do not win every game, but EVERY game they expect to win. That is far more valuable than adding a $12,000,000+ player with mediocre - average creds to a roster of mid-twenty somethings who are playing up to their potential.

Ron Ieraci said...

Thanks, anon. Hurdle is the right guy at the right time for this club; handling a young hungry team seems to be his forte.

Right now, the guys are in a good place. And by late 2013, if the FO plays its cards right and the uber prospects - Taillon, Marte, Heredia - along with the everyday guys like d'Arnaud, Brock, Mercer, Sanchez and that gang come through, they could be opening a pretty big window to compete for the long run.