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.

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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  • James Santelli

    But Tim, what about Giancarlo Stanton?

  • thatboringdude92

    The team would also acquire a left hand hitting 1st baseman and move Jones to RF. When/if Tabata comes back from injury it would strengthen their platoon at RF along with a platoon at 1B in Sanchez/trade acquisition.

  • Monkshot

    I was going to say Josh Willingham, but I had no idea how horrible he was doing this year. He usually warms up as the season progresses.

    Alex Rios? He’s usually solid. I’m way to lazy to look up the splits on these guys.

    I can’t wait to see the outrageous shit people will come up with on here. It never ceases to amaze me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Monkshot…and sh*t they will come up with.

      People love the ‘who hangs up first’ speculations.

      Another thing…even if we GOT Stanton, there’s no guarantees he a) hits or b) stays healthy.

      Foo

    • Blue Bomber

      I think Alex Rios is an interesting name. His splits are about even and he plays great defense. The problem is that he is 32 and owed over 30 mil over the next 2.5 seasons. Not sure if there is a deal here or not, but Kenny Williams has never been afraid to move his players.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gary.martinellijr Gary Martinelli Jr

        I very well could be on an island here, but I think if Huntington offered Bell, Allie, and Snider (or Tabata), for Rios, he could probably get the Sox to cover at least half of Rios’ (approximate), $32M for the next 2.5 seasons. I’d have a hard time believing that any other player, including Stanton, would be that much better a player over the next 2.5 seasons than Rios.

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      Willingham is hardly “horrible” this year, his .767 ops is similar to Marte. He is of course the most obvious fit for us. He’s affordable and has 1 more cheap year ($7 million) left so he can play RF in 2014 before stepping away for Polanco.

      Trading the farm for three arbitration years of Stanton is nonsense.

  • bbelan2343

    I really hope that this team makes a move for a “game changing” right fielder. This lineup has more potential then production right now.

    Two players that I see as likely obtainable.. Alex Rios or Michael Morse. Both would likely be everyday starters, but both come with some baggage though. Morse is a FA in 14′ I think.

    Two less likely scenarios could be players like Michael Cuddyer or Marc Trumbo. I don’t know how much of an upgrade Cuddyer would be in PNC and I don’t know if Trumbo could even be on the market.. or how costly he would end up being. Plus, both of those teams would have to nose dive out of contention to be sellers.

    Staton is a dream. I don’t see NH giving up 2-3 of our top 5 prospects ++ for Stanton. When looking at 12-15+ years of total service time from players like Polanco, Taillon, Sanchez and/or Hanson may just be too much to ask for.

    If it was a package like Polanco, Bell, Kingham and Heredia or Glasnow.. maybe. But I feel in the end, Marlins will just want too much.

    • buster09

      I have just watched Polanco for the third game since he was promoted,and in my opinion,I would question NHs sanity if he included Polanco in a trade for almost anybody that isn’t head and shoulders above him in the same age bracket ( 21 ). If this kid doesn’t turn out to be a top tier player,then nobody in that system ever will. He looks far more advanced offensively to me than McCutchen and Marte were when they were in AA.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        “If this kid doesn’t turn out to be a top tier player,then nobody in that system ever will.”

        A man after my own heart.

        • buster09

          Tim,I have seen thousands of prospects in my lifetime,but I have never been any more impressed than I have been with this kid. If I wouldn’t have been before,his 2nd AB last night was the clincher. I won’t take the time to go through it,but to see it was to believe it. When I watched McCutchen,Marte,and Pedro Alvarez,I thought they were going to be excellent MLB players,but they weren’t even close to this guy.

          • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

            There’s a reason I had him number one in the system over Taillon in my own mid-season rankings. I don’t think we’ve seen the best from him. And right now he doesn’t really have a glaring hole in his game. As safe of a hitting prospect as you can find.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

    Giancarlo Stanton is a great player no doubt but We are loaded with good outfielders in this organization. 2 of which already play in the outfield in McCutchen and Marte . Plus we have Polanco, in AA . I don’t want to trade Taillon,Polanco,Hansen,and Snider to get a player we have absolutely no chance of signing when his contract is up. We are looking good for the next 10 years in my opinion with the talent NH has stock piled. We are a top system in baseball as far as prospects go. This team is better suited to hang tight and use what you have in the organization. I think Tabata should get another look when he’s healthy . If not maybe Lambo ends up being a nice bridge to Polanco who by the way would have the biggest upside in the Pirate outfield right now

    • buster09

      Chris,as is obvious from my comment,I agree with you whole heartedly. Besides,ESPN can say wht they want,but if they would trade for Stanton,they are still going to finish third in this division this year.

  • finner68

    The Pirates need an upgrade but there is no way they make that trade. Stanton would be great bat in the middle of the lineup. I think the Pirates are assuming Taillon will be a front end starter. The potential is there for Polanco and Hansen to be great players. Who would the Pirates be willing to give up to get Stanton?Is there another bat out there? Too early to tell?

  • johnj618

    One of the reasons you stockpile talent besides the obvious reason of it playing in the majors is using it to acquire proven players. The pirates have stockpiled outfield, catching and especially starting pitching depth. So I would attempt to put a package together with one of each of those and something else, maybe even one of the major league right fielders, and the system would still look fine given all the talent built up.

  • johnj618

    By the way, my offer would be Polanco, Kingham, Sanchez and they’re choice of Presley/Snider. I would maybe go from Kingham to Glasnow but I would try not to give up Taillon. If anything I would throw in an additional B- prospect

    • buster09

      Frankly johnj618,I am sooo glad that you are NOT the Pirates’ GM. To be even more honest,that woould go down as one of the dumbest trades since the Dodger/Red Sox fiasco last season,maybe even worse.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        buster…agree.

  • espada14

    What does anybody think about Alex Gordon? Importantly, he would not need to be platooned.

    • buster09

      Gordon would be a fine pick up in my opinion. But I add this to my idea on any deal : I would not include Greg Polanco in a deal for anyone in MLB right now except for Profar,Trout or Bryce Harper. Anyone who talks about including him in a deal has never seen him play.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        The Royals are in a pennant race. I doubt they are moving Gordon.

      • IC Bob

        If he is that talented then bring him up now. Problem solved. If he still has holes then adding the best rightfielder in the game for at least 4 years is something to consider.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          That’s not how it works, unless you want to ruin a really good prospect.

          • IC Bob

            Worked out OK for Pujois. I guess what I am saying is we have makred in Penthat Polanco will be a 300 hitter with 30 HR 100 RBI and 30 SBs and he has a dozen ABs in AA. Their is nothing wrong with trading super young talent to get a major league Allstar in his prime. It was mentioned the best comparison was Cabrara to the Tigers. Miller was a can’t miss prospect that any team could get now for a bag of baseballs. Maybin has never been more then a speed guy when healthy. At the time all i heard was Maybin was a 30, 30 guy who would hit 300 hundred, win countless gold gloves and Miller was a future number 1. This sounds very familiar to waht we are discussing today. Additionally our Bucs are getting close to a 40 man roster crunch so we may have to make a multi prospect trade to alleviate that issue anyways.

  • johnj618

    Okay I get it, you’re very high on polanco for good reason. But if you are gaining an established commodity under team control until 2016 at a position of need in exchange for players to never exceed AA and avoid giving up your top prospect, I wouldn’t consider it a dumb trade. Also, there are much worse hypothetical offers floating around.

    • buster09

      I have seen Cole,Taillon ,Marte,Wilson,Locke,Watson,you name them in the past 5 seasons or so,and none of them were the same type of player as Polanco is going to be,barring injury of course. He should be the Top Prospect in the orginization right now,and I ‘ll bet f you could get the truth out of the FO,they would tell you that too.

  • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

    Even though Stanton is the type of right handed bat to add with his mammoth power. I would not part with Taillon or Polanco in any deal at this point. This system is deep and surely they can make a trade for someone without trading the top two prospects who are both top 25 in all of baseball and fairly close to being in the majors themselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Get over it yinz guys. :)

    Bud Selig will correct the stupid MLB blackout rules before we get Stanton.

