The Bucs were set going into 2011. Veteran Lyle Overbay would man first base and Garrett Jones would platoon with Matt Diaz in right, adding some pop to the Pittsburgh lineup. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men...and FOs.
Overbay crapped out after a line of .227/8/37 in 103 games and Diaz delivered not one long ball. Alex Presley bumped Garrett Jones to first, and he got bumped in turn by the late season acquisition of Derrek Lee. Steve Pearce was injured again while Matt Hague raked at Indy. It all adds up to one highly unsettled position going into 2012.
The Pirates would like Lee to baby-sit the position, but that seems improbable. The 36 year old Lee is a free agent, and his 2011 stat line - .267/19/59 - will probably net him a nice deal on the market. And he was in the City during the Pirate nosedive, with no first-hand experience of Pittsburgh's boisterous crowds or winning baseball, so there's not much to recommend the Buccos to him except for a juicy overpay.
Internally, the Pirates could go with Jones, 30, ideally in a platoon situation. His lifetime BA against righties is .275 compared to .199 vs southpaws, with equally disparate production numbers. So getting 350-400 at-bats against righties wouldn't be a bad thing, even if his glove is at best average.
Finding a righty to compliment Jones might be a problem. Steve Pearce is out of options and the FO is probably out of patience with him, even with the occasional flash.
Matt Hague, 26, is unproven, but has hit at all levels in the minors (.302 career BA), is a good defender at first, and has some experience and the arm to play third. He also has noticeable splits, so a platoon, if he's ready for the show, should be the answer.
Hague doesn't provide much home run power, but he's had 30 doubles or more over the past three seasons. But he'll have to shine to come out of camp with the team. Like Presley, the FO wants a follow-up year before moving him up.
And after Hague, there's not a lot more in the cupboard. Third round pick Alex Dickerson, 21, is in the process of being converted to first base, and after a strong start at State College, expected for a major-college player (he played for Indiana), he should be fast-tracked to High A Bradenton in 2012.
The other guys all have holes and need to pick it up to make the radar. Matt Curry, 23, is the highest rated of the remaining players, though he hit a bump at Altoona last year, batting just .242 with a 26% K rate. But he was moved aggressively and skipped a level, so his second go-round with the Curve should give us a better idea of his potential.
There are a couple of FAs floating around that could fill the bill in Pittsburgh. Casey Kotchman (29) could be a longer term fit, although he doesn't bring much pop to the lineup. Carlos Pena was a player the Bucs were supposed to have interest in, and he's on the market this off season. The rest of the pack, minus Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, are quite pedestrian; that's why Lee may take his chances in the market this year.
Like much of the infield, first base is a position with a variety of routes available, and the off season will tell which road they choose.