Do the Pirates Need a First Baseman?

 

Derrek Lee is one of the first base options who are waiting on Prince Fielder to sign.

Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports took a look at five off-season stories that will carry over in to the 2012 calendar year.  The first two on his list were the first base market, focusing on Prince Fielder, then the players on the market after Fielder.

Fielder is definitely holding the market up right now. Morosi mentions that he might need to choose between the biggest offer and the best opportunity to win. In either event, the Pirates aren’t a candidate to sign him, as they don’t project to be contenders in the next year or two, and don’t have the money to get him to sign.

Morosi mentions the Pirates in the teams who are looking for a first base upgrade, also mentioning the Brewers, Cubs, Nationals, Indians, Mariners, Orioles, Rangers, and Rays. Morosi points out that Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, and Casey Kotchman are legitimate first basemen, but their continued availability is confirmation that teams are holding out hope that Fielder will fall in to their range.

Carlos Lee, Mark Trumbo, Anthony Rizzo, and Billy Butler are four players that Morosi says could be available on the trade market. He mentions that Rizzo, Trumbo, and Butler might be available next off-season as well.

With nine teams looking for first base upgrades it becomes unlikely that the Pirates will land a significant upgrade. Derrek Lee isn’t expected to return, and Carlos Pena is the only other option that provides an upgrade on the free agent market. The Brewers, Nationals, and Rangers would all have the money needed to get Pena if Fielder went to a different team. There’s no guarantee that the young options will be traded. That leaves very few first base options at the top, which historically isn’t a good thing when the Pirates are bidding against eight other teams.

The Pirates could use a first base option. A first baseman like Pena adds a big hitter to the middle of their lineup. It moves Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee to the bench, so that the team is relying on those two as backup plans, rather than hoping they can combine to make up a middle of the order hitter.

It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to go with a Jones/McGehee platoon. Jones did his part in his platoon with Matt Diaz last year, hitting for an .808 OPS against right handers, and struggling with a .460 OPS against left handers. The problem was that Diaz saw some major struggles against left handers, and neither player was good enough defensively to make up for the lack of offense.

A platoon would require that McGehee hit against left handers. In the past he’s crushed left handers, although that wasn’t the case in 2011. After a .947 OPS in 2010 against lefties, McGehee hit for a .413 OPS in 2011 in 124 at-bats. He will need to rebound against left handers to make a platoon work.

If McGehee can hit against left handers, he might make a decent first baseman by himself. He hit for an .801 OPS with 23 homers in 2010, and had an .859 OPS and 16 homers in 355 at-bats during the 2009 season. In a platoon, Garrett Jones would see the bulk of the playing time at first base, which isn’t ideal since Jones isn’t good defensively and doesn’t put up the numbers to excuse that. McGehee’s defense might not be much better, since he’s only seen 22 innings at the position. His 2009/2010 offensive numbers don’t scream “superstar”, but they’re the type of numbers that would make for a decent starting first baseman, even if the defense isn’t top notch.

If the Pirates stick with their in-house options, they’re taking a gamble. The gamble mostly rests on McGehee. He needs to bounce back to his 2009/2010 numbers against left handers for a platoon to work. In order to step up as a full time starter he’d need to bounce back to his full time numbers from 2009/2010. This isn’t a huge gamble, since McGehee had success in just over 1000 plate appearances in 2009/2010 combined. The Pirates would be better off adding a guy like Pena to give a boost to their lineup, which in turn improves the bench by moving McGehee and Jones there full time.

Realistically, the Pirates don’t have a lot to spend. Frank Coonelly mentioned that the team could end up with an Opening Day payroll that would be higher than their final 2011 payroll, which was around $53 M. Sitting at $46 M, the Pirates have anywhere from $7-10 M to spend to get to that level. That would be enough for a first base upgrade. It would be enough for a starting pitching upgrade. But it wouldn’t be enough for both, unless they went with lesser options at each position, which isn’t ideal.

I wrote about the starting pitching need last week. At this point I consider the need for another starter to be more important than the need for first base. I don’t think the gamble on McGehee is as big of a risk as the gamble of going in to the season with the current starting rotation. We won’t see the over-achieving numbers from guys like Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, and Kevin Correia next year, with Karstens, Morton, and James McDonald all likely being in the 4.00 ERA range. Erik Bedard profiles as the best starter on the staff, but it would be a success if he even goes 125 innings, leaving a need for a starter to replace him. If the Pirates are spending $7-10 M, I’d much rather stick with the guy who is a year removed from an .801 OPS and 23 homers, and put the money towards a rotation which currently features a lot of question marks.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    I absolutely agree with you that the available money should be spent on a good reliable starting pitcher  and if money is left consider a young 1st base candidate ie. Lucas Duda who would be very affordable.

