Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: First Base

Garrett Jones struggled to hold up his half of the first base platoon this year. Photo Credit: David Hague

Garrett Jones struggled to hold up his half of the first base platoon this year. Photo Credit: David Hague

The Pittsburgh Pirates have tried a platoon with Garrett Jones for the past three seasons. In 2011 they brought in Matt Diaz and tried to platoon both players in right field. Jones held up his end of the platoon, with an .808 OPS against right-handers. Diaz didn’t hold up his end, with a .704 OPS against left-handers. What made matters worse was that Lyle Overbay struggled at first base, leading to Jones getting more playing time at the position. That led to Jones facing more left-handers, and Diaz facing a lot of right-handers.

In 2012 the Pirates moved the platoon to first base, and brought in Casey McGehee as the platoon partner for Jones. Once again, Jones did well with an .888 OPS against right-handers. McGehee also did well, putting up an .807 OPS against left-handers. However, the Pirates had problems in right field, forcing the platoon apart. Jones went to right, where he played more left-handers, and McGehee got more playing time against right-handers at first.

The 2013 season looked to be the year where the Pirates could finally put a platoon at first and leave the platoon alone. They had Jones once again, and they had Gaby Sanchez, who has been very successful in his career against left-handers. They also had plenty of options in right-field, such as Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, and Jerry Sands. Unfortunately, the right field situation didn’t work out, and once again Jones was forced to spend more time in right field, with both Jones and Sanchez playing outside of their platoon roles.

That wasn’t the problem with the 2013 platoon. The biggest problem in 2013 was that it was Jones who didn’t carry his end of the platoon. He had a .730 OPS against right-handers this year, with some major struggles down the stretch in August and September. Gaby Sanchez held up his end of the platoon, with an amazing .987 OPS against left-handers. He struggled against right-handers, with a .619 OPS, which made his time as a full-time starter even worse. If Jones would have had his pre-2013 numbers against right-handers, and if the Pirates would have been able to keep both players in the platoon at first base, then the Pirates would have been looking at a combined All-Star performance from their first base platoon.

Instead the situation got bad enough that the team traded Alex Presley and Duke Welker for one month of Justin Morneau at the end of the season. Morneau didn’t provide any offensive help, hitting for a .681 OPS in 92 plate appearances with the team. He was decent in the post-season, with a .300 average in 20 at-bats, but didn’t produce any power. He was also used as a full-time starter, when, like Jones, he was better as a platoon player (.744 vs .423 OPS in his limited time with the Pirates).

By the end of the 2013 season, the Pirates found themselves with a big question mark at first base. In previous years the question mark was about finding Jones a platoon partner, and finding a starter for right field or first base so that Jones could stick in the platoon. But with Jones seeing a sudden decline with his numbers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him non-tendered this off-season. Gaby Sanchez is just a platoon player, and with no platoon it wouldn’t make sense to roster a first baseman who only hits lefties and is in line for a raise of up to $3 M. Morneau struggled in his time with the Pirates, and doesn’t look to be much better than Jones. The Pirates entered the year hoping to find a right fielder so that they could keep their first base platoon together at first base. They ended the year with no short-term options at either position.

The Future

The Pirates don’t have a lot of first base options to choose from in the minors. The top first base prospect is Alex Dickerson, although he has only played as high as Double-A. Dickerson will at least need time in Triple-A, and then there’s the issue from the last two seasons where he has struggled the first two months, exploded in June and July, then faded in August. That kind of inconsistent performance isn’t ideal for a starter. Dickerson did see an increase in his power this year, and hit at Double-A, which is why he’s seen as a legit prospect, despite the consistency concerns.

Matt Curry fell off the radar this year, missing most of the 2013 season with hamate surgery. That usually saps power for a year, and Curry had the surgery in early May, so he could still be impacted for the start of the 2014 season.

Stetson Allie looked great in West Virginia, crushing the ball to the tune of 17 homers in 244 at-bats. However, he looked completely over-matched in Bradenton, with a .697 OPS and a 34.7% strikeout rate in 236 at-bats. Allie has more power than anyone in the system, but it’s useless without some strike zone discipline.

None of these guys are options for the 2014 season, although one could emerge as an option in 2015 or beyond. One sleeper option for 2014 could be Andrew Lambo. He has barely played first base, but his bat this season could be enough to force playing time at a new position. Lambo looks like a platoon option, and the Pirates would need someone to hit left-handers in that scenario. If they went this route, it would make sense to keep Gaby Sanchez around. The Pirates also have a hole in right field, and Lambo would make sense there in a similar role. But in the long-term, Gregory Polanco is the third outfielder. If Lambo is going to have a career in the majors with the Pirates, he needs to find a new position, and first base is the only other option.

Outside of moving Lambo to first base, or bringing back the Jones/Sanchez platoon and hoping for better results, the best option in 2014 would be a free agent. There are some interesting options on the market, with the most interesting short-term and long-term solution being Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu. He would cost a lot of money, but the Pirates have money to spend and very few positions of need, so it wouldn’t be money that would prohibit them from landing the first baseman.

The Pirates don’t have a solution at first base in the short-term or the long-term. As a result, first base will be a key position to watch this off-season.

