The Pirates Might Be Best With Mercer and Barmes in 2014

The free agent market is always weak when it comes to shortstop. Some years there are guys like Jose Reyes, but they usually go to the highest bidders on massive contracts. Most teams hold onto their shortstops, and most teams hoard shortstop prospects. As a result, if the Pirates want a good shortstop, they’re going to have to develop one internally.

That could happen in a few years with Alen Hanson. Until then, the Pirates have a decision to make. They could go with Jordy Mercer as their starter until Hanson arrives. If that happens, they’d probably need a backup for Mercer, specifically someone who could provide defense. They could try to find a starter to replace Mercer, shifting Mercer to a backup role, and a platoon role at second base. The options for starting shortstops are slim, making that route less likely.

Here is a look at the upcoming free agent shortstops, via MLBTR. Thoughts on the best options are below.

Robert Andino (30)
Clint Barmes (35)
Willie Bloomquist (36)
Jamey Carroll (40)
Alexi Casilla (29)
Stephen Drew (31)
Yunel Escobar (31) – $5MM club option
Rafael Furcal (36)
Alex Gonzalez (36)
Nick Green (35)
Cesar Izturis (34)
Derek Jeter (40) – $8MM+ player option with a $3MM buyout
John McDonald (39)
Jhonny Peralta (32)
Brendan Ryan (32)

The Starters

The Pirates could replace Jordy Mercer with a better alternative, although not many alternatives exist on the upcoming free agent market. Looking at the list above, there are pretty much two starting options on the market.

Stephen Drew - If the Pirates want to go with a starter other than Jordy Mercer, then Drew looks to be the top option. He’s coming off a year where he had a 3.4 WAR, which made him one of the top ten shortstops in baseball. He had a .777 OPS, which was similar to the production Jordy Mercer saw. However, he had much better defense than Mercer, which explains the two additional wins. One problem with Drew is that he’s been inconsistent, in part due to injuries. He was a -0.3 WAR player in 2012. He was a 1.7 WAR player in 2011. He had a monster 4.7 WAR in 2010, but that and his 2013 season were the only years above a 2.0. Expecting more than a 2.0 WAR would be optimistic. Drew is also likely to get a qualifying offer, and Joel Sherman projects he could receive $12 M per year over four years.

If you knew that Drew was going to be a 3.4 WAR player for the next four years, then you’d sign him in an instant for that price, and gladly give up the pick. In his career as a starter he has averaged a 1.8 WAR per season. That’s probably the average production you could expect going forward, especially at ages 31-34. Mercer had a 1.4 WAR in half a season this year. So while Drew had the better 2013, his inconsistent career suggests that won’t continue. He could very well end up being the same value as Mercer, only at $12 M more and with a forfeited draft pick in the process.

Jhonny Peralta - Unlike Drew, Peralta has been consistent. He’s provided strong defensive value at shortstop the last few years, and his offense has been strong most years, with a few one year dips below a .700 OPS. In the last three years Peralta has averaged a 3.67 WAR. He’s coming off a year with a 3.6 WAR, which is slightly better than Drew. Peralta has a good track record of health, unlike Drew. But then there’s the PED suspension. How much of Peralta’s strong performances were due to PEDs? How much of his strong healthy was PED related? Can he continue this at the age of 32 and beyond without the assistance of PEDs? The last three years look great, and you don’t know when he started using PEDs or the effect they had, but it does look suspicious that he was a 2.0 WAR player in the first six years of his career, and jumped to a 3.6 WAR per year in the last three. The recent numbers look good here, but the PED suspension is a red flag.

The Backups

If the Pirates decide to keep Mercer, then they’ll need a backup. In Triple-A they’ve got Chase d’Arnaud. Josh Harrison can play shortstop, but you don’t want him playing shortstop. Ivan De Jesus used to be a talented defender at short, but that was before his knee injury a few years ago. The Pirates could use the opposite of Mercer: a strong defensive backup who could come in during the late innings, and who could start with an extreme ground ball pitcher on the mound. Basically, what they had last year with Mercer and Clint Barmes. Because of that, there’s no better place to start than…

If Jordy Mercer is the starter, then Clint Barmes makes sense as the backup. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

If Jordy Mercer is the starter, then Clint Barmes makes sense as the backup. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Clint Barmes - It’s not going to be popular to suggest bringing back Clint Barmes. However, he does one thing very well, and that’s provide strong defense. He was the second best defensive shortstop in the majors last year, behind Andrelton Simmons. With Mercer and Barmes splitting time, the Pirates had a 1.6 WAR at shortstop, which ranked 18th in the majors. That might improve with Mercer getting more playing time next year, but then again it might stay the same as Mercer’s defense could drag down his extra offense. The bulk of the value is going to come from Mercer’s side, so the backup isn’t going to be responsible for the overall standing.

