Sunday, October 30, 2011

Decision Time Approaching

Congrats to the St. Louis Cards. They proved that playing to the last strike is sometimes rewarded by the baseball gods. That's a lesson that the young Buccos should take to heart - grind it out through the dog days, even if it looks like pride is the only thing left to play for.

Of course, it helps when the players who are digging deep are named Pujols, Holliday and Carpenter, with role players like David Freese and the bullpen contributing mightily, and filling in that kind of roster is a job for the FO. And decision time for 2012's roster is just around the corner.

The Pirates have quite a few personnel decisions to make in the coming weeks. The winter meeting starts December 5th, and that's the traditional starting gun for wheeling and dealing.

There's been no smoke concerning free agents Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, so we're assuming that Lee is going to dive into the FA market, as will Ludwick. They can declare for free agency this week, on November 3rd.

The club also holds options on Paul Maholm, Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit and Ronny Cedeno. No mystery involved there. The FO has announced that they're not going to tender offers to Maholm or the catchers, and there's been no indication that they're working on signing the three to more team-friendly contracts.

Our guess is that they'll keep RC and allow the rest to dip their toes in the marketplace before talking turkey, especially in the case of the catchers. They have no depth there, and if one of the pair drops into the $3-4M range, the Pirates may have some interest in bringing one of the two back. If they don't fall back to earth, then the Bucs will dust off Plan B, either going the FA route or filling in internally.

The team does have a boatload of players up for arb: Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Steve Pearce, Chris Resop, Jose Veras and Brandon Wood.

Pearce and Ohlie are almost certain to be non-tendered, with Veras and Wood on the bubble. We'd be surprised if the others aren't brought back via contract. That deadline is December 12th, a week after the meetings.

But it's the under-the-radar moves that will be telling during the off season. The Pirates, whether they planned to or not, built fan expectations with their first half run. The only way to continue the buzz among the base is to stay competitive - not contending, just competitive - until the young guns like Coles, Taillon, Marte, Bell and company arrive a couple of years down the road.

They can only do that now through free agency; the major league ready guys in the system are already in Pittsburgh. The FO knows it has holes in the pitching, catching, first base and shortstop positions, and have to patch them, in that order.

Even more telling will be the composition of their 40 man roster. November 18th is the deadline to set the rosters for the 2011 Rule 5 draft. The roster already is full, and Kevin Correia has to be added to it from the DL. Maholm, Snyder, Pearce and Kevin Hart are also on the DL, but we assume that they won't be added.

There are, of course, guys likely to be removed without much soul searching - Lee, Ludwick, Aaron Thompson, Brian Burres, Ohlie, Dewey, and possibly Pedro Ciriaco, Daniel McCutchen, Jose Veras, and Xavier Paul.

The balancing act requires that a spot be open for a replacement player - the Pirates are almost assuredly going to bring in a pitcher or two, a catcher and maybe a first baseman - and leave room to protect first-time draft eligible players like Starling Marte, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and Matt Hague, along with a handful of others who are on the bubble.

The Cards put a dramatic ending to the 2011 MLB season, and the foundation for 2012 is already being poured in Pittsburgh and around the league.

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