The Bucs have their starters penciled in up the middle for next year, with Clint Barmes at short and Neil Walker at second. Barmes had a second half resurgence to go with his $5.5M contract, and The Kid had another steady year at the dish before his back gave out in the season's closing weeks.
Barmes, 33, batted .229 with a 66 +OPS and 1.2 WAR during the season, but was a Jeckyl and Hyde, hitting .170 in the opening two months of the campaign and a more representative .255 over the last four. His glove was dependable all year, earning a career high 14.4 UZR and falling barely behind MLB SS leader Brendan Ryan's 14.7. Barmes, 33, is under contract for the 2013 season, without an option.
Jordy Mercer is the Pirates' top organizational player at the spot after Chase d'Arnaud's star dimmed, but like Pedro Ciriaco ahead of him, Clint Hurdle would rather eat nails than play him. Josh Harrison and Yamiaco Navarro are also in the mix.
Outside the organization, the battle to find a starting SS is pretty competitive. Stephen Drew and Marco Scutaro, who seems likely to re-up with the G-Men soon, are easily the head of the class. Jason Bartlett, Brian Bixler, Ronny Cedeno, Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Cesar Izturis and Munenori Kawasaki are also looking for 2013 gigs.
The trade market has more upside. Elvis Andrus of the Rangers, Yunel Escobar
of the Jays, Jed Lowrie of Houston, Josh Rutledge of the Rox, Paul Janish of the Braves and Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians are all said to be available to varying degrees, and there may be a couple of possible, though unlikely, opportunities available.
Neil Walker, 27, hit the jackpot when he reached Super 2 status and will have four years of arbitration ahead of him. He could well land a $3M award for the coming season; his offensive production ranks him in the NL top five at his position while his UZR of 1.4 is his first positive fielding rating since he began his OJT in 2010.
Like Barmes, there's no one from the Pirate system ready to push him. Harrison, Mercer, Navarro and Brock Holt make up the depth chart behind him. While Walker is still on the sunny side of the street age-wise, he does have a cloud - just how bad is his back? If the Bucs are looking for outside insurance, well, the market isn't exactly overflowing.
The FA field consists of Yuniesky Betancourt, Mike Fontenot, Orlando Hudson, Kelly Johnson, Adam Kennedy, Jeff Keppinger, Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Theriot. Most would make a nice vet back-up for the Bucco bench, but there aren't very many "play everyday" names available. Chris Getz of KC, Darwin Barney of da Cubbies and Tyler Greene of the Cards are the early names thought to be on the trade block.
The middle may be set in the Bucco minds, but it's razor thin and both guys have question marks coming into 2013 - can Barmes keep his stroke around .250, and can Walker's back hold up? Hurdle may have to give up his aversion to young guys and give Mercer/Navarro some time at short and Harrison/Brock at second because there's no guarantee the infield glue will hold together for long. Walker's contract situation could play into the equation, too - if he sticks to the arb route, he could get expensive in a hurry.
We don't think the Bucs will address the middle in a meaningful manner this season, though we wouldn't be surprised to see them kick a couple of tires for a shortstop. It's more likely that they find a competent vet to plant on the bench to give the pair a break if the FO is down on the organizational guys they have.