Barmes could provide value with his defense, serving as that late inning replacement, or starter with an extreme ground ball pitcher on the mound. That would make shortstop an offensive black hole again at times, but if the Pirates work to upgrade first base and/or right field, the offensive need at shortstop wouldn’t be as great. He was worth $3 M last year. If the Pirates got him for $2 M per year, he’d provide value on his contract. Barmes told me he was willing to return to the Pirates back during the playoffs, but the team hadn’t approached him at the time. If they don’t replace Mercer as the starter, then the 2013 formation from the second half would be the best route for the Pirates to go, at least until Alen Hanson arrives in 2015.

Brendan Ryan - He’s basically the same as Barmes — all defense, no offense. The difference is Ryan is younger. The Pirates could probably get Barmes, but if they can’t, they could go for Ryan as an alternative defensive backup to Mercer. The advantage Barmes has is that he already knows the Pirates system, knows the shifting tendencies, and is already a leader in the clubhouse.

Mercer’s Role

I personally don’t trust Stephen Drew, due to the injuries, age, inconsistent play, and the fact that he’s coming off what looks like a contract year. You’d like to trust Jhonny Peralta, and hope that the PED use had zero impact on his performance. There aren’t a lot of examples of players who came back from true PED suspensions and had success. I say “true” because Marlon Byrd is an obvious example of a guy who was suspended and came back successful, but Byrd’s suspension was supposedly for medication, and not performance enhancers.

Peralta did say he wanted to stay with the Tigers, even if that meant playing in left field. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Tigers want to keep him, since they’ve moved on at shortstop. If you believe that Peralta can continue to be successful and healthy without PEDs, then he looks like the best option at shortstop.

If that’s not the case, then the Pirates would be better off with Mercer as the starter, and Clint Barmes returning as the defensive replacement, and starter when someone like Charlie Morton takes the mound.

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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  • jaygray007

    I’d love it if they brought in Drew to be honest, with Mercer backing him up and platooning with Walker.

    But if that doesn’t happen (it won’t happen), they need to bring in ryan or barmes to back up mercer. they can’t go into next season with only 1 guy (mercer) who can pick it at the major league level. they need 2 on the ML club and 1 in AAA, as shown by the John McDonald situation.

    I guess a lot of this depends on what they think of d’arnaud and JHayDaMan as shortstops.

    • jaygray007

      Also… food for thought. Mercer was .247/.297/.357 vs righties last year.

      most of his decent year was due to murdering lefties. So in 70% of games, while better than Barmes, he is still a weak link.

      i don’t know the solution to this as far as acquiring a SS who plays well vs righties and can platoon with mercer, but it’s just worth mentioning, IMO. Even though he’s 27, he’s still young in terms of service time so maybe he’ll figure it out vs righties.

      • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

        Since Barmes hit 216/257/308 against RHPs, the splits aren’t exactly a point in Barmes’ favor.

        It’s not easy to comprehend just how horrible a hitter Barmes is.

        • Andrew

          Yes, but he homered off of Madison Bumgarner, Lance Lynn, Matt Harvey, and Stephen Strasburg. Find another a hitter who has done that this year.

          • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

            Great, start him against those four and bench him against the 99% that he hits like a pitcher.

            • Andrew

              The only reason I know that is because of the absurdity of it. Of 276 qualified hitters with more than 300 PAs, Barmes is 5th worst in wRC+ at 52, worse than Barmes, Darwin Barney, Pete Kozma, Alcides Escobar, and Brendan Ryan.

              • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

                Haha, I looked that up, too. You can do OPS, or wOBA, or anything else and you can’t get him above 5th worst.

  • IC Bob

    Anybody but Drew. The Drews (I am including his brother JD as well) are the softest players in baseball. They are all about the next payday so they never play though injuries. Guys like that are awful for the clubhouse. Now this Drew might be better then JD but I am not sure. That said they also go to the highest bidder (Boros) so I don’t think I have to worry here.

