First Pitch: Will the Pirates Get a First Baseman or a Right Fielder?

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

**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**Pirates Acquire Jaff Decker and Miles Mikolas For Alex Dickerson. Thoughts on each player in the trade included in this article.

**Player Pages: Jaff Decker and Miles Mikolas

**Pirates Won’t Pay A.J. Burnett Market Rate

**A Platoon at First Base Seems Most Likely For the Pirates

**Pirates Have Checked On Rafael Furcal

**Minor Moves: Pirates Release Two Lower Level Pitchers

**Winter Leagues: Sands Shows Off Arm in Puerto Rico

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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  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    The problem is, there’s a lot less talent available at 1B than in RF. Add to the fact that the ideal candidate at 1B would be a left handed bat/platoon partner for Sanchez, and it gets even more difficult to find what you’re looking for. I’m curious as to what the solution will be, it seems obvious to me that 1B is their #1 priority. Although Lambo has played there, he’s not real experienced and his defense may not be up to snuff. And if he gets hurt or fails, there’s really no backup plan (Sanchez sucks vs. RHP.)

  • skliesen

    I’m wondering if Loney would be hesitant to sign w Pirates due to platoon? He may want to go to team he can play every day.

    • Jeff

      I think Mr. Huntington may hurt his pursit of 1b option with his platoon comment.

  • bucyeah90

    I like Loney, but I would prefer getting Lambo at first to begin with and to try out Dacker and Tabata in rf. If they’re going to sign someone it should be Loney though, the bucs need his on base skills and defense more than they need another three outcome player at first.

  • Ecbucs

    Loney may want to play every day and if 2014 is similar to 2013 the Bucs won’t be facing that many lefty starters (wasn’t it 31 or 32 in 2013?)

    I don’t think Loney is a long term solution and wouldn’t want to sign him for more than 2 years.

    I wonder what the Bucs think of Lambo? Do they think he can be productive or is he more of a player to call up when the team needs bodies? His ability to play right is a plus and perhaps he has a job to lose between now and spring training rather than having to perform well to get one.

    • bucyeah90

      I think the moves they make will tell what they think of him. We already know Polanco is the long term in rf but if they don’t sign a firstbaseman, I’m gonna assume they think Lambo can handle the lefthanded side of the firstbase platoon.

    • Bucco_Joe

      What does the Pirate organization think of Lambo? Well look how long it took them to call him up last year despite miserable production from RF at the MLB level during the first four months of the season, and despite how Lambo was hitting in AA/AAA and I think you have your answer.

      As far as who will play first base it will be a platoon of Gabby and somebody who they pick up cheap via free agency or minor trade. RF is Tabata until Polanco is called up at some point during the season. I’m sure that Decker will get a long look in camp to see if they can delay Polanco’s arrival and thus same them money in the long term.

  • Jared

    Tim, I get that you don’t love the idea of Ike Davis because if you’re looking at a bounce-back option you’re more fond of Lambo. That makes sense to me, sort of, but what I don’t understand is why Loney then. Loney the last three years has put up worse numbers, significantly worse, against RH’ers than has Davis. Loney’s OPS against RH’ers is .764 the last three years whereas Davis’ is .851. It seems that in a platoon Davis is the better option and would cost less $$$ and I couldn’t imagine would be that expensive from a trade perspective.

    Ultimately my confusion is this: if they are going with Lambo/Sanchez and Tabata in RF then why not sign AJ Burnett? Hubris? Because they think they can revolutionize another pitcher? Not willing to spend? I mean IF they are going to go with prospects at the RF and 1B position…and if they weren’t going to spend to upgrade SS, Peralta, then why not spend the available money on keeping one of the better pitchers in the majors the last two years: AJ Burnett?

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

      Two reasons for that. The first is that I don’t believe Loney’s 2012 season was legit, and that drives down his numbers. The second is that Loney would only cost money, while Davis would cost prospects.

      Maybe I’m wrong on Davis. Maybe he wouldn’t cost that much in a trade. If that’s the case, he would make sense. But from the limited things I’ve read, it seems like he’s drawn a lot of interest. I don’t think the increase in offensive value makes up for the expected price in prospects.

