This is an unsettled position for the Pirates. Jordy Mercer, 27, will be back, and we think the odds are even that Clint Barmes, 36, will be, too. The Bucs don't have confidence in Mercer's everyday ability to turn grounders into outs, as seen by all the post-season starts that Barmes picked up. But his bat plays.
Mercer raked against lefties, hitting .410, but hit only .247 against RHP, which went counter to his minuscule sample size in 2012. This should be the year that the Pirates put him out to sink or swim. But they also could decide that his calling is as a reserve middle infielder, flip Mercer for Barmes, and go looking for an everyday guy. The more notable available are:
Stephen Drew, 31, who is on the way out at Boston with Xander Bogaerts ready for showtime. He's coming off a $9.5M contract with a .777 OPS, and is a steady, dependable fielder. The lefty has a fair-sized batting split, so he'd be a nice match with Mercer.
Yunel Escobar, 30, has a $5M option for 2014 and 2015. The Rays could also exercise his option and trade him. He hit .256 with a .332 OBP, including nine home runs and 56 RBI. Escobar is also a plus fielder.
Jhonny Peralta, 32, is a bat-first guy that may or may not become available; Detroit is still toying with moving him to third in view of Jose Iglesias strong D-play, so his availability is up in the air. His stick is an upgrade, and his splits aren't a problem.
Rafael Furcal, 36, of the Cards who underwent TJ surgery in March, would be a stretch.
A look at the trade market has Jurickson Probar, 20, from Texas and Alexei Ramirez, 32, of the White Sox both being dangled, but their asking price is unknown; we can bet it will be high.
If they go with Mercer everyday, the preference is to bring back Barmes with a contract that reflects his role as a bench guy rather than starter, and how that sits with him is the key to his return. We'd expect him to at least dip a toe in the market. If he finds greener pastures, there are a couple of glove-first bench guys that could interest the Bucs. Chief among them would be:
Alexi Casilla, 29, the Orioles backup, who suffered concussion in late September. He's generally a .245 hitter who went through a bad year, finishing with just a .214 BA, but that may be explained by a bad-luck .247 BABIP.
Cesar Izturis, 34, of the Reds is a veteran presence with a .260 lifetime BA and decent glove skills.
Brendan Ryan, 32, is another glove guy who's had a very challenged bat the past two seasons, putting up .194 and .197 BAs.
Again, the minor league system is void of help at the upper levels. Chase d'Arnaud has been challenged both hitting and fielding, and Ivan DeJesus hasn't recovered the range to play SS again. Alen Hanson will open at Altoona with some questions as to his ability to stick at short. Gift Ngoepe has the glove and wheels to play in the show, but his bat is weak, with a .minor league career .228 BA (.177 at Altoona, his highest level).