The Bucs optioned IF Jordy Mercer to Indy yesterday and assigned RHP Shairon Martis, C Jose Morales, and LHPs Jo-Jo Reyes & Doug Slaten to minor league camp. With those moves, the Buc opening day roster spot free-for-all is in its final lap. Here's how our ouija board divines the final 25:
With Charlie Morton looking as if he'll be ready to go north with the team, the April rotation should consist of Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Morton. The Pirates have the advantage of being able to go with a four-man staff at the start if they feel the need to give Morton a couple of extra side sessions. The odd man out appears to be Brad Lincoln, who has an option left. Our guess is AJ Burnett will start out on the 15-day DL and be ready to join the gang in mid-to-late April.
The bullpen has a core of Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Juan Cruz, with Chris Leroux and Anthony Watson filling out the bullpen. That could change, but we have Meek and Leroux making the team because they're out of options. That hurts Daniel McCutchen, who has one left and will likely start out at Indy along with Daniel Moskos and Jared Hughes.
All three will provide the Bucs with MLB-ready insurance. Ryota Igarashi won't make the cut.
Catching is easy. With Jose Morales sent down after missing all of camp with an oblique injury, Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry are the only two backstops left standing.
The outfield is easy, too. Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Nate McLouth are locked in, and the fifth outfielder will be come from the infield group, either Garrett Jones or Yamaiko Navarro.
The infield roster will depend mightily on what the Pirates decide to do with Pedro Alvarez. He's been a mess at camp, and we think that he'll start the season at Indy (he has one option remaining) to work on multiple hitting issues. That leaves Jones, Neil Walker, Clint Barmes and Casey McGehee around the horn.
The bench positions have provided the most interesting and heated competition of the camp. Josh Harrison and Matt Hague have been hitting machines, and Navarro has shown that he belongs, too. Nick Evans, who has had a miserable spring, and Jake Fox, who has had a pretty nice camp, are non-roster invitees still in the mix.
Our money is on Harrison, Hague and Navarro sticking. In a perfect world, Hague and Harrison would start at Indy. But if Pedro is sent down, Harrison becomes the third base reserve, Hague becomes Jone's caddy, and Navarro backs up the middle infield and becomes the fifth outfielder. Fox could also be in the running, but adding him would require the Pirates to drop someone from the 40-man roster, and we think that will be the deciding factor against him.
Eventually, they'll have to decide on Rule 5 pick Gustav Nunez's status. He's currently on the 60-day DL.
Our opening day roster:
Starters: Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Charlie Morton with AJ Burnett on the 15-day DL.
Bullpen: Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Leroux, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Anthony Watson.
Catchers: Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry.
Outfield: Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth, Alex Presley and Nate McLouth.
Infield: Clint Barmes, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Yamaiko Navarro and Neil Walker with Gustav Nunez on the 60-day DL.
Two big outliers beyond injuries: if Alvarez makes the roster, Hague likely goes to Indy. (In an out-of-body experience, Huntington just told reporters minutes after the post that Alvarez WILL make the team!) And in the last week of camp, teams will be making their finals cuts, so out-of-option players will become available and some minor deals pop up. The Pirates are said to be looking to upgrade at catcher and the pen, especially for a lefty, so that could impact the roster. Of course, half the MLB teams are looking for the same thing.
Camp breaks on April 1st, and opening day is April 5th. It'll be a week of show-downs before six months of showtime.