    Besides, does anyone here remember how excited we were to get the young slugger Adam Laroche who had just come off of a 30+ HR season???

    Wait, wait….Stanton would be different, right? Well, you would hope, but…

    There’s no guarantees.

  • Monkshot

    The outfield of Marte, Cutch and Polanco must happen. Talk about dominant.

    • Blue Bomber

      Not as dominant as Marte, Cutch, and Stanton, and we wouldn’t have to wait until 2015 to see it.

      • buster09

        BB : you won’t be waiting till ’15 to see Polanco either,and I would say it will be as dominant an outfeld as there is in the NL right now,plus,a much more financially viable payroll. I will say it one more time : if it isn’t Profar,Trout or Harper, Polanco isn’t going anywhere. I would also say the same thing about Taillon also as far as that goes. One question BB : have you seen either of these two playing in AA ?

      • blackmax

        No hitter in the Pirates’ system projects to be as good as Stanton. If they want Polanco, it would be ok with me. The only question for me is whether the Pirates can risk parting with a potential ace like Taillon in package for Stanton. We have never seen the Pirates with a dominant pitcher, and it would make them perennial contenders. But if the Mariners traded Taijuan Walker and their top prospects for Stanton, I would not think it was a bad deal. Maybe even Taillon, who could very well be more effective than Cole, should be included in an offer to the Marlins.

        • buster09

          blackmax : without getting into an argument with you about this,all I can say is what I told John above. It’s a damned good thing ,and I am sooo glad ,that people like you aren’t running the FO these days.

          • blackmax

            Time will tell. I hope that people like you aren’t in charge of anything important.

  • Jelme

    What about Alex Rios? CWS will be sellers, should come MUCH cheaper than a Stanton and he is an every day RF.

  • deacs

    I don’t get bothered by the ESPN articles. It’s their job to look at teams with needs and look their farm systems etc. I do the same thing in fantasy football. I was going to suggest Stanton as a joke but Tim seems a little tired and I don’t want to get booted off the site as I’m on here multiple times a day. I say go after a rental and hope Polanco works out in 2014. I’m starting to lose my patience with Walker though. 2 pickoffs last night was a disgrace.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Actually that was just me joking around.

      We’ll have an article up on Stanton shortly.

    • buster09

      deacs : I have already lost my patience with him. Most of his ABs this week have been as weak as any Clint Barmes has shown,and he gets very little criticism for his performances.

  • deacs

    I noticed there’s more cursing on the site this year. As long as it’s done tastefully is this allowed? I’m only half kidding.

    • buster09

      deacs : if that ” m ” offends you,delete it and put an ” r ” in its place.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Do you mean my articles, or the comments?

      The rules for the comments are always the same (link to the rules at the top of the page). Mostly just keep it civil. We’re only talking baseball here.

  • deacs

    I meant both. The urge to curse about this team can be so overwhelming at times and when I saw a few 4 letter words I thought hey – maybe I can let loose a little too. I have to stay almost completely silent after the 6th or 7th innings because my son wakes up if you sneeze and my wfe is due soon. But in all seriousness I don’t think you have to worry about me getting out of hand with the language. Even after last night’s game.

    • deacs

      Maybe I can start yelling into a glove or something like when any Reds pitcher doesn’t get a call.

  • leadoff

    Stanton won’t cure the problem, he can’t hit for the rest of the team with men on base, the problem can’t be cured with one trade, the players they have are the ones that have to cure the problem.
    McCutchen is the 3 hitter and he can’t hit with RISP consistently enough, neither can anyone else on this team. One trade is a bandaide and giving up any of their top prosects is farming suicide for a shot in the dark cure and not to mention a very expensive move makes no sense.
    If it were me I would start running up some of those AAA players that can hit and bench guys like Walker, McCutchen and actually most of the players on this team for a little while, might just wake them up. I think it is time the manager sent a message, benching usually does it. IMO, they need someone to quit patting them on the back and give a few guys a kick in the ass.
    This making every pitcher they face look like Cy Young has to stop, strikeouts are not acceptable and that message has to be sent somehow.

    • buster09

      leadoff : well said ! you are saying what I have been thinking. Putting Stanton in this current lineup might get you third in the division.

