The Pittsburgh Pirates have needs at first base and right field this off-season. They have several internal options for the positions, although it would be best if they went with at least one free agent to give them a boost.
At first base, the Pirates look to be going back to a platoon. They’ll be looking for someone to pair up with Gaby Sanchez, which is the opposite of the last two years when they were looking for someone like Gaby Sanchez to pair with Garrett Jones. They’ve got one of two options for a platoon. They could stay internal and go with Andrew Lambo. This would make sense in the long-term, especially with Gregory Polanco projected to arrive sometime in 2014. Lambo doesn’t have a future in the Pirates’ outfield, and his only future as a starter in Pittsburgh is at first base.
Lambo is pretty much the only internal option for first base. The alternative for a platoon would be going with a trade or free agent. It’s hard to say who would be available via trade. Ike Davis is the popular name mentioned in trade ideas, but personally I’d rather just take a chance on Lambo. Davis has a career .768 OPS, with a career .827 OPS against right-handers. It’s not that Davis would be a bad option. It’s just that if they’re going to take a chance on someone reaching their upside, I think it would be better to go with Lambo, since he wouldn’t require a trade.
My favorite option is James Loney. He’s not a sexy choice, and doesn’t provide home run power, but he has some pop in his bat, gets on base, hits right-handers, and has strong defense.
Then there’s right field, which is wide open in the short-term, but has Gregory Polanco penciled in for the long-term. The Pirates have a lot of options in right, with Lambo being one of them. Jose Tabata is another option, especially after his hot finish to the 2013 season where he combined for an .848 OPS in the final two months of the season.
Lambo and Tabata would be the top two choices for right field. Behind those two is the newly acquired Jaff Decker. I’d include Travis Snider and Jerry Sands, but I had both of them projected as non-tenders coming into the off-season, and I don’t think that changed with today’s addition of Decker.
The Pirates could go with a free agent in right field, but here’s why I think it would be better to go with Lambo and Tabata, while going with a free agent first baseman: Gregory Polanco.
If you add a free agent in right field, even on a one year deal, you’re blocking Polanco for the 2014 season. I think that the Pirates need to give Lambo a chance, whether that comes at first base or right field. He hit 33 home runs last year, and is only 25. It was only a few years ago that he was a top 50 prospect, and those types of numbers were the expectation for his future. They need to find out if that power will carry over to the majors. The Pirates can give Lambo a shot in right field, paired with Jose Tabata. If they don’t work out, Gregory Polanco is the backup plan. Worst case, Lambo works out, Polanco is ready, the Pirates have a platoon going at first base, and they’re left with too much talent.
You can definitely flip this scenario. What about Lambo working out at first, a free agent in right field, and Polanco ready mid-season? How would this be any different than above? The key difference is that the Pirates have alternatives in right field. If Andrew Lambo fails in right field, they can try out Tabata, Decker, and/or eventually turn to Polanco. If Lambo fails at first base, they’ve got no backup plan. The only backup plan would be Gaby Sanchez getting everyday time, and that’s not a good plan.
So will the Pirates add a first baseman, or will they add a right fielder? I think they should add a first baseman. That fills the biggest need, and puts them in the best position for short-term depth at both spots.
Links and Notes
**Pirates Acquire Jaff Decker and Miles Mikolas For Alex Dickerson. Thoughts on each player in the trade included in this article.
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