The Pittsburgh Pirates made several roster moves yesterday, calling up Matt Hague, announcing plans to send Vance Worley to the bullpen, and designating Duke Welker for assignment. Here are some thoughts on each of those moves, and what they mean for the short and long-term for the Pirates.
Hague has been having a strong year with Indianapolis. He originally broke in with the Pirates in 2012, after putting up some impressive power numbers during Spring Training. Those power numbers disappeared after Spring ended, and didn’t return through the 2013 season. They’re back in 2014, as Hague has put up 13 doubles and 13 homers in 285 at-bats in Triple-A. He is 28, and in his fourth year at the Triple-A level, so his power resurgence does come with a disclaimer. That said, one thing he continues to do well is hit left-handers.
Hague has a .906 OPS against lefties this year in 95 plate appearances. This is something he’s learned to do well. He had an .865 OPS in 153 plate appearances against lefties last year in Triple-A, and an .810 OPS in 178 plate appearances against lefties in 2011. His only down year in his time in Triple-A was a .726 OPS in 2012.
Hague was called up to replace Starling Marte for a few days, although the decision to call him up specifically was interesting. Hague wasn’t on the 40-man roster, and the Pirates could have just called up Jaff Decker for a few days if they needed a short-term replacement. Decker is an outfielder, which would have made more sense with Marte on leave. He has also been productive lately, and was on the 40-man roster. I don’t know if Hague’s call-up is just a short-term deal, or if he’s getting a look off the bench. If it’s the latter, then he could provide the Pirates with a bat versus left-handers at first or third base, and the potential to eventually take over for Gaby Sanchez in the first base platoon if all goes well.
I wrote about the tough decision the Pirates would have when Francisco Liriano returns, noting that they’d have to send either Vance Worley or Edinson Volquez to the bullpen. Both pitchers have had success in the rotation, and both deserve to be an MLB starter right now. The Pirates decided to keep Volquez in the rotation, and send Worley to the bullpen when Liriano returns on Sunday.
I’m guessing that Brandon Cumpton will be the guy who goes down at that point, which is something that could happen today if the Pirates want an extra reliever or bench bat for a few days.
When Gerrit Cole eventually returns, the Pirates will have to make a tougher decision in the bullpen. That might involve the end of the Ernesto Frieri experiment, or it could involve a tough decision on Stolmy Pimentel, Jeanmar Gomez (who has been more productive than Pirates fans give him credit for), or optioning a very productive Jared Hughes to preserve depth.
This move was inevitable. Welker had Tommy John surgery, and will be out for the rest of the year, along with the first half of next season. He’s out of options, so the Pirates would have had to put him on the 60-day DL next year, then bring him up when he’s healthy. Basically this is the exact same situation as Kyle McPherson last off-season. The Pirates removed McPherson from the 40-man, then re-signed him to a minor league deal. I’d expect the same with Welker. If he clears waivers, they could keep him around, although he’d be eligible for minor league free agency this off-season. I’d expect them to sign him back, using him as bullpen depth out of Triple-A in the second half.