Heading into the off-season, it looked likely that the Pittsburgh Pirates could stay in-house in right field, rather than going after a free agent. If there was any doubt about that plan, it was removed on Monday when they tendered a contract to Travis Snider. By tendering a contract, the Pirates are guaranteeing that Snider will be on the team next year, and likely making $1.4 M. They also acquired Jaff Decker earlier in the off-season, adding another corner outfield option to the mix.
Previously the top two options looked like Jose Tabata and Andrew Lambo. Tabata had a great finish to the 2013 season, with an .848 OPS in the final two months. Lambo hit 33 home runs last year, with 32 of those coming between Double-A and Triple-A. The addition of Snider means that Lambo will probably start the year back with Indianapolis. Snider and Tabata are both out of options, while Lambo and Decker both have options remaining.
Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette reported today that the Pirates felt that Travis Snider’s toe injury last year impacted his swing. There might be something to that. Snider had a .799 OPS through the month of April, but saw his numbers go downhill fast after that, pretty much around the time his toe injury happened. Snider had surgery on the toe, and should be ready for Spring Training.
The return of Snider means that the Pirates won’t get a chance to see what Lambo can do right away. It would be nice to see if Lambo can carry his power over to the majors, but he’s not going to get that opportunity unless Snider or Tabata goes down with an injury, or until one of them struggles.
I was looking at Lambo’s numbers the other day, and the similarities between him and Snider were pretty surprising. Here are the numbers at the age of 24 in Triple-A for each player.
Snider (2012) – .335/.423/.598, 13 home runs, 209 AB
Lambo (2013) – .272/.344/.589, 18 home runs, 224 AB
Snider’s numbers come with the disclaimer that he was playing in the PCL. However, using an equivalency calculator, Snider would have had a .314/.405/.558 line with 12 homers playing with Indianapolis in the International League. Lambo had more power, but Snider had a better ability to get on base.
What all of this means is that Lambo in 2014 is where Snider was in 2013. Snider didn’t work out, and I guess we’re going to find out in 2014 how much of his season was due to the toe injury.
In order to give Snider a fair shot, he’s going to have to play for at least a month, if not two. That could be shortened if the healthy version of Snider continues to struggle, and especially if Lambo or Decker is hitting in Triple-A. If the Pirates do make a switch to Lambo or Decker, one of those two would probably get a month or two. And if none of these options work out, then the Pirates would probably reach the point where Gregory Polanco would be ready.
Last week I questioned whether the Pirates would add a free agent at first base or right field. After they kept Snider it became clear that they are going with internal options for the right field position. They’ve got several options, so it just comes down to picking the right one. Worst case, they have the same problems they had last year, only this time they could have top prospect Gregory Polanco ready to take over down the stretch, rather than trading for a rental like Marlon Byrd.
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