      • SportOMania

        “I don’t believe Loney’s 2012 season was legit, and that drives down his numbers. ”

        One could say “I don’t believe Davis’ 2013 season was legit, and that drives down his numbers.” The numbers are the numbers. Sure in all statistics there are bound to be outliers but they get absorbed by sample size.

        The situation is Loney would cost more money that could be used to fill other needs. So while not sacrificing prospects there is a real cost in talent signing Loney.

        Ike Davis certainly has the higher ceiling of the two and Loney the higher floor. As players they look equal in risk, but the huge difference is Loney would take at least a two year contract to sign. If he fails to perform the Bucs would have to eat that. Davis could be simply non tendered with no further cost. Also, if Davis hits his potential he becomes an asset that can be traded before he becomes a free agent in 2017.

        • bucyeah90

          I would much rather see them eat just salary than to see them lose prospects though. Generally speaking, the Pirates aren’t going to sign huge name free agents that would have a large impact anyway, so losing some payroll leeway is much better than losing some prospects that will be part of the future success of the team.

          • Mr. Goodkat

            I was about to say that I can’t believe it would take all that much to acquire Davis…and then I remembered what the Mets were demanding for Byrd last year.

            I would trade a C level prospect for Davis. Not a B though.

            Maybe they’d be interested in Welker (heh, poor guy).

            • bucyeah90

              Exactly. Plus I hear there is a lot of interest in Davis, so the price in prospects might end up being pretty high.

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

          “Sure in all statistics there are bound to be outliers but they get absorbed by sample size.”

          Right, so wouldn’t Loney’s entire career be a better sample, rather than a three year period which features one down year?

          “The situation is Loney would cost more money that could be used to fill other needs. So while not sacrificing prospects there is a real cost in talent signing Loney.”

          What other needs do they have that would require money? A starting pitcher, and that’s it. If you add Loney, then you use internal options in right field. They could get Loney, a starter, and a backup middle infielder for about $20 M, and be spending just over $80 M at the start of the season (which probably means a $90+ M payroll by the end of the year).

          • Jared

            I guess I believe in the Pirates’ system well enough that I think giving up a couple C level prospects to get Ike Davis and then use the money saved to keep AJ Burnett is better than signing Loney and some other rebound pitcher. I believe in the Pirates minor league depth and I believe that Ike Davis is the better player between him and Loney. I also believe in the Pirates ability to find and get the most out of bounce-back pitchers, but I do not really see that player available this year, maybe Phil Hughes. I feel much more confident in AJ Burnett back on the hill. His last two years weren’t flukes. He’s been pitching like a top 30 starter in MLB…

            Maybe Ike Davis would cost more than a couple C prospects. Then I would be wrong. Also, I agree with you that the Pirates CAN spend another $20-25M this offseason. I think there is plenty of room in that equation to get AJ, a 1B, and a SS. I don’t think the Pirates have to give AJ 14M, but I think that they should have given him the QO and I think if they approach that number, even 11 or 12M then I think he would sign…and I think they need to sign him.

            I’ve also gone back and looked at Loney’s OPS against RH’ers and I just do not love him IF the Pirates are going to be tight with money this offseason. Take a look at the OPS against RH’ers by year and # of ABs:
            2007: 250 AB, .939 (nice!)
            2008: 426 AB, .815 (nice!)
            2009: 452 AB, .750 (ahh)
            2010: 412 AB, .786 (ok)
            2011: 404 AB, .815 (nice!)
            2012: 342 AB, .662 (boo)
            2013: 395 AB, .798 (ok)
            Taking out the one great year and the one terrible year and you have a .780 OPS hitter against RH’ers over his career. He will be 30 years old in May and will require a multi-year deal.

            Ike Davis’ numbers:
            2010: 401 AB, .787 (ok)
            2011: 86 ABs, 1.142 (wow!)
            2012: 352 ABs, .868 (nice!)
            2013: 248 AB, .727 (boo)
            Throwing out his 2013 and his 2011, especially 2011 because it was only 86 ABs, I think you get a player with Davis who would give you the same production as Loney except that you have a higher upside. Yes, you’re more likely to get a .780 OPS out of Davis than an .860 OPS, but he’s capable of putting up that .860 and is only one year removed from it and at 26 is likely to be able to reclaim that. That sounds more like a good platoon to me. And, yes, I realize we’d have to pay in minor league players to get him, but again I am simply skeptical that the Mets get anything more than a couple C-level prospects for him…and, yes, we can afford to give them up without a huge hit to our organization.

