If the Bucs have a black hole in the lineup, this is where it's at. They expected the Garrett Jones - Gaby Sanchez platoon to give them league average or better production in 2013, but only got that performance from Sanchez.
Gaby matched his 2008-11 Marlin OPS this year, though with many fewer at bats and did his job as the RH half of the platoon with a .984 OPS and solid glovework. But with a .618 OPS against righties, he's a one-way player, not an everyday answer.
Jones, unfortunately, did not have much of a season, and his August swoon was the reason the Bucs gave up Alex Presley and Duke Welker for a month of Justin Morneau. Pittsburgh protected him well against lefties, but his .241 BA and .731 OPS didn't get the job done. Pittsburgh is constructed in such a way that their 1B has to be a middle-of-the-order bat, and neither Jones nor Morneau came through in the cleanup spot.
To add to the problem, Garrett is a Super Two and has two more years of arbitration; he's a cinch to make $6M in 2014, and that's a lot for a platoon guy that's not producing. Enough, anyway, to make the 32 year old's tender a very iffy thing, depending on whether or not the FO can come up with a fix. The Bucs have just a couple of ways to deal with the situation, other than to keep Jones/Sanchez together again.
Keeping Morneau is another option, but his age, declining production and hefty contract all work against a return, as does his mediocre month with the Pirates.
The most obvious course is to cross their fingers and hope that Andrew Lambo becomes what Garrett Jones was expected to be. He didn't put together the greatest line last year - .233 with a homer - but only batted 30 times. He didn't look overmatched, and is under team control for the next six years. If Lambo can provide some pop, the Bucs will have their platoon tandem in place and at an affordable pay rate, as Gaby is going into his second arb year and will probably pull in around $3M.
But that's an awfully risky decision, and one without a net; there is no obvious replacement on the roster or in the upper levels. Indy's Matt Hague, 28, is still around. He led the International League
in hits with 153, but doesn't have the power the Bucs want from the
spot. The Bucs gave him some at-bats in 2012 (OK, just 70), and his .229
BA and .257 slugging % soured them to the point that he was dropped from the 40-man roster.
Alex Dickerson had a breakout year to get on the radar at Altoona. He rode a hot June and July to a .288/17/68 line for the Curve. But the 23 year old from Indiana U (Bloomington) has never played at the AAA level, so even if he continues to beat baseballs, he's not a candidate for 2014.
He and Matt Curry, 25, were the two guys that were supposed to provide first base depth, but Curry lost virtually all of the 2013 season because of hamate surgery. Curry did show some promise at Altoona in 2012, hitting .285 with 34 doubles; he's more of a gap hitter than long baller. He has to reestablish himself.
Stetson Allie, the converted pitcher, was Babe Ruth at West Virginia, but couldn't put a ball in play when he jumped up a level. A possible, down-the-road replacement may be Josh Bell. The highly touted pick from the 2011 draft blew out his knee in 2012, but at West Virginia last season came back with a .279/13/76 line. He's listed as an outfielder, but the Pirate system brims with those guys, and a move to first as he advances could help clear a spot for him.
1B is not a position of strength in the Pirate organization, and while there may be some future help, there's nothing on the horizon. The best solution would be to find a free agent that could give some stability to the position for at least the next couple of years.
The Bucs were said to be in play for Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, 27, but with his estimated price tag said to be approaching $70M, he's not hangin' out in the usual Pittsburgh financial neighborhood. We wouldn't eliminate him entirely out of hand, rumors being just that, but that would be an expensive and out-of-character roll of the dice for a team that can't carry too much dead money.
Mike Napoli, 31, might interest the Bucs. The Boston first baseman is a grinder at the plate, although a streaky hitter, and is a 20+ HR player since 2008. His .840 OPS against same side pitchers and ability to play the position well makes him an everyday guy. He makes $13M this year, not terribly more than the Jones/Sanchez platoon would haul in.
Tampa Bay's James Loney, 29, could get a look. His splits weren't terribly wide last year, making him a potential everyday player, although his career stats indicate he'd be probably be more productive as part of a platoon. The upside is that he's only making $2M in a year where he rebuilt value from his Dodger days; the bad news is that he hit just 13 homers, and that the Rays are making a run at keeping him.
The Brewers' Cory Hart, out all season with a pair of knee surgeries, could get his tires kicked by the FO. The creaky joints make him a risk and he's a big strikeout guy, but his power, OPS and decent splits could merit a look.
Seattle's Kendrys Morales, 30, could make sense, too, as an all-bat option. Morales just finished arbitration - he made $5.5M - and is looking for a big contract which he may or not be able to land, being more a DH than position player. It's thought that the Mariners plan to tender him, and that would cost a draft pick beside the signing bonus, which goes against the Pirate grain even if they're picking 27th this year.
Mark Reynolds, 30, is also a FA, but his low average, high K profile is already taken by Pedro; we're not enamored of the two of them beside one another in the lineup. But he is another big-bat option that can play either infield corner and can probably be had for a price the Pirates could afford.
Finally, we'd be remiss without mentioning Mark Trumbo of the Angels; oft rumored but never offered; ditto for the Marlins' Logan Morrison. Maybe this is the year they hit the market.
We think this is most likely to be the position they redo. They have in-house options for RF and SS, and the 1B market isn't as threadbare as it was last year.