After Jordy Mercer’s first home run today, Greg Brown said the Pirates will have a difficult decision coming up, deciding what to do with the infielder. After the second homer, Brown said the same thing. I saw a lot of the same on Twitter today during the game, possibly repeating Brown’s comments.
With all due respect to everyone saying this, the decision isn’t difficult at all. The decision to be made on Mercer is easy. He needs to stay in the majors and continue getting playing time, and John McDonald needs to be removed from the roster.
The only way the decision would be difficult with Mercer is if the Pirates thought McDonald was deserving of a roster spot. He isn’t. It would be difficult if McDonald was hitting. He isn’t. It would be difficult if McDonald was playing flawless defense in his limited time on the field. He isn’t. It would be difficult if the Pirates only had one strong defensive backup infielder. They don’t. There’s also Brandon Inge. And there’s Clint Barmes as the starter, making McDonald useless.
I wrote about this earlier in the week, and we talked about it again on the podcast this week. When Neil Walker returns, the Pirates need to keep Jordy Mercer. They need to drop John McDonald. They need to shift Brandon Inge to McDonald’s old spot as the last player off the bench. They need to give Inge’s old spot to Mercer, giving him a few starts per week, and most of the bench at-bats. Mercer is hitting just as good, or better than McDonald and Inge. Neither of those guys have any future with the team. You only need one for the team leadership factor, and you don’t need that one player playing to take advantage of that clubhouse factor.
Meanwhile, Mercer is actually hitting, and has long-term value. If he can benefit from extra playing time in the majors, the Pirates benefit in the long-run. Maybe that means they can be comfortable with him as the starting shortstop in 2014. Maybe it means they make the switch earlier than 2014.
I like Clint Barmes. Not in the same way that I like Starling Marte or Andrew McCutchen, but in the appropriate “he’s got great defense and that gives him some value” way. You’re not going to find a two-way shortstop on the free agent market, and you’re also not going to find teams willing to give up those types of shortstop prospects in trades. I thought it was a good move to bring Barmes in last year at a time where the Pirates didn’t have any internal options ready for the majors.
Barmes has provided a lot of value with his defense. The Pirates have a great infield defense, and you could argue that he’s the key for that. But at a certain point, the lack of offense outweighs the strong defense. According to UZR, Barmes was the best defensive shortstop in the National League last year. However, he had a .229 average and a .593 OPS last year. A lot of that was due to a rough start. From June through the end of the season he had a .255 average and a .650 OPS. That’s fine if it comes with the defense.
So far this year Barmes is off to another bad start. He’s got a .207 average and a .516 OPS. That’s actually better than his start last April and May, but still bad. Barmes in the .650 OPS range, with his defense, is good. But if Barmes doesn’t turn it around this year like he did last year, then the Pirates need to consider replacing him.
I don’t think that Mercer has a lot to work on in Triple-A. I also don’t think that he will lose anything from his game if he doesn’t play daily in Triple-A, as long as he gets somewhat regular time in the majors (which he can, even off the bench, as long as he gets Brandon Inge’s time).
The issue with Mercer throughout his career is that he starts slow at each level. Knowing this, we shouldn’t expect Mercer to have more value than Barmes right away. Yes, he hit two home runs today, but two days ago his numbers were Barmes-like, and he doesn’t have the defense Barmes has. If you give Mercer playing time in the majors, you allow him to slowly adjust to major league pitching. If Barmes continues to struggle, give Mercer a few starts at short. When Mercer shows consistency, and if Barmes isn’t turning it around, that’s when you make the switch. Because he’s been a slow starter at each level, I think there’s more value in easing him into the majors on a bench role, rather than waiting until 2014 (or until you’re ready to replace Barmes in 2013) and throwing him in the mix. I think if you go with the latter approach, you risk having someone who hits the same as Barmes, and doesn’t have the same defense.
So I would ease Mercer in. The Pirates have an easy decision to keep him in the majors. They shouldn’t have any issues finding playing time, especially since he has some history of hitting lefties, and their regular second and third basemen struggle against lefties. That’s the perfect opportunity to ease him in. The only tough decision would be when to make the switch from Barmes to Mercer.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.
**Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 3: What To Do With Alvarez, Gomez, and Mercer; Casey Sadler Interview.