            Last point, again, Tim I think you’re right that the Pirates can spend $20+M this offseason and I think that they could get AJ and Loney for that price and throw in Clint Barmes as well. Give AJ the same deal as Tim Hudson, Loney a 2 year $15M deal, and Barmes 2 years and $3.6M and the Pirates are in the low 80′s in payroll and have their platoon at 1B and their AJ back. However, if the Pirates are not willing to do that then, yes, I would rather sacrifice a couple C-level prospects to bring more “high-reward” in Ike Davis and use the $$$ savings to sign AJ.

          • SportOMania

            I have been with you since you started the Loney bandwagon and would be happy if they signed him, However there is another option that is being shopped in Ike Davis. This needs to be explored. Depending on what the Mets want, Davis might be have a lower real cost and higher reward in production. There is no doubt Loney is the safer choice but he is what he is and comes with his own share of risks and costs.

            It is not just cost this year. You are right this year besides Loney they would need just to get a starter and a backup middle infielder. Next year they will need another starter or two (maybe even 3), possibly a backup catcher, and if they are wise money to extend Marte.

  • jon6er

    Why spend several times what we are paying Lambo. There is no more of a guarantee that any of the free agents available can produce any more than Lambo might. There are only a handful of pitchers or position players out there who could possibly get the Pirates over the top and the first of all they aren’t free agents and secondly teams like the Pirates just don’t have that kind of money. I totally agree with Tim on Ike Davis is too much of a risk and Loney would make more sense if you are going that route. I think we should worry more about starting pitching this off season. Can Locke bounce back? Can we resign A.J.?

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

    I like Loney, but I’d rather see Lambo get a shot at 1b (OR RF).

    Foo

  • Westerville Pirate

    I like James Loney. What about Mitch Moreland? LH bat with some power can play OF and 1B and only 28. With Fielder in Texas not much room for him.

  • connolly21

    Go get a first baseman in a Trade and pay Burnett RF can be manned in house

  • http://hiddenvigorish.com Hidden Vigorish

    Some may think this is a dumb idea, but I think the Pirates should give Polanco some reps at 1B in spring training and the early part of the season in Indy. If he could add that versatility he could be an option to fill in for 4 different positions. And yeah, I know they are set in CF and LF but you never know when the injury bug could bite them. Crazy? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be the first time a team did this with a prospect that was a plus defender to get him in the lineup. Angels did this with Darin Erstad in the late 90′s.

    • Mr. Goodkat

      Using that logic, why not try him at short?

      Sarcasm aside, mere months ago I remember multiple scouting reports which, while praising his range and arm in the field, made note of some rough edges in the route-to-ball aspect of his game.

      This is not to say he is not ML ready defensively — but he still has things to work on in the OF during ST.

  • bigdaddywaite

    WHY, WHY, WHY are the Pirates so cheap! PLEASE somebody explain! They just got an additional $25 million in additional monies from TV. They have Jones, Karstens, Barmes and possibly AJ coming off the books and still they don’t spend! Damn It show us that last year wasn’t just a one year thing. Show us you want this to continue. Screw platooning! Why not an everyday first baseman like Trumbo (just an example). Im so tired of hearing “That’s over our budget!” How can the Reds spend, Milwaukee spend etc. They arent bigger markets! If players are out of your price range, bring in some Partners. Three years from now r they going to let Pedro walk? Cole? So me you want this to continue, show me. Im sorry but a platoon at 1B, Tabata in RF and losing Burnett is not very convincing to me. Once again, only my opinion.

    • piraddict

      The number of partners has no bearing on whether the club loses or makes money. What does matter is whether revenues exceed costs. No partner would put money into the club if they were certain that they would lose it.

  • SportOMania

    In a totally new thought; The Marlins are said to be shopping Logan Morrison. As long as they are not asking too much I think this is the highest upside option known to be available. He had .354 OBP vs Righties last year. That said i understand his injury history.

