First Pitch: The Pirates Need to Upgrade the Offense, and Right Field Stands Out

We’ve talked a lot lately about how strong the starting pitching has been this year. From the best five starters to all of the depth options, the Pirates have gotten great results. Things could get better in a few weeks when they’re hopefully choosing between Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton for the fifth spot, while having no space for James McDonald and Jeanmar Gomez. A lot of teams would love to be in that position.

On the flip side, the offense is starting to look like the offense looked during the first two months of the 2012 season. The strange thing about that is that you go through the lineup, and you can’t really find many spots to upgrade. You’re not getting rid of Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker. Pretty much the only position that stands out is right field. Everything else is either fine with internal options, or smaller deals for platoon options who can hit left-handed pitching. Let’s take a look at the status of each position.

Positions Where No Upgrade Is Needed

Catcher

You don’t need to upgrade over Russell Martin. If Tony Sanchez gets over his recent throwing issues he could provide an upgrade over Michael McKenry as the backup, but that’s not going to make a huge impact.

First Base

The Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez platoon continues to work, although Jones has been struggling a bit. He has a .767 OPS against right-handers in 189 at-bats. Sanchez has a 1.105 OPS in 48 at-bats against lefties. You can’t really replace Jones, so you hope that he comes out of his funk.

Left Field

Starling Marte was great in April, struggled in May, and looks to be coming back around in June. You’re going to have those ups and downs with players in their first full season. Marte is another guy you can’t replace because of the value he brings when his bat is hot, and the value he brings all the time defensively.

Center Field

Andrew McCutchen plays here. You’d like to see him doing better than an .814 OPS. His last four seasons have been:

2010: .814 OPS

2011: .820 OPS

2012: .953 OPS

2013: .814 OPS

You hope that 2012 was the beginning of a breakout and not an outlier. If we play the “Arbitrary Endpoints” game, since the last game in April he has a .901 OPS. So that’s a positive, but it’s really fueled by a strong week at the start of May. Outside of that he’s mostly been in the .814 range. That’s not bad, but the Pirates will need more, and will need him to lead the offense.

Positions That Would Be Hard to Upgrade

Second Base

Neil Walker has been great this year…against right-handers. He has an .826 OPS against right-handers and a .395 OPS against lefties. Teams are starting to catch on, as it seems like Walker is being turned around to bat right-handed a lot lately. I’ve been asked the “why doesn’t Walker just hit left-handed all the time” question over and over. The simple answer is that he’s probably not going to be better making that adjustment at this point in the game.

The Pirates could improve the offense here with a platoon mate for Walker.

Shortstop

You’re not going to find a team willing to trade a productive shortstop. At this point the Pirates would be better off seeing what they have with Mercer.

Third Base

This is similar to Walker. Alvarez has a .783 OPS against right-handers, and a .550 OPS against lefties. I’ve brought up the idea of platooning Alvarez over and over and no one ever seems open to it, mostly because they’re still attached to the fact that Alvarez was a second overall pick. Where Alvarez was drafted is irrelevant to how he’s currently playing. He’s currently playing like a platoon option. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to get him some help against left-handers. He’s still a good player in the more important part of the platoon.

The Obvious Upgrade

The Pirates could use a good everyday player in right field, and Travis Snider isn't looking like that player. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates could use a good everyday player in right field, and Travis Snider isn’t looking like that player. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Right Field

First of all, no one bring up Giancarlo Stanton without reading this. And then after you’ve read that, don’t bring up Giancarlo Stanton.

Travis Snider was looking like a platoon option early in the year, but he’s been inconsistent and has a .694 OPS against right-handers. Jose Tabata was great this year against right-handers, with an .863 OPS. The problem is he can’t stay healthy.

The Pirates could replace one of those two internally with a guy who can hit right-handers, then find a guy who can hit lefties (Snider and Tabata can’t). Felix Pie or Andrew Lambo would both be options against right-handed pitchers in a platoon. The problem is there’s no guarantee they’d upgrade over Snider/Tabata.

This might be a situation where the Pirates would be smart to seek out an everyday player. They don’t really have any big needs across the rest of the roster. This isn’t like previous years where if you traded from the farm system you’d have your choice of several positions to upgrade. Right field sticks out like a sore thumb this year, and is the only position where the Pirates need an everyday upgrade, rather than just a platoon option.

Again, if anyone says Giancarlo Stanton, who isn’t being shopped, I will lose my shit. Not really, but I’m probably not answering your “But what if the Pirates offered this?” question.

UPDATE: Minutes after posting this, I was sent this article from ESPN about how the Pirates should trade for Giancarlo Stanton. We’re dusting off the Trade Value Calculator to take a look at what Stanton would cost, and we’ll have an article in the morning. There’s still the issue where the Marlins haven’t said they’re trading him, which seems pretty significant.

Links and Notes

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**Jeff Locke Shines But Reds Win 2-1 in 13 Innings.

**Prospect Watch: Lambo Homers Twice; Gomez Throws Five No Hit in Rehab Start.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Lose Two Again, De La Cruz Continues Hot Start.

**Minor League Schedule: Sadler and Rowland Set To Go Tonight.

**Minor Moves: Jerry Sands to the DL; Allie, Castro, Heredia Official.

**Mike Zagurski Elects Free Agency.

**Draft Signing Updates: Meadows, Jones, Borden, and More.

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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