Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal talked about how the Pittsburgh Pirates could sign either Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales after the draft in June. Rosenthal wasn’t saying that Morales and Drew were linked to the Pirates, or that the Pirates had a plan to go after them. He was just connecting the dots and bringing up a possible scenario.
It does make a lot of sense on the surface. One of the big drawbacks for Morales and Drew is that they both would require a first round draft pick, along with their salaries, and all of that would likely be for less than a year of service time. If a team signed both players before the draft, they would lose their first and second round picks. And the draft class this year is much more talented than the draft class last year. The talent where the Pirates are picking in the first round (24th overall) is similar to the talent just outside of the top ten last year, especially on the pitching side.
This is also something that makes sense for the Pirates on the surface, since they have a hole at first base, and Jordy Mercer has been struggling the first two weeks of the season. But that’s a short-term issue. What would have to happen for those two guys to make sense for the Pirates after the draft?
This seems like the easiest place to start, since I think the first base position is in bigger need of an upgrade right now. Travis Ishikawa had a hot start, but has cooled. It’s still a small sample size, but I don’t expect Ishikawa to be better than his career numbers, which aren’t good. Meanwhile, Andrew Lambo is off to a hot start with Indianapolis, and if the trends continue with Lambo and Ishikawa, I could see a switch being made. I definitely think the Pirates would make that switch before considering Morales as a free agent. The only way I see Morales being an option is if Lambo also struggles in the majors.
I’m not worried about Jordy Mercer’s poor start just yet. He’s prone to some bad slumps. Last year he had a .407 OPS over 45 at-bats during the first few weeks of July. The only reason his current numbers are noticeable is because they’re happening at the start of the season. If Mercer gets off to a good start, then does this in the middle of May, no one notices, or people just chalk it up to a bad stretch that every player has. The fact that his bad stretch is coming at the start of the season shouldn’t change the significance of those numbers.
But let’s say that Mercer is still struggling by the start of June (the draft is June 5th – June 7th). The Pirates don’t have much depth at shortstop. Clint Barmes is strong defensively, but weak offensively. He’s not a bad overall option to go with, especially with all of the ground balls the Pirates get. But if possible, you’d like to upgrade that spot, and Drew could be an upgrade.
Concerns With Each Player
Morales and Drew don’t come without concerns. There’s a reason they’re still available as free agents, and it’s not just because they’d cost a draft pick. They’ve both dealt with injury problems in the past, and that seems to be a bigger issue with Drew. Buster Olney recently wrote an article, quoting anonymous executives saying what they would offer Drew and Morales, along with the concerns with those two players. That article is now being called a violation of the CBA by Scott Boras, who is fighting for the claim that the comments damaged his players. That seems ridiculous, since it’s not like either player had a market to begin with.
In theory, both players look like they could be potentially great additions to a lineup, giving a big boost at two positions. But if that was true, they wouldn’t be free agents right now, even with the draft pick compensation involved. The fact that they’re un-signed at this point means that you have to consider that they might not be the guaranteed boosts that they seem like when people mention they’re still out there.
The Value of Morales and Drew
I think that both Morales and Drew would make sense for the Pirates, but only as depth options. At this point, if they signed after the draft, they wouldn’t be available until July, at the earliest. At that point, you don’t know how their performance might be after missing so much time, and you don’t know if they’d even care about putting in effort for the team, since they are currently showing that they only care about the money. And that’s just me echoing the opinions of the anonymous executives in Olney’s article.
If Jordy Mercer doesn’t turn things around, and if Andrew Lambo doesn’t eventually take the first base job and run with it, then it would make sense to go after Morales and/or Drew in the second half. I’d expect Mercer to turn things around. As for Lambo, he’s hitting well right now, and I’d expect him to eventually get a shot. I don’t know if that will result in the Pirates solving their first base issues, so that remains something to monitor over the next few months, in regards to Morales.