    As for who we get nothing on that list excites me at all. I might go for a guy who can play multiple positions and will come cheap (Ryan or Bloomquist)

    • jaygray007

      maybe they are awful in a clubhouse. no idea. but just sayin… the Sox seem to be doing alright with Drew in their clubhouse.

      just have him dress up in Mario Lemieux gear one day a year and all will be forgiven.

  • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

    My big concern about bringing Barmes back is that, with Hurdle, you can pretty much mark him down for at least half the starts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Agree..plus Barmes will be, I think, 36, so his defense could go downhill.

      I hadn’t thought about Ryan.

      A defensive backup would be a nice coupling IF Clint doesn’t start him too much.
      Say, about a 135/27 type split?

  • jg941

    I yelled loudly for Mercer to take over the starter’s gig from Barmes, and that was a good overall decision for the team.

    Barmes’ offense is just frustrating, frustrating and sad, but in the back up role that can cause less overall damage (I think).

    So, as much as I was anti-Barmes, I agree that Mercer/Barmes is probably the ideal. You make a good point about the heightened need to upgrade 1B and RF – it’s those very upgrades – and improvements on offense and wins at those positions – that will give you some leeway to stay the course on a position where there are fewer available upgrades on the open market.

    Barmes at $2 would be great. The thing that would continue to worry me at that point is what WTM said above – will the starter/backup combo, kinda like a R/L platoon, be managed in the most-effective way?

  • Kevin_Young

    I essentially agree with your analysis on Drew, but it leads to my question. What is your perceived difference of the inconsistencies of Drew as compared to Loney, of whom you seem to be a fan. I assume it’s the risk of injury? But, injured or not, their inconsistencies seem quite similar as far as value is concerned.

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

      It’s the injury risk with Drew.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Ibid78 ibid

        AFAICT as I can’t find anything about his MiL injury history , his first stint with injury occurred in that horrific homeplate collision that had him out for 11 months. Since he’s come back he has dealt with a spring training concussion and one 15 day stint on the dl for a hamstring. All told he’s had one fluke ankle injury (which is fair to ding him on, though it looks like those troubles are past him), he was beaned in the head, and had a strained hammy. Put all together and I’m not sure how much we can infer about injury risk moving forward.

      • Kevin_Young

        I may be alone on this island, but I’d take an injury risk over a risk of poor play. You’d have to deal with the poor play for a while before finding a replacement, so that badness lasts longer.

  • Cecil.

    I’ve thought for quite a while that Mercer/Barmes would be the best way for the Pirates to go. You’d be getting at least average-ish offense and defense at the position. The good defense from that position came mostly from the positioning/shifts anyway, at least I don’t remember many highlight reel plays, just a lot of consistency. If Barmes is a plus defender, Mercer is at worst average and he is better than average offensively.

    Unless you’re trying for a definite upgrade by trading for someone like Aybar or signing Peralta then the priority has to be first base. Devote the resources there.

  • leadoff

    The write up makes it look like Mercer is a bad SS, something that is just not true, he is actually a very good SS, maybe not Ozzie Smith, but good none the less, are their better? Sure, but not that much better.
    The Pirates already have high grass in the infield, make it one inch higher and Mercer will look like Ozzie Smith at home, Oh and his UZR would skyrocket also.
    Behind Mercer, Barmes would be a good fit as a backup, not necessarily because of his defense, that might drop off with age, but because he is steady and could play for a couple of weeks or longer if necessary.

    • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

      One thing people don’t recall about Mercer is that he hasn’t had many extended stretches where he played short. In the minors, whenever he was on the same team as Chase d’Arnaud, he played second and d’Arnaud was the everyday SS. Even this year, Mercer started only 73 games total, majors and minors, at short. From 2010-12, he played a total of only 141 games at short in the minors, so he was only playing there about a third of the time.

      • stickyweb

        Great point WTM. No reason to think he can’t improve, at least a little bit, by playing the position 150 times, when he hasn’t played it that many games in the last 3 years. And as others have pointed out, it’s not like he’s terrible right now. Is D’Arnaud ready to be the backup/util IF? If not, it looks like slim pickings on the free agency market. Barmes may indeed be the best option, but Hurdle better not start him if Jordy goes into a week long slump.

