Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking At 2014's Returning Cast...

Returning: position players Andrew McCutchen, Russ Martin, Starling Marte, Jose Tabata, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Tony Sanchez, and Andrew Lambo; pitchers Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson , Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris and Jared Hughes.

Cutch, Starling and Marte are top guns. JT and Jordy had holes in their game, but both could start in 2014. Tabata batted .282, with a reverse split; he hit righties (.292) better than lefties (.250), which has been a career-long phenomena. So the Pirates could get away with a fourth RH outfielder, since Tabata hits like a lefty. Jordy has to work on his glove; if he starts, the Bucs will need Clint Barmes or another D-first SS on the bench. Josh had a decent year as a utility player and there's no one now in the upper levels of the organization that looks capable of challenging him. Sanchez will sharpen his craftwork with a full season behind Martin, and Lambo will be given every chance to take Garrett Jone's 1B/OF role in camp.

The Cisco Kid and Cole are a great returning core, as are the bullpen guys that are coming back. The only caveat is that while Cole should get better with experience, the rest, other than Hughes, could be looking at some regression after off-the-chart work last season. Wilson may be asked to come in to compete as a starter. Morris is out of options but seems likely to stick. The Pirates have lots of young and affordable guys in the pen, so don't be surprised if one or two of the guys are packaged in the off season.

Arbitration eligible: position players Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Gaby Sanchez, Garrett Jones, Mike McKenry, Travis Snider and Felix Pie; pitchers Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon and Vin Mazzaro.

Walker and Pedro will be tendered or signed to short term deals; both have issues that will make any sort of longer agreement difficult to strike. Gaby's status depends on whether the Pirates come up with a full time first baseman or continue their platooning ways. The popular McKenry could be signed again; he has an option left and would provide insurance for a year, but at Indy. He's not good enough with the bat or glove to block Tony Sanchez any longer. Snider couldn't take advantage of  a golden opportunity to take the RF job to open the year and was left off the post season roster, which doesn't bode well for him. Jones and Pie are strong candidates to be non-tendered. The Pirates should make offers to all three pitchers.

Beside possibly being out of chances, Snider and Pie are also out of options However, they are the only lefty bats in the OF save Andrew Lambo. We'll see if the Bucs bring one of  them into camp as a fall back or just find their lefty in the marketplace.

Free Agents: position players Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, Clint Barmes, John Buck, Ivan DeJesus, Chase d'Arnaud and Matt Hague; pitchers Wandy Rodriguez, AJ Burnett, Kyle Farnsworth, Jeff Karstens and Ryan Reid.

Of the position players, Byrd will pique the Pirates interest the most. But with Gregory Polanco hovering, the Bucs aren't likely to go more than a year and could easily be outbid for his services. They'd like to bring Barmes back, too, but as a bench player, not a starter, so the market will determine his 2014 team. Morneau is a back-burner option for a team that is woefully shy of first basemen, but age and cost work against him. Buck and DeJesus will move on. Hague and d'Arnaud become minor league free agents. Both have an option and could presumably be signed again by the Bucs, though neither got a September call-up and Hague was removed from the 40-man roster even while leading the International League in hits.

Wandy has a $13M player option that he'll almost certainly exercise if for no other reason than to build some value after a lost season in 2013. AJ's future is in his own hands. The Pirates are likely to tender him (at $14.1M) as he decides whether to return again; the Game Five snub could serve to either stoke or dampen his alpha dog fire. The remaining trio of Farnsworth, Karstens and Reid are fringe guys who may not get an offer.

Out of Options: pitchers Jeanmar Gomez, Stolmy Pimentel and Andy Oliver; outfielder Jerry Sands.

Gomez and Pimentel will be asked to stretch out and compete as starters next season, at least in camp. It's easier to ramp down to the pen than build up to rotation status. Oliver and Sands were reclamation projects that didn't pan out.

Depth: position player Gregory Polanco; pitchers Jameson Taillon, Brandon Cumpton, Kris Johnson, Kyle McPherson and Phil Irwin.

Polanco and Taillon have shots at summer appearances in Pittsburgh, as both will start the year at Indy, but 2015 is a more likely ETA. Cumpton and Johnson both fared well in Pittsburgh and will compete for back-end/long-man roles in 2014, while the highly touted McPherson and Irwin lost last season to surgery. McPherson isn't going to be ready for camp, and is out of options, too. The Bucs have successfully appealed for an extra option year due to injury in the past, and McPherson will probably get an extra season. Irwin is getting some Arizona Fall League work in, si he should be ready to go in 2014.

The Pirate system is loaded with prospects, but not at the upper levels, so there's not that much immediate help in the pipeline.

For a 94 win club, the Buc FO still has some work to do for next season's edition. Question marks surrounding Wandy, AJ and Jeff Locke make adding pitching depth a must. First base has been problematic since Adam LaRoche, and is basically an unmanned position at this point. The quest for right fielder continues, and finding a glove man to serve as at least a late inning guy at short to support the ground ball machines the Bucs have turned out is high on the to-do list.

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