The Upcoming Roster Crunch
The Pirates have some interesting decisions to make in the next few weeks. It’s very likely that Neil Walker, Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez could be called up in the next month, and if all four get the call, the current 25-man roster could see some major changes.
It’s not a guarantee that all four players will get the call, but for now let’s assume all four players will be up by this time next month. Let’s take a look at some of the possible changes that could be made to the roster with the addition of these four players. Note that the ETA times below are just my opinion, and not based on anything else.
Chance of Being Called Up: Guaranteed. Lincoln currently sports a 3.83 ERA in eight AAA starts, spanning 49.1 innings. He has a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9 ratio in that time frame, and a 1.13 WHIP. Lincoln has looked great in his three starts in the month of May, with a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings of work, plus a 21:3 K/BB ratio.
Estimated Arrival: I’d expect Lincoln to make, at most, two more starts at the AAA level. He starts today, and is in line to make his next start next Friday. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes his debut on June 2nd at home against the Chicago Cubs.
Who He Could Replace: A lot of people will probably call for Charlie Morton to be replaced, but the move that makes the most sense is replacing either Jeff Karstens or Brian Burres. Lincoln would take Burres’ place in the rotation regardless, with either Karstens or Burres remaining in the major league bullpen. Neither player could provide the long term impact Morton can provide, so the Pirates are best giving Morton more major league innings, and hoping that he can overcome his struggles.
Chance of Being Called Up: Somewhat guaranteed. I don’t think the Pirates can keep Walker down with the way he’s been playing. He’s currently hitting for a .327/.397/.572 line in 159 at-bats in AAA. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that he has played 11 of his last 13 games at second base, especially with Aki Iwamura struggling in the majors.
Estimated Arrival: He’s past the point where he would top one year of service time this season, so he could be called up at any time. That could be very soon if Iwamura’s current injury forces a trip to the disabled list.
Who He Could Replace: Aki Iwamura would probably be on the chopping block. The ideal scenario would be for Iwamura to go to the disabled list, which would give Walker a try out at the major league level, without losing Iwamura, thus keeping Iwamura for insurance. Iwamura was brought in because there were no major league options for second base. Walker’s re-emergence now provides an option at second, making Iwamura useless. The Pirates could give Iwamura the at-bats, hoping he starts hitting enough to get some trade value, but they’d be better off giving Walker those at-bats to figure out if they’ve got their second baseman of the future.
Chance of Being Called Up: Guaranteed? Alvarez got off to a really slow start in the month of April, with a .224/.298/.424 line in 85 at-bats. So far in the month of May he’s hitting for a .286/.386/.571 line in 70 at-bats. He’s also seen his walk rate jump from 8.5% in April to 13.3% in May, with his strikeout rate dropping from 26.6% in April to 20.5% in May. He’s making good strides, and could be on pace for a call-up when the calendar turns to June, but recent comments from Kyle Stark have suggested that he could be held back a bit. Then again, maybe that’s just a coverup for the Pirates delaying Alvarez for Super Two reasons. The last thing they want is a grievance from Scott Boras over the issue.
Estimated Arrival: The first week in June would be ideal. The Pirates are home, and Alvarez would most likely avoid Super Two status. That arrival time could be a guarantee if Alvarez catches fire in the next week at the AAA level.
Who He Could Replace: Andy LaRoche is the only logical choice as far as the lineup goes. LaRoche started off the season strong, but has struggled lately, seeing his batting line drop to .256/.329/.364. His defense has also seen some struggles, with a -3.3 UZR. I’d put Alvarez at third base, then have Walker and LaRoche split time at second base, with the idea that the competition would push each player, with one emerging as a strong option at second.
A roster spot would need to be cleared, and that could be several options. Jeff Clement could be the most likely option. Clement is currently hitting for a .182/.234/.323 line in 99 at-bats this season. He has actually seen a decrease in his production in the month of May, going from a .188 average and a .613 OPS in April, to a .171 average and a .452 OPS in May. So far Steve Pearce has done well, hitting for a .280/.387/.440 line, although that’s just 25 at-bats. Pearce has started two of the last three games at first base.
Chance of Being Called Up: A few weeks ago I wrote about how it might not be a guarantee that Jose Tabata gets called up this year. Tabata is looking good at the plate, with a .323/.385/.429 line in 161 at-bats. However, he’s still young, and there’s still a chance he could hit for power. It wouldn’t hurt to bring Tabata up, but the Pirates might be better off making sure he is finished with his development at the AAA level before calling him up, similar to what they did by holding Andrew McCutchen down the entire 2008 season.
Estimated Arrival: If he is called up, it could be the first week of June. He’s hitting for a .353/.418/.441 line in 68 at-bats in the month of May. If Alvarez is called up, then an order of Tabata, McCutchen, Garrett Jones, and Alvarez could be pretty productive at the top of the Pirates’ batting order.
Who He Could Replace: If Tabata, Alvarez, and Walker are all called up, I can’t see how Jeff Clement stays on the roster. Furthermore, another player would have to leave, and that could very well be Delwyn Young. Young is hitting for a .210/.258/.355 line in 62 at-bats this season. As usual, Young has been effective as a bench player, with a .273 average in 22 at-bats. Young has struggled as a starter when he gets regular playing time, which really reduces his value.
As for the lineup, it all hinges on what happens at first base. The Pirates could move Garrett Jones to first base, with Tabata and Lastings Milledge in the corner outfield spots. However, Milledge isn’t faring too well this season, with a .246/.318/.313 line in 134 at-bats. Milledge has come around in the month of May, with a .275/.373/.353 line, although clearly the power isn’t there. If Clement gets sent down, the decision here could be between Milledge and Pearce. Either the Pirates could go with Jones at first, and Milledge/Tabata in the outfield, or they could go with Jones/Tabata in the outfield, and Pearce at first.
My Ideal Lineup…
I would platoon LaRoche and Walker at second base, as I mentioned above. As for the other platoon, I’d split time between Milledge and Pearce. When Pearce plays, Jones would be in left field, and when Milledge plays, Jones would move to first base. I realize that Pearce and Milledge are both right handed, so this wouldn’t be so much of a platoon as it would be splitting playing time between the two players until one was established as an everyday starter.
The good thing about the upcoming roster crunch is that it could add pressure on players to perform. One of the big problems with the Pirates so far this year has been the lack of offense, which mostly comes from the struggles seen from Milledge, Clement, and LaRoche. This time next month all of those players could be playing to try and stay in the lineup. Hopefully that will lead to a reliable second baseman, and a reliable first base and corner outfield situation by this time next month.