First Pitch: Getting Uncomfortable With Andrew Lambo

A few months ago you might remember that I did an article called “How to Be a Professional Blogger“. I was contacted by a few people after that article, with questions on how to get a site started. I don’t know how many people actually started their own site, but I do know of one site that started as a result of that post. Rich from Saber Bucs decided to start his site after that post, and if you haven’t checked it out, he’s doing a fantastic job. I mention all of this for the prime reason of pointing out Saber Bucs, since that’s a site I think you should be checking out.

I was going to write something on Andrew Lambo tonight, but I couldn’t decide what to discuss. At this point in the off-season, pretty much everything has been said about Lambo. He’s not a guarantee, but he’s a guy the Pirates need to take a risk on due to his 2013 season. The Pirates didn’t add any external options, and now Lambo is the top option for first base. I talked with him a week ago, and we discussed last season, his off-season, and his work at the position. At this point, the only thing left with Lambo is seeing how it all turns out.

That said, Lambo was profiled today in our top 20 prospects countdown, which brought up the discussions again. Rich sent me a message over Twitter, saying that the Pirates needed a better option than Lambo at first base. During the brief conversation he brought up a few valid points. Some of them have been discussed, as noted above. Some of them are more a reaction to where the Pirates are now. So as a summary for Lambo, I thought I’d take a look at the arguments against him.

He Could Be the Next Steve Pearce

One of the key points Rich brought up was that Lambo could end up like Steve Pearce, although he does note that this isn’t a guarantee. The comparison is an easy one to make, since both hitters put up huge power numbers at the age of 24. The main difference I’d point out is that Lambo was once a top prospect and was expected to eventually break out. He dealt with hamate surgery last year, a promotion to Double-A way too early in his career, and a few other issues. Meanwhile Pearce wasn’t a top prospect and just had a breakout season.

That doesn’t mean Lambo won’t end up like Pearce. I’ve said many times that Lambo isn’t a guarantee. The thing about Pearce is that he wasn’t bad in the majors — as a platoon player. He had a .613 OPS against right-handers, but an .806 OPS against lefties. Lambo bats from the opposite side of the plate, so his platoon splits would be reversed and would be exactly what the Pirates needed.

Just because Pearce became a good platoon player doesn’t mean Lambo will do the same. Pretty much, you can’t compare Lambo and Pearce at all based on their power numbers at the age of 24. The big takeaway here is that Lambo isn’t a guarantee, and might fail in the majors. With that point, I agree.

Alternatives to Lambo

As you may know, I felt that James Loney was the best option for the Pirates this off-season. He ended up re-signing with the Rays for three years and $21 M. This means that I’ll still get to see Loney when I take the 30 minute drive to the Trop this summer. It also means that the remaining options for the Pirates aren’t that inspiring.

There have been a lot of names on the trade block, but none of them really look significantly better than Loney. Ike Davis is the big name, and the Mets have been asking for a huge price. There have been rumors that they have asked for a top prospect from Baltimore, and a major league ready starter from Milwaukee, with both teams turning the Mets down. This makes sense, because Davis is more of a project. If we’re giving out comparisons to former Pirates, then Davis would be in the same camp as guys like Lastings Milledge or Jeff Clement. He’s a former top prospect with limited success in the majors, but he hasn’t put it all together and there’s no guarantee that he will.

Rich brought up one interesting name: Wilson Betemit. He’s a guy with good career numbers, but he also comes with red flags. In this case, he missed almost all of 2013 with a knee injury. He’s also 32 years old. There haven’t been many rumors about him this off-season, which suggests that teams are worried about his health. Betemit wouldn’t be bad as an NRI. If he comes back healthy, he makes a good utility player, and a backup to Pedro Alvarez at third base. He also would be a good Plan B to Lambo. But I wouldn’t give him the starting first base job over Lambo, mostly due to the knee injury, and the lack of trust from teams who probably have seen his medical records.

I do think the Pirates should find alternatives to Lambo. However, the market is pretty weak, and you’re not going to find that first baseman that can make you comfortable. So if they do look for alternatives, they need to find guys who can be a backup plan, rather than someone who turns Lambo into a backup plan.

Getting Used to Being Uncomfortable

The truth about Lambo is that you can’t feel comfortable going into the season with him as the first baseman. That’s true about a lot of prospects. This doesn’t mean that those prospects are doomed to fail. It just means they come with question marks, and people don’t like question marks when trying to envision a contending team.

The truth about the Pirates is that they don’t have the luxury of being comfortable. They’re always going to have to take a chance on guys like Lambo. The majority of those players won’t pan out. However, the ones that do work out will make the strategy worthwhile. The Pirates can never cast aside a guy coming off a breakout season at age 24, all because he might not have success in the majors. As uncomfortable as it is, they’re going to have to give those guys a shot to see what they can do. That’s true no matter if they were a contender the previous year, or if they are coming off a losing season. Their status in a given year shouldn’t change this approach.

I’ve always talked about how small market teams can avoid the mythical “window” to contend. It seems that most strategies that cite the “window” are just trying to justify short-term moves. Being comfortable is a short-term move. Whether it’s trading prospects for a bigger, yet non-guaranteed name, or passing up Lambo for a one-year option, the focus is only on the following season. Giving a shot to a guy like Lambo is uncomfortable because of the risk. You’re taking a bigger risk in the short-term, and if it works out, you see a huge benefit in the long-term. This type of strategy leads to teams being competitive for the long-term. It’s pretty much the strategy taken by the Rays, and they’ve been the model small market team.

So I agree with Rich that Lambo isn’t a guarantee. And because he’s not a guarantee, I agree that they need alternatives, although I’d only be looking for backup plans. However, I think that Lambo needs to be given a shot. The Pirates have a short-term and a long-term need at first base. They have a prospect who hit 33 homers last year at the age of 24. They need to see if Lambo can actually fill those short-term and long-term needs at first base, and they might as well do that now.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is now available. You can purchase your copy here, and read about every prospect in the Pirates’ system. The book includes our top 50 prospects, as well as future potential ratings for every player.

**We have been releasing our top 20 prospects for the 2014 season. Today the countdown resumed with #14 – Andrew Lambo.

**Six Pirates File For Arbitration. Nothing unexpected here. The big news will come on Friday when the Pirates and the players exchange figures.

**Alen Hanson Named Among Top Shortstop Prospects

**Pirates Invite Four Players to Spring Training. None of these guys project to make the team on Opening Day, although all four have a shot to make the team by the end of the 2014 season. The only guy from this list who will make the team in 2014 without an injury is Jameson Taillon. The others would need injuries, or extremely unexpected performances to reach the majors. Here is the full list of players invited to camp: 2014 Spring Training Tracker.

**Winter Leagues: Updates For Marte and Polanco.

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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