Earlier today I posted a rundown of the injured players on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster, noting the estimated returns. Several players are expected to return shortly after the All-Star break, such as Pedro Alvarez, Joe Beimel, Ronny Cedeno, and Jose Tabata. While typing up the article, I was thinking about the tough decisions that the Pirates will face to make room for these four players. David Todd of Extra Innings beat me to it, with his excellent look at the July roster crunch. David takes a good approach, and all of his moves make sense. However, these moves really come down to preference, so allow me to take a stab at it.
The best place to start is the bullpen, since there’s only one immediate move to make. Beimel will return, which will likely force one of Daniel Moskos, Tony Watson, or Chris Leroux off the 25-man roster. The Pirates could opt for three left handers in the bullpen, which would make Leroux the odd-man out. If they stick with Leroux, then my guess is Moskos will go down, based on how the playing time and situations seem to favor Watson so far.
Pedro Alvarez and Ronny Cedeno
Alvarez will return and take over third base, which has been held down by a combination of Brandon Wood, Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud. D’Arnaud has been playing shortstop while Ronny Cedeno has been out, with Pedro Ciriaco serving as the backup. Once Cedeno and Alvarez return, the Pirates will only need two of these options. The easy choice is to send Pedro Ciriaco down, although that creates a tough decision between Wood, Harrison, and d’Arnaud.
The argument for Wood is that he hasn’t been bad since the month of June started. He’s got a .250/.301/.441 line, showing some nice power off the bench with four homers in 68 at-bats. He is also out of options, so the Pirates would have to waive him.
D’Arnaud isn’t having the best results at the plate, with a .231/.259/.327 line before tonight’s 1-for-3 performance. He has been a weapon on the base paths with his speed, going 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts, and his defense hasn’t been bad, outside of a wild throw tonight.
Harrison has a .274/.284/.315 line in 73 at-bats. He’s hitting for a decent average in his limited at-bats, but not drawing any walks (1 in 75 plate appearances) and not hitting for much power. He can’t play shortstop like d’Arnaud and Wood, and falls behind both defensively at third base.
Offensively speaking, the best combination would be Wood and Harrison, based on Wood’s recent success, and Harrison edging out d’Arnaud (although none of the options stand out right now, with Harrison and d’Arnaud having limited at-bats). Defensively, the best combination is d’Arnaud backing up second base and shortstop, with Wood backing up third base. Looking long term, the best combination is d’Arnaud and Harrison. It looks like it will be d’Arnaud and Wood, based on how the playing time has gone with Alvarez and Cedeno out.
The big question here is, what happens with Alex Presley. This could be one of the most interesting situations, as Presley had a .324/.381/.541 line heading in to tonight’s game, while going 1-for-3 with a walk tonight. You could leave Presley in as a starter, but what happens with the Matt Diaz/Garrett Jones platoon?
Diaz has actually been good lately. In fact, since the beginning of May, he is hitting for a .314/.339/.390 line in 105 at-bats. That’s a nice bat to have off the bench, although not someone I want starting. Jones has also been good, with a .255/.339/.444 line on the season. He’s been great in June and July, with a .309/.352/.519 line in 81 at-bats. Jones is mostly beating up on right handers, with a .278/.370/.483 line in 180 at-bats. Like Diaz, he’s not a strong starting option, but is a good bench option.
The Pirates also have Xavier Paul in the outfield. Paul has a .267/.294/.358 line this year, but has strong defensive and base running skills. He’s basically a fifth outfielder, and would be the most expendable player on the roster.
The Pirates could move Jones to first base, although Lyle Overbay is on a bit of a hot streak, with a .302/.348/.419 line in 43 at-bats in the last two weeks. That would allow for Diaz and Paul to serve as backups in the outfield.
The playing time preference should go to Alex Presley. From there, the Pirates need to make room by removing one of the Jones/Diaz/Paul/Overbay group. The easy option would be to designate Paul for assignment. However, you run in to the problem where you have both Jones and Diaz on the bench, which is mostly an issue for Jones, as he’s had the best bat out of himself, Diaz, and Overbay. The tough decision here might be cutting one of Diaz or Overbay. The best decision for the team would be to keep Diaz, Jones, and Overbay, letting Paul go. Paul is talented, but he’s easily replaceable. Finding a defense/speed guy isn’t hard to do. The Pirates were able to do that with Paul off of the waiver wires. The only issue here would be finding playing time for Jones, as he’s performing the best out of the three remaining options.
The Pirates have some tough initial decisions in the short term, although they’re mostly making decisions on the last guys on the bench, and the last guys in the bullpen. In the long term, those decisions only get more difficult. Ross Ohlendorf should return in August, which raises some big questions about what happens with the rotation. Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit could be back by late August, which would put Eric Fryer and Michael McKenry in the minors. Evan Meek returning around August will present another decision for the makeup of the bullpen.