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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  • leadoff

    I totally agree, 1st base is a problem, Morneau is a solid player and he might hit for power with the short porch in right field over a whole season, but that is a gamble and his price might be a little high for such a gamble.
    I agree with going for Abreu, but that is also a bidding war gamble. Sometimes these so called platoon players don’t get enough at bats against same side pitchers to prove they can hit or at least be respectable, Walker is one of those guys, he did not get very many abs against left handers compared to right handers, as a result he hit right handers better than left handers, but they stick with a guy like Pedro that was one of the worst hitters in baseball against left handers, makes you scratch you head sometimes.
    I am not an advocate of platoons, I like Pedro hitting against every pitcher, I think his presence helps make the other manager make decisions he sometimes does not want to make. IMO, platoons show weakness, not strength, every place there is a platoon means your team is not complete to me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      Mike Easler and Lee Lacy were not a weakness.

      • leadoff

        Easler and Lacy were good, but does not change the fact that the team or the system does not have one player or prospect good enough to take that position. It does not change the fact that the roster has to have 4 players for 2 positions carried on the 25 man roster.

        • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

          How is that a weakness? If I get better production from my platoon than you do from your everyday guy, then what does it matter? You still carry 25 guys on a roster, whether 2 of them get regular playing time as platoon mates or not.

          The fact is, platoons outproduce many of the everyday guys, and do so at a lower cost. If you want to assemble a team of 8 everyday, above-average guys, you can do it – but be prepared to spend $150-$200 million.

    • emjayinTN

      leadoff: I think that 1B in 2013 was not as good as we expected going in, but it was more than adequate. Gaby Sanchez is a keeper and is still in Arbitration. Abreu is going to be very costly – probably more than we are paying ‘Cutch, is an inadequate defensive player, and hits RH. Nope, not a good fit for he Pirates.

      Justin Morneau was the second best defensive 1B in both fielding %age and Range Factor out of about 25 qualified 1B in 2013. He was 15th out of 25 in batting average, but I think he was right up there around 50 extra base hits and 77 RBI. He was making $14 mil the past 5 or 6 years. He is worth between $8 mil and $10 mil a year and I would go 3 years and an option. The market for FA 1B is very weak – Adam LaRoche, Mr. Constipation, could be available, but do we care?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.rothermund Ian Rothermund

      Obviously it’s not possible or practical to have platoons at every position, but your assessment of using platoons is offensively stupid. What are you? 70? The difference we’re smart enough to understand basic math. If Gerrit Jones even had an .800 OPS this year against righties in conjunction with Sanchez, their combined production would have been equal to a player that makes twice as much (at least) as their combined salaries. That’s intelligent. Pride doesn’t help when it’s a question of marginal production on a baseball team.

  • Lino Donoso

    If we MUST have a Cuban first baseman, my preferences are 1. Yonder Alonso, 2. Kendrys Morales, before 3. Jose Abreu. The former are more proven and likely to be cheaper; therefor safer for the Bucs. The A’s, The Dodgers and Cincinnati certainly seem to have hit the jackpot with their Cubans, but there are no guarantees in baseball and I would hate to see The Pirates financially crippled by a high-dollar gamble that might not turn out. Besides, if they can save a little on Abreu while still upgrading first base, they’ll have something left to spend elsewhere. First base is not their only need.

    • leadoff

      The Pirates tried to get Alonso when he was with the Reds, they offered Taillon for him. It might be possible to get him from the Padres without giving up a Taillon type prospect now. He is an all around quality player, problem is what do the Pirates have to give up to get him?
      I don’t think Morales or Alonso would be cheaper than Abreu, those players would take a lot from the Pirates system.
      Abreu is about money, Morales is about money, Alonso is about prospects.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      Morales won’t be cheaper. Seattle is making a qualifying offer, which means he will be looking for multi years at $14m or more per. The bidding won’t get that high for Abreu.

      And the Bucs would forfeit their first round draft pick to sign Morales.

  • leadoff

    “I don’t think Morales or Alonso would be cheaper than Abreu, those players would take a lot from the Pirates system.”
    DISREGARD THAT PARAGRAPH.

  • scrappy2499

    Haven’t I read that Morales would be a defensive liability at first?

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      You probably have. He was competent before his freak injury in 2010, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

  • CalipariFan506

    Say no to Morneau is all I have to say.

  • https://profiles.google.com/103770536589125998209 Michael Jackson

    Well, I would keep Morneau. I think he would work great with Gaby as a platoon.

    He still has power (9 HRs in August) and he had an .819 OPS against RHB.

    Plus Justin and Gaby are both stellar fielders.

    We will not be able to outbid Boston, San Fran or Miami (rumored top suitors) for Abreau.

    If the money is even then Miami has the advantage with no state tax. Plus I am sure he would prefer to live somewhere with a large spanish-speaking community.

    If not Miami, then you would have to think he would prefer to live in San Fran over Pitt.

    And Boston is Boston. They will be able to outbid us without raising a sweat.

    And whoever doesn’t win the Abreau sweepstakes will probably outbid us for Kendrys Morales.

    Also, would we have to give a compensation pick for Morales?

    • https://profiles.google.com/103770536589125998209 Michael Jackson

      Also, Abreau is supposedly a defensive liability and that’s why he is projected as a 1B.

  • CalipariFan506

    I’d rather Loney than Morneau. IMO it just looks like Morneau is completely done. Like he’s about to fall of a cliff.

    • https://profiles.google.com/103770536589125998209 Michael Jackson

      Loney averages 13 HRs a year as a full-time 1B. Is that enough power for a corner infielder.

  • IC Bob

    The Bucs could take a chance and look for the leftovers after Abreu signs. If its Miami then lets get Logan Morrison (at a discount). If its Texas lets look at Moreland ( Texas liked him more then Davis at one time). I would also be interested in getting Morse if his wrist checks out after surgery. He could be a cheap one year deal. I think at the end of the day we will get something better then what we had this year. One other thing we definitely have to walk away from Jones (unless he is willing to take a minor league deal).