It’s time to put on the General Manager hats. Over the last few weeks I’ve been recapping the 2013 season, providing a look ahead at each position for 2014, and looking at possible free agents for certain positions. What we know is that the Pirates will have question marks at first base, right field, and starting pitcher. There are other concerns, such as the backup middle infield spot, and which catcher will take the backup role next year, but those are minor.
At first base, the Pirates have Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez eligible for arbitration. Justin Morneau is a free agent, and they don’t look like they’ll be bringing him back. Andrew Lambo hit 33 home runs last year, with 32 in the minors, and has played a few games at first, so he could be a platoon option with Sanchez if they’re desperate.
As I said when reviewing the first base free agent options, I think James Loney makes the most sense for the Pirates at first base. He hits right-handers, and can platoon with Gaby Sanchez. He is left-handed, so he’d fit well in PNC Park, and does well on the road in his career. He also had good defense, which has been a key for the Pirates. I’d take that platoon over trading pitching for Mark Trumbo, who hits homers, but has a lower overall value than what Loney/Sanchez could provide.
In right field the Pirates have Marlon Byrd as a pending free agent. They have Jose Tabata under contract, with Tabata finishing off the 2013 season on a hot streak in the final two months. Travis Snider looks like a non-tender candidate. Lambo is primarily an outfielder, and would be an option here. The future is top prospect Gregory Polanco, and he could arrive as early as mid-season 2014.
I would try to sign Marlon Byrd or Carlos Beltran to a two-year deal, giving Polanco an entire season to work in the minors, or using him as an injury replacement in the second half. If that happened, I’d look to trade Byrd or Beltran after the 2014 season. Byrd would be the priority since he would cost less, wouldn’t require a draft pick, and could come with the same value. If the Pirates can’t land one of those two, a Tabata/Lambo platoon wouldn’t be a bad idea, with both players splitting time until one player took over the starting role.
In the starting rotation the big question is whether A.J. Burnett will return. The Pirates could offer him a qualifying offer to bring him back. If Burnett returns, then the rotation would look like: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Burnett, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez. Jeff Locke would likely be bumped to Triple-A as the sixth starter, unless Rodriguez wasn’t healthy.
If Burnett returns, there are two moves I’d try to make. First, I’d try to extend Charlie Morton on a three year deal, paying at most $25-30 M. It’s possible he could come cheaper than that, in the $18-21 M range. Then, I’d shop Francisco Liriano for a huge return. He could land a key long-term piece at a position of need. Out of all of the moves I’ve mentioned, I think this would be the least likely. But if the Pirates went this route, they could try to find the next Liriano, signing someone like Josh Johnson as a free agent.
As for miscellaneous moves, I don’t think going after Jhonny Peralta would be a bad idea, since it’s possible he could continue his overall success the last few years, even after his PED suspension. But if that doesn’t happen, I think a Jordy Mercer/Clint Barmes combo would work, with Mercer getting most of the starts, and Barmes taking over as a late inning defensive replacement, or starting when extreme ground ball pitchers like Charlie Morton or A.J. Burnett are on the mound. I also wouldn’t mind seeing one of Mark Melancon or Jason Grilli shopped for a huge return, since that approach works well for the Pirates.
So that’s what I’d go for. Loney/Sanchez at first. Byrd or Beltran in right field, with Tabata/Lambo as a backup. Burnett hopefully returning. Morton extended. Peralta or Mercer/Barmes at shortstop. Shop Melancon and Grilli. Shop Liriano with Josh Johnson as a replacement. And if the Pirates get a huge return in one of those deals, it could change everything.
Of course there are tons of possibilities that we’re leaving out, whether it’s trade options, non-tender candidates, or anyone else we’re overlooking. But this is all in fun, and we can only go with the information we know, so no harm with the current approach. Now it’s time to hear your plan. Leave your thoughts in the comments below with what you would do at each position.
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