    • stickyweb

      I wonder if Reds fans are complaining about how their hitters made Morton and Locke look like Cy Young the last 2 days?

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Talk about a fantastic article to generate input. Why would the Pirates have to wait until 2015 to get Polanco into the majors? I have always held that kids who can hit in AA can hit in the majors. There are still some teams who groom their pitchers/players to do the stop at AAA, but I think that is mostly to learn those last few things that almost always takes as long as it takes to avoid having a prospect earn a service year in the majors. If you wait until June to bring them up, the rest of the year is a freebie. How many games did Manny Machado play in AAA? ZERO. 109 games at AA hitting .266 and a .954 fielding percentage at Shortstop. Or, we bring him up as soon as possible in September, do the AAA thing for April and May 2014 and into the starting RF position. That way the Pirates could get 5 or 6 months free and not start his service clock until 2015.

  • Cave Bonifield

    Andre Ethier works fr me.

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      and the $70 million he is owed over the next 4 seasons? The Dodgers would have to send a truckload of money are way and even then I wouldn’t give up much to get him.

  • westonian420

    Third base needs to be under the “no upgrade needed” category. If you combined Mercer and Barmes you might have a descent player but as is shortstop is the most obvious upgrade needed

  • deacs

    I agree. After Pedro’s big double today I think we can put the Pedro can’t hit lefties talk to bed………………..ok fine. Sometimes him and Jones look drunk and tired against lefties. I’m just excited about the double.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Here is the issue with Alex Rios. Could someone pull up his stats year to year please. Okay, good. Now, i want you to calculate the Standard Deviation of all his important statistics. Basically, the guy is hit and miss……all the time. Every year you roll your dice to see if you get a .220 hitter with 10 homer or a .280 25 homer guy with 20 steals. No consistency, and he’s never played in the NL before. The last thing we need is a big trade that ends up a dud like Ludwick in 2011. We need someone we’d be reasonably sure would perform and Rios isn’t that guy. Morse would be more likely to NOT be a boat anchor, provides more power, is used to the NL, and has succeeded in a ballpark that’s big like it would be for him here in pittsburgh. We’ve tried to get Willingham 27 times before, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we tried again, he fits into what we’ve done the last few years, he has NL experience and some success here, but I’m not sure he’s better than a right handed platoon option either honestly at this point in his career

    • Y2JGQ2

      sorry about that, my computer went retarded for a minute. Actually Deacs- the thing with pedro is. He can hit leftys as long as they don’t throw over 95 and don’t have good breaking pitches or the balls to use them. No lefty is going to hit 100 MPH coming from a lefty so i’m not blaming him for those AB’s. And most lefty specialists, are going to either strike him out or walk him, and that’s reality. I think Pedro can hit lefty’s as starting pitchers that are 3-5 in the rotation and have good control. Pedro is realistically a player who needs to be benched when about 50-70% of lefties are on the mound, but never taken out early in the game (at a time where he may get another AB). If we followed that I think we’d be okay. Even more okay if we had someone other than inge to bat for him who is not exactly an upgrade. DFA Inge already, bring up Chase or Dejesus. I’d prefer Dejesus for his hitting ability and we aren’t hurting his development on the bench

  • finner68

    After reading Buster and Tim’s comments, I can’t wait to get a chance to see Polanco play. He wasn’t with Altoona when I watched them earlier this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=661881564 Bob Smith

    One move I wouldn’t mind seeing a kind of under radar that could pay off would be for marlon byrd. Ops over .800 35 free agent after this year and cheap rt fielder only makes 700k. And mets are terrible shouldnt. Cost much. Not a blockbuster but a bat thay helps

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=661881564 Bob Smith

    I know his issues before somebody says it. Im not wanting him to date my daughter just drive in runs.

  • https://profiles.google.com/116899082423235635777 Monsoon Harvard

    I say that Walker is glaring weak spot. He just hasn’t become the hitter they’d hoped they had. I like the guy and all, but this position in the lineup could be so much better hitting-wise.
    Still, I’d upgrade right field too, if they could get a steady 20 homer/ 35 doubles/ .280 avg or better hitter.