    • http://twitter.com/rinsana11 Ross

      yeah well you have to remember those “good reliable starting pitchers” need to agree to come to the pirates first of all. no big name players want to go to the pirates unless they are winners. just because they have available money does not equal they can just sign a roy oswalt with the snap of a finger

  • Todd Smith

    I’m not sure it’s really fair to say all nine of those teams are looking to sign a first baseman.  Several of those teams are just interested in Fielder.  If the Rangers don’t get Fielder, I don’t see them going after Pena or Lee…they would just stick with Moreland.  Same with the Nationals, they would likely just stick with LaRoche if they can’t get Fielder.  The Orioles and Mariners might be in the same boat with internal options at first base and only showing interest in Fielder so far.  The Brewers seem to be ok with going forward with Gamel, and don’t seem to have any more money to spend.  I see the Cubs either spending on Fielder, or going young and cheap with Rizzo.  Lee and Pena don’t seem like fits for their rebuild.

    Getting a Lee or a Pena into the middle of the lineup instead of letting Walker hit cleanup seems like a much bigger need to me than signing Jeff Francis to be the 6th starter, just in case.  Seems like we have a lot of 6th starter options ready at AAA already. I think the Pirates will manage to land a first baseman at a decent price just due to lack of interest around the league.

  • James S

    I would prefer they get another hitter and leave the 6th starter to whoever steps it up best in spring training or the first month of minor league baseball. The Pirates NEVER have enough hitting. Even if they dropped a few bucks on Xavier Nady I’d be happy. He has to be close to healthy since that arm operation a few years ago (if he isnt, nevermind). I’d take Casey Kotchman too.
    Just one more hitter to give them the option in case Garrett Jones or McGehee get hurt, because other than them it’s down to Matt Hague and Jeff Clement. Now maybe Hague won’t be a bad option to bring up if either get hurt, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a proven major leaguer at the ready. They shouldn’t wait for Fielder to sign to because that’s when the run will start and all the available first basemen will be gone quickly.

    If they have any chance at all to get Trumbo in a trade, I wish they would strike now and not wait. Trumbo preferably, because Rizzo didn’t show much in his time in majors. He may be a bust already for all we now, just another Jeff Clement quad-a hitter.

  • Anonymous

    Thing is most 1b that are available are 1 year options. If they really think Pedro is going to rebound offensively and he is eventually going to 1b you cant really clog that position up. Pedro has really painted them into a corner. Maybe they should be looking more for a young 3b since after Pedro maybe Mercer is a good internal candidate.
    For this year it would be great to add a Lee/Pena and a SP like Edwin Jackson but thats a lil shortsighted. Granted maybe that team gets you over .500 not sure if it helps longterm.
    I was wondering if they could approach the Nationals for john Lannan or Ross detwiler. Adding 1 of them via trade and maybe adding whatever 1b is left come late January would be a pretty realistic move.
    I also would like to see Correia moved for a bucket of balls to whoever will take the salary

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740167494 Mike Adamson

    Pitching is what kept the season interesting last season and is the only hope to keep it interesting this season too. Too bad 7-10 million gets you Paul Maholm back. I’m rooting for Pena just so we flip him at the trade deadline to a contender. Fielder isnt happening even though the Pirates should realize the central is wide open this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Klima/847654241 Scott Klima

    I believe that the ideal way to approach our two biggest needs of 1B and SP is to sign a pitcher and trade for a 1B.  Although there aren’t a ton of SP options out there right now, there are still some quality starters, and we can choose from going for an inning eater (bringing Maholm back) or going for a riskier option (Francis, C Young).  I am still in favor of bringing Maholm back, giving us another LHP option in the rotation and someone who we can expect to stick in the rotation the whole year.

    At 1B, the trade options are much better than the FAs.  Lee only played good after the deadline, but was awful with Baltimore, could be a sign that he was just playing for a contract the last couple months.  Pena is ok, but not great.  Very low BA won’t be worth $10 million a year.  Trading for Trumbo or Rizzo makes the most sense, both could potentially lock up the 1B position in Pittsburgh for years.  We could probably dump Jones in a trade for either, along with a good OF prospect (Grossman maybe? hopefully not Marte) and a pitching prospect.  

  • Anonymous

    What about the Pirates calling the Padres and asking about Anthony Rizzo 1B, who appears to be blocked since the trade for Yonder Alonso.  Rizzo has a nice swing who would fit into PNC Park, and he has 6 full years left before free agency.