OK, it's down to crunch time, and the Bucs have been rumored to be kicking the tires on every warm body in MLB, whether they fit a team need or not. So what do they really want?
Well, a top-of-the-order guy that could play left field at PNC Park would help. Jose Tabata's flameout shows no signs of abating at Indy. Alex Presley's .230 BA and .270 OBP numbers certainly aren't helping set the table for Neil Walker and Cutch. And to make it worse, when The Kid is batting fifth, the two hole is pretty much a grab bag.
That's why there's so much talk about getting a guy like the Phils' Shane Victorino. There are other candidates out there like Twins' Denard Span, the As' Coco Crisp, the Phil's Hunter Pence (who's not a great match), and a passel of Red Sox, but if the Bucs are in on them, it's been way under the radar. We're thinking that a player like the Cubs Reed Johnson (.302 BA/.354 OBP) or David DeJesus (.264 BA/.353 OBP) could be a fit.
We won't get into the internal fix, Starling Marte. The FO says it won't be pressured into bringing him up before his time, and that worked out pretty well for Cutch and Neil Walker. But he's certainly an option if the Bucs can live with a few chases outside the zone, a fairly commonplace Bucco phenomena.
A right handed first baseman with some pop should draw some FO attention, too. Casey McGehee has had a bit of a bounce back year, but he's not a 4-5 lineup guy. He has 8 homers, a .213 RISP average and .397 slugging %, and that doesn't cut it in the middle of the order. But the market is threadbare here. The top RH bat is probably utilityman Ty Wiggington, and though the Cubs Bryan LaHair is said to be available, it's doubtful he could beat out Garrett Jones for the lefty spot at first.
Not much internally here. Matt Hague may be able to hold his own average-wise, but it's a spot where the Pirates could use a bopper, not a James Loney/Casey Kotchman clone. Jeff Clement might fit the bill, but he's lefty and not on the 40-man. He's more likely to be a possible bench stick or part of an AL package where he can settle in as a DH. Alex Dickerson, a 2011 third rounder, is who they're hanging their hat on in the future, and he's at Bradenton in Class A right now.
They could look for a veteran bench guy, too. There's no deep threat for Clint Hurdle to call in the late innings, and the Pirates might be willing to swap out glove guy Gorkys Hernandez for a Jason Giambi type, or give Clement a shot. Drew Sutton and maybe Josh Harrison are the only lumber guys on the pine now.
We don't foresee much movement elsewhere in the field. No one's bumping out Cutch, Pedro or Neil Walker. The FO looks happy with keeping a leather man at short with Clint Barmes and Jordy Mercer; sorry, no Hanley Ramirez. And everyone wants a catcher, so Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry are fairly secure through 2012, mainly through attrition.
Pitching? We're not so sure the FO is going to tinker a lot with what they have. It's known they're on the prowl for a lefty, and whether Erik Bedard and Kevin Correia can hold down the fort for another two months, given their histories, is an ongoing debate.
They should be looking for a top three guy, and that's a tough find in the MLB. Most of those arms are rentals, and the Pirates have made it pretty clear that they have no intention of putting a major dent in their farm system's elite for two month's tenure. If they are worried about the bottom end of the rotation and a lefty presence, the FO can kill both birds with one stone and look at Indy's Three Amigos, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke and/or Justin Wilson. None have the upside to top a rotation, but all are projected as capable four-five staffers.
The bullpen could use another lefty; who's couldn't? Possiblities are Toronto's Darren Oliver, Houston's Wesley Wright, and the Padre's Joe Thatcher among others. Their cost would be the stumbling block; the FO has tight purse strings when filling the reliever roles, especially mid-inning guys. Doug Slaten is an in-house possibilty if Hurdle gets the itch for a second lefty. He pitched OK in a cup of coffee stop earlier in the year, though finding the plate was a problem and he doesn't profile into the FO's power arm portfolio.
The Bucs are kinda between a rock and hard place right now. The fans have the fever, and their window of opportunity opened a year or two sooner than expected, injecting a little urgency into their step-by-step approach. They have holes to address, but the question is are they ready to go all in for 2012?
If they make any major deals, we'd guess that it's for an impact player under team control for a while, and it seems that the FO isn't willing to disrupt its prospect pipeline to pull that trigger, Justin Upton being a case in point. They should be doing their due diligence on more attainable guys like Cody Ross and Josh Willingham if he comes free.
But they do have one advantage over prior years, and that's the farm system. It's top heavy with young prospects who are honing their craft in Class A, but they do have pieces in the upper level that can help them today. And they have double edge value, either coming up to help the big team or as trade bait for someone else who can. It's an odd situation. The Pirates are constantly accused of over-valuing their farm hands to other clubs, yet hem and haw over calling them up to the show. This year, it may be time to throw a couple guys into the fire - or into other organizations.
The Buc FO has said that they'll stand pat rather than overpay for a one-and-done player. That's probably true, but they have to strike the iron while it's hot, both for competitive purposes and to help turn the page on two decades of bad baseball. They know they need to add lumber despite a six week outlier at the plate, and we'd look for an outfielder or two and perhaps a pitcher that will slot between Jeff Karstens and Erik Bedard/Kevin Correia (and no, that's not Paul Maholm; more like Josh Johnson) before August rolls around.