  • stickyweb

    Am I the only one that thought Barmes’ defense dropped off when he became a part time player? It’s impossible to know how any player that has been a regular for years will adjust to a part time role. Usually it’s the hitting that noticeably declines, but at such an important position, the defense could also be affected.

    • leadoff

      It seems to me when a guy with a defensive reputation makes errors he gets away with it, when a guy like Mercer makes an error everyone jumps on the he can’t play defense band wagon.

    • csnumber23

      You are not the only one to notice this. Personally I think Barmes’s defense has been over rated anyway. I would rather we move on from Barmes but I can understand if he is brought back as a backup.

  • csnumber23

    Personally I don’t trust Drew to stay healthy and his offensive numbers were helped by Fenway Park. I am also not a fan of Peralta at all. He is steady at short but has limited range, I don’t see an upgrade over Mercer on D from Peralta. I also think Mercer could improve and be better than Peralta on O and D.

    I think if anything is done it will be by a trade for someone like Aybar but I expect Mercer to be our starter and the backup to be a cheap veteran.

    If they want to platoon Walker some against Lefties, I am fine with Harrison being the guy.

    Unless we can get a serious SS by trade, I think Mercer has earned the shot!

  • emjayinTN

    Jordy Mercer, with Clint Barmes as a back-up, Alen Rery Hanson switchhitter who will play all of AA as a 21 year old next year, and Max Moroff, switchhitting SS who will play in Lo A or Hi A as a 20 year old. Hanson was just voted onto the AFL All Star team, .281 in 367 AB’s in Hi A, 23 doubles/8 triples/7 HR’s/40+ RBI’s as primarily a leadoff batter. I think about 32 E’s, but 16 were in the first 2 or 3 weeks of the season. Please, no $12 mil FA. Stay the course.

  • dr dng

    Clint,

    1.5 mil for 1 year to backup Mercer.

    We like ya, but take it or leave it.

    Pittsburgh has been very, very good to you.

  • jamminjoe66

    The pirates off the bench hitting was horrific last year. Why would anybody want to see Barmas as a bench player. He’s one of the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. His “D” was helped out by first baseman digging about 25 of those horrible off balanced throws he makes for no reason. He can’t pinch hit. He can’t play any other positions. He can’t pinch run. Not to mention Hurdle will run him out there for at least 80 starts for no other reason then that’s his guy. NO BARMAS!!!!!!!!!!

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

      When you’re talking about the backup middle infielder, you don’t need to focus on hitting. That’s especially true when the starter is good at hitting and poor defensively. And the bench might have been bad in 2013, but Barmes is only one player. There are other spots where you can upgrade the offense off the bench. You’re not likely to do this by finding an offensive middle infielder. Anyone who could play shortstop and provide an offensive boost that would really impact the bench would be starting over Mercer.

      • jamminjoe66

        You can bring up Chase & get more options with him for league minimum then pay a dreadful Barmas 2 million & get next to nothing. Take that money you save & try to help the team on a strong hitting bench guy. Shortstop was a glaring week spot & your solution is stick with Barmas for another year. Talk adout your square peg in a round hole. 2 years 10 million dollars & horrible hitting it’s time to move on. You MIGHT not get hitting from Chase. I GUARANTEE you won’t get it from Barmas. Without any flexibility position or hitting wise. Cole is a better hitting option

  • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

    The Cardinals can make the WS with Pete Kozma. Why on Earth would you dump a top 6 defensive SS – whom we know will be in a backup role going forward – for someone less proven, on a team that relies so heavily on infield defense?

    Unless Dan Fox and Mike Fitzgerald have unearthed some new performance stat leading them to some total surprise, I don’t see how the Bucs upgrade here for 2014. It certainly isn’t Chase “Double Clutch” d’Arnaud.

  • jamminjoe66

    Top 6. You couldn’t find 2 GM’s in all of baseball to trade there SS for Barmas. Including St. Louis. If Hurdle has him on the team he won’t be a back up. If pirates don’t sign him. He won’t get ml deal from anyone else. He belongs coaching little league.

    • buster09

      You are digging yourself a fairly deep hle. For your own sake,please stop.

      • buster09

        jamminjoe : in case you haven’t figured that out,ithe word is supposed to be ” hole “. Erratic keyboard,sorry.