Friday, November 21, 2014

Roster Moves: Mostly Bench, Bullpen Auditions

The Pirates filled their 40 man roster yesterday, and without too many surprises. They added no-brainers RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Nick Kingham, C Elias Diaz and bubble player OF Willy Garcia.

Taillon is a top arm in the making, just recovering from TJ surgery. The good news is that he recovered well, and may even be ready for camp. But it did delay his development a year, and assuming he'll be on an inning count after missing last season, he looks more likely to be on a 2016 arrival schedule than 2015; we'll see how he performs and how the Pirates schedule him.

That makes Kingham the more likely to see big league action in 2015. He's not a finished product and has to show a little more consistency, but he'll start at Indy and could be a mid-season addition if the situation calls for another arm. Diaz is the heir apparent behind the dish after a breakout year in 2014; the Bucs will want him to show that his .328/.378/.445 slash at Altoona wasn't a fluke. He only has 10 games at AAA, and with Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez ahead of him in Pittsburgh, he should remain in AAA this year to see if his bat can match his defensive prowess.

Garcia was a bit of a surprise, given how deep the Pirate outfield is. He strikes out a lot and walks a little, but the speedster is a long ball threat with a rifle for an arm, and remains an intriguing piece down the line either as a fourth OF'er - the Pirate system isn't real deep in right-handed boppers - or as trade bait.

The cuts they made to clear space were 1B Ike Davis & C Ramon Cabrera, both DFA'ed, and the outrighting of Brent Morel to Indy. Davis was, of course, a dead man walking in Pittsburgh, but it was thought the Pirates may tender him and then deal him away rather than just cut him loose, although any expected return wouldn't be much. So they cut ties cleanly, and allowed him to play the market. Cabrera is a good contact bat, shaky glove guy which flies in the face of current Bucco thinking for a catcher. The Pirates are awash now with middle infield bench guys, making Morel expendable.

Roster from Pittsburgh Pirates
That leaves a couple of Bucs exposed to the Rule 5 draft, chief among them LHP Andy Oliver and OF'er Mel Rojas Jr, both who could stick on the right active roster. A couple of other guys could also be in play, although the remaining names aren't great bets to make it through an MLB season. But the Brewers managed to carry Wei-Chung Wang throughout 2014, so anything is possible.

Another move should be just over the horizon. The Pirates are reported to have agreed to a two year/$3M deal with RHP Radhames Liz, a toolsy power starter with a good heater and nasty hook, so when that becomes official, another 40-man player will bite the dust. And, of course, we'd expect the Pirates to dabble in the FA market, though that may take a while. Their top priority should be another pitcher, and that market won't settle until the elite sign.

The moves do show an emphasis on middle relievers and the backup infield spot. The Bucs are carrying a small herd of arms to compete for the relief spot, cleared out with Bryan Morris' and Justin Wilson's departures. They are Collin Balester, Jeremy Bleich, Deolis Guerra, Preston Guilmet, Brad Lincoln, Chaz Roe, Rob Scahill & Blake Wood. And when Liz finally is processed, his two-pitch arsenal may land him among the bullpen candidates, too.

The middle infield gang is also crowded, probably by plan after the Bucs failed last year to put guys like Robert Andino on the 40 man roster and had to live with Michael Martinez, who was. The players now who are eyeing Clint Barmes' bench spot (and it doesn't look like his return is in the cards) are Jake Elmore, Pedro Florimon, Gustavo Nunez & Justin Sellers. All but Nunez have some MLB experience as good glove, bad bat utility guys and are on the 40-man; the 26 year old Nunez has the most upside.

The roster is just a snapshot in time right now; the Pirates will surely dip, sooner or later, into the free agent or trade market, and there will be more signings and claims during the winter. And there's plenty of fringe talent to clear sufficient room without breaking the bank. But now, it gives a strong indication that the FO is looking hard at filling in the fringes at this point, which is a good marker that except for first base (Pedro's job to lose as of now), the starting eight are pretty well set for 2015.

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