One of the needs the Pittsburgh Pirates need to eventually address is their starting shortstop role. Ronny Cedeno has strong defensive tools, but inconsistent play limits him, and made him a below-average shortstop in 2010. The Pirates don’t necessarily need an All-Star shortstop. Their biggest need would be a strong defender, especially since the current rotation and a lot of the top minor league prospects are heavy ground ball pitchers. Also, as Charlie at Bucs Dugout has pointed out a lot this off-season, any talk of adding new pitchers to the rotation seems useless without upgrading the defense behind those pitchers.
The Pirates could go with Cedeno at shortstop in 2011, and hope that he shows some sort of defensive consistency. They also have defense-only options in Pedro Ciriaco and Argenis Diaz, although neither is proven at the major league level. The Pirates also have Chase D’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, and Brian Friday close to the majors. D’Arnaud is the top prospect in that group, although all three had their issues this past year, with no guarantees of one of those three being ready for the majors in 2011.
If the Pirates want to upgrade over Ronny Cedeno, they need to do so before Thursday, which is the deadline to tender him an offer of arbitration. The Thursday deadline could bring a few other options from potential non-tender candidates around the league.
J.J. Hardy - There has been talk that the Twins will non-tender Hardy, especially with the addition of Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. However, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Twins will probably tender Hardy an offer due to his trade value. The Pirates tried to acquire Hardy last off-season, offering Matt Capps and Ryan Doumit to the Milwaukee Brewers. Hardy has one year of arbitration remaining, and is eligible for free agency following the 2011 season. He will likely receive a raise over his $5.1 M salary, likely making $5.5-6 M.
Hardy is coming off a season in which he hit for a .268/.320/.394 line in 340 at-bats. In 2009 he hit for a .229/.302/.357 line in 414 at-bats. His best season was in 2008, hitting for a .283/.343/.478 line in 569 at-bats. The most important thing is Hardy’s defensive value. He has a career 11.0 UZR/150, including a 12.8 UZR/150 in 2010 with the Twins. His career rating would have been good enough to rank second among qualified major leaguers in 2010.
Ryan Theriot - Theriot was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010, but doesn’t have a spot in the lineup now that the Dodgers have signed Juan Uribe and have Rafael Furcal at shortstop. Theriot has two years of arbitration remaining, and will be due a raise over his $2.6 M salary in 2010.
Theriot hit for a .270/.321/.312 line in 2010. He had decent numbers in 2008 and 2009 with the Cubs, combining for a .295/.365/.364 line. He didn’t play shortstop in 2010, since the Cubs had Starlin Castro, and the Dodgers had Rafael Furcal. Prior to the 2010 season, Theriot put up a UZR/150 of 4.1 in 2009, 2.3 in 2008, and 4.4 in 2007. He’s also a threat on the base paths, with at least 20 stolen bases in each of the last four years.
Hardy is definitely the better defensive option, and has a remote chance of bouncing back to his 2007/2008 hitting numbers, which would make him a huge addition. Theriot isn’t as good on defense as Hardy, and is coming off a down year, but is definitely an upgrade over Cedeno, strong defensively, and could be a decent offensive addition to the lineup. MLB Trade Rumors mentions that Theriot will draw interest if he’s non-tendered, listing the Orioles and Rockies as teams that could be interested.
If the Pirates want to land either player, they would have to make a trade, as they would be unlikely to land either option if they reached the open market (similar to the Akinori Iwamura trade last year). Theriot would be the cheaper option, both in terms of the price in prospects it would take to acquire him, and in total cost. He’s also under control for two years, giving the team some time to develop an internal option. Hardy is the better option defensively, and possibly overall, depending on how well his hitting rebounds. However, he would cost $5.5-6 M, plus he would cost more in prospects, all for a one year upgrade. One consolation is that Hardy is on the verge of being a Type B free agent following the 2011 season, and a strong 2011 season would very likely bring the Pirates some compensation if Hardy left for free agency.
If the Pirates acquired one of these two this week, they could subtract about $2 M from the total cost, as they wouldn’t have a need to tender a contract to Ronny Cedeno. However, there has been nothing linking the Pirates to Hardy or Theriot this off-season, so a move this week could be just wishful thinking.
My preference would be adding Theriot, who is likely to be non-tendered by the Dodgers on Thursday. Theriot is an upgrade over Cedeno, slightly above average on defense, and has put up a good average and on-base percentage in recent years, with the ability to swipe 20+ bases a season. He wouldn’t be as hard to acquire, he would be under control for two years, and he probably wouldn’t bump the 40-man payroll projection up by more than $1-2 M with Cedeno gone, leaving plenty of room for other additions. My ideal trade would also include James Loney, who is the position player the Dodgers are most willing to trade, according to Ken Rosenthal. I’ve mentioned before that Loney has strong career numbers away from Dodger Stadium, with a .307/.361/.493 line in his career on the road. Adding Loney and Theriot would fill two needs, and provide a significant upgrade to the infield defense, which in turn would help the pitching staff.