  • https://profiles.google.com/107471995502632447673 Frank Restly

    Tim,

    Do you have an extended depth chart on your website – includes players in the Pirates minor league system?

    • https://profiles.google.com/107471995502632447673 Frank Restly

      Never mind – found it (extended depth chart).

      http://players.piratesprospects.com/depth-chart

      Safe to say Stetson Allie (1B – Bradenton) won’t be in the majors until 2015 at the earliest? Three first basemen currently at AAA Indy – Dickerson – Rule 5 Draft eligible next year, Howard – Rule 5 Draft eligible this year, and Hague – Free Agent eligible in 2014.

      I would imagine the Pirates adding Dickerson or Howard to the 40 man at the beginning of 2014 to take Garrett Jones spot. Tabata will start in right field next year assuming the Pirates don’t try to trade him. I agree that Lambo should be given a shot at platooning but I think you bat him 7th or 8th.

      • Jared

        Dickerson was traded this week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjaminmcferren Benjamin McFerren

    We’ve just received our RF platoon partner with Tabata – his name is Decker! And he will slug some Stairs-like bombs!

    I’d rather us save our money and prospect for a move in August. April through July is for tryouts. The rest of our team is already good enough to keep us competing until the waiver wire deadline.

    Just resign Burnett and Barmes and lets go at it again! Maybe even let Harrison take Barmes’ spot…

    • http://www.facebook.com/daryl.restly Daryl Restly

      Hello,

      I think in either situation, signing either a right fielder to platoon with Tabata or signing a first baseman to platoon with G. Sanchez may not best situation.

      For example, let’s say the Pirates pick up a first basemen, whether it be Ike Davis, Mitch Moreland, James Loney or even Justin Morneau (those 4 seem to be the four names most associated with the Pirates). That would mean there would be a platoon of G. Sanchez and one of those four. That would leave a platoon of Lambo and Tabata in RF until Polanco is ready. But what if Lambo puts up obscene numbers that force Tabata back to more of a bench role rather that a platoon. In that situation, you might also be blocking Polanco, which is something I don’t think the Pirates want to do. This definitely would be the case if both Lambo and one of the two first basemen have really good numbers around the time Polanco is ready to be called up.

      If the Pirates sign a free agent RF or use one of their other internal options besides Lambo to platoon with Tabata, whether it be bringing back Travis Snider or having Tabata platoon with Decker I don’t think is ideal either. The problem I see is that any platoon with Tabata in RF until Polanco is ready requires another right-handed bat that can hit left handed pitching, due to Tabata’s reverse splits. Both Lambo and Decker are left handed bats whom I presume hit RHP better than LHP. I doubt the Pirates bring back Snider, so who does that leave.

      The ideal situation for the Pirates would be to find a right-handed RF either via free agency or trade that wouldn’t cost much either in salary or trading prospects who has a track record of hitting LHP really well. That would compliment Tabata’s reverse splits until Polanco is ready. It would also allow Lambo (a left-handed hitter) to platoon with G. Sanchez (a right-handed hitter) to platoon at 1B. And who knows, if Lambo is able to replicate his numbers he put up in 2013 again, the Pirates may have inadvertantly found their 1B of the future, which could leave a guy like G. Sanchez as trade bait later in the year.

      Basically, it boils down that I don’t think the Pirates want to somehow inadvertantly block Polanco at the major league level by signing a free agent either at first base or right field. At the same time, I think a young guy like Lambo deserves every chance, after his monster 2013 minor league season, to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke. If for some reason Lambo struggles at the major league level, then I think maybe the Pirates look at acquiring another left-handed hitting first basemen to platoon with G. Sanchez. But if I were N.H., I wouldn’t be so quick to hit the panic button and think automatically that the Pirates need to go out and get a 1B or a RF. I would be much happier if the Pirates were able to go out and bring A.J. Burnett back and pick up some better bench pieces, especially a guy or two who have the history of putting up excellent numbers coming off the bench and getting the key base hit to keep a rally going or to start a rally late in the game when the game is still within the Pirate’s reach. Too many times, it seemed last year, that when the Pirates called upon their bench for a key base hit, they weren’t able to deliver. What would it take to get a guy like Kevin Frandsen from the Phillies?