The Pirates demoted Andrew McCutchen and Brian Bixler, two of their hottest hitters in Spring Training, sending both to AAA. The impact of the moves can be seen on the Spring Training Tracker and the 25-man roster projection.
The move to demote McCutchen is no surprise. First, McCutchen is not on the current 40-man roster. Second, the Pirates have options in the majors like Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan who are on the 40-man roster, and will receive the first shot. Make no mistake about it, McCutchen owns a job in Pittsburgh when he is called up.
The big reason McCutchen was sent down was to delay his arbitration clock, even if the Pirates aren’t willing to say it publicly. If the Pirates were to bring McCutchen up on Opening Day, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. If the Pirates wait a month, McCutchen is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. Makes sense to wait a month and gain an extra year of service time.
Furthermore, if the Pirates wait until June to bring McCutchen up, they avoid him running in two “Super-Two” status, which means he would receive four years of arbitration and two league minimum years, rather than the standard three and three. I’m hoping they just lock him up right away, like Tampa Bay did with Evan Longoria, and like Milwaukee did with Ryan Braun.
As for Bixler, I went over how thin the Pirates are at shortstop in the minor league system. Bixler is the only real option to replace Jack Wilson if Wilson were to depart. It only makes sense to have him working everyday on his defense and hitting, rather than holding a spot on the bench in the majors.
Luis Cruz will most likely take the final bench spot, unless the Pirates add someone from the outside. Chances are that final bench spot will belong to Andy Phillips after Phillips spends some time rehabbing and working on his second base skills at AAA.
The Pirates have 35 players left in camp, and five spots on the roster remaining.