Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shopping List - Corner Infield

As far as players in place and under team control, the Pirate corners are covered for 2013 with the same three guys they ended 2012 with - Pedro, Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez.

The Pirates picked up Alvarez's $700K option (he'll be arb-eligible in 2014, voiding the Pirate option for that season). The 25-year-old hit .244 with a career-high 30 home runs and 85 RBIs in 149 games. El Toro's home run total was 10th best in the NL, though he also led Senior Circuit third basemen in errors with 27 and finished second in strikeouts with 180, whiffing at a 31% rate.

The Pirates will plug him in everyday at the hot corner, though he hasn't solved lefties yet. He had a 50 point split spread in BA and 65 points in OBP last season, roughly following his career lines. But when he's hot, he can carry a club. From June through August, he banged away at a .280 clip, but just hit .209 the start and end of the year.

It didn't affect his power numbers quite as much. During his summer streak, he 18 homers and collected 46 RBI, with a dozen dingers and 39 RBI during the months when his bat was icy. But even if it did, the Pirates sport an organizational black hole behind him. The depth chart lists Josh Harrison as his MLB back-up, and journeymen Yamaico Navarro and Dallas McPherson carried the 3B load at Indy.

There are some free agents available - Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Alberto Gonzalez, Orlando Hudson, Brandon Inge, Adam Kennedy, Jeff Keppinger, Jose Lopez, Placido Polanco, Scott Rolen and Ty Wigginton are all looking for work - but we'd expect the Bucs to seek a multi-role vet for a bench spot to give Pedro an occasional blow against southpaws.

The Pirates, as we all recall, were supposed to be in on Chase Headley before the Padres pulled him off the market. His price will only go up in the off season, but he'd be an interesting addition if the Buccos are serious players for him.

First base is all about regression. Garrett Jones had a breakout year and Gaby Sanchez a breakdown season; are they trending or due to regress to their norms?

Jones, 31, made $2.25M in 2012, and earned it by hitting .274/.317/.516 with a career-best 27 homers and tying his personal high of 86 RBI. He's arbitration eligible and will at least double his salary and probably more. And there's the rub.

The 31 year old hit .289 against righties and just .189 against lefties, and that matches his lifetime splits pretty well. His age hurts him a little, but big bucks for a guy that's a 500 AB player probably strokes the FO's fur the wrong way. We'd be stunned if he wasn't tendered this year, but 2014 is another question.

The Bucs do have a couple of options. Sanchez, 29, is hoped to have a bounce back year. After a couple of seasons in the .270/19/80 range, he hit just .241 as a Bucco and .217 overall with big drops in the production department, with just 7 HR and 30 RBI in about half the at-bats he usually sees during 2012.

His splits aren't as outrageous as Jones', but he does have a 40+ point gap in BA and a 70 point gap in OBP in his lifetime slash line with a jump in power against lefties. So he and GI look like the tag team for 2013 right now, though we thought the same thing about Jones and Casey McGehee going into last season.

The joker in the deck is that Sanchez is arb eligible for the first time, and based on his strong 2010-11 years, he's likely to get an award in the $1.5-2M range. The team is expected to tender him, especially after just trading for him, but it's certainly not a slam dunk for the cost-conscious Pirates after his less-than-auspicious audition over the last two months of the season.

We think he'll be signed because the top RH first baseman in the Pirate system, Matt Hague, didn't even rate a September call-up. Matt Curry and Alex Dickerson, who should open at Indy and Altoona respectively next season, are both left-handed bats and neither appear ready for the show yet, if ever.

First base, unlike third, has a lot of options if the FO decides to wade into the market. Adam LaRouche, Nick Swisher, Mike Napoli, James Loney, Aubrey Huff, Travis Ishikawa, Casey Kotchman, Kevin Youkilis, Carlos Pena, Lance Berkman, Miguel Cairo, and Carlos Lee (maybe even Derrek) are free agents.

Names that have been tossed out on the trade market include the Angels' Kendrys Morales, Mets' Ike Davis and Boston's Mauro Gomez. The trade market looks more promising than the FA cattle call, but it's problematic that the Pirates will dedicate any large assets into improving the corners this year.

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