Yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates added Josh Fields on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. The deal is a smart move to make, as Fields will most likely compete with Andy Marte for a backup corner infield role. Regardless of which player wins, the role isn’t that important, and I’d much rather see someone like Marte or Fields get the job, with the remote chance that they could finally put things together, rather than going for the Chris Gomez/Ramon Vazquez/Bobby Crosby types that we’ve seen taking the backup infield roles over the last few seasons.
Assuming the two players will be competing for a backup infield role, one will likely be sent to AAA, unless there are out clauses we don’t know about. That would be another addition to the 2011 Indianapolis infield, which is already starting to look crowded. The current possibilities for each position are:
1B – Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce, Matt Hague
2B – Josh Harrison, Jim Negrych
SS – Brian Friday, Pedro Ciriaco, Chase D’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer
3B – Marte/Fields
There are a few position battles that could change this list. Pearce could win a bench role at the major league level, although he does have an extra option that was granted this off-season. He could also play in the outfield if he gets sent to AAA. Ciriaco will likely be pushed to AAA due to the addition of Josh Rodriguez as a Rule 5 pick, although Ciriaco is the most likely backup in the majors if Rodriguez gets returned to Cleveland.
The third base position doesn’t look that crowded, but that doesn’t mean the spot is open. For the last two years the Pirates have used Josh Harrison, Chase D’Arnaud, and Jordy Mercer in some order at second, third, and shortstop. They started off with this formation in high-A, after Harrison was acquired, and continued in Altoona last year. Assuming all three players move up to AAA, they would likely maintain the same alignment. Matt Hague is very likely to move up to AAA after the strong year he had in Altoona last year, which means the first base position is most likely his.
If the Pirates continue with a Hague/Harrison/D’Arnaud/Mercer infield, then that leaves Clement, Negrych, Friday, Ciriaco, and Marte/Fields on the bench. One player could be used as the designated hitter, but even then you’ve got four players battling for 2-3 infield bench roles. The Pirates are going to have to make some decisions. Some of the possibilities include:
-Releasing some of the guys who have turned in to organizational depth/AAAA guys. That would probably include Brian Friday, Jim Negrych, and probably Jeff Clement.
-Leaving 1-2 of the Harrison/Mercer/D’Arnaud group behind. I doubt this would be Harrison, since he had a very strong season in AA, although Mercer struggled with his power production, and D’Arnaud struggled hitting for average, so it wouldn’t be out of the question to see one of them returning to AA to start the season.
-Trading someone to create space. This would likely be a simple Andy Phillips type trade, where the Pirates send an organizational/AAAA guy to another organization for a marginal relief pitching prospect (the Pirates got Michael Dubee for Phillips).
The number one concern here should be giving the most playing time to the players with the most upside. Of the group above, I’d rather see the 2010 Altoona infielders get the bulk of the playing time. There’s always the chance that Clement, Fields/Marte, or Friday could have a Neil Walker type season, but I’d say the odds of that happening aren’t strong enough to bench Hague/Harrison/Mercer/D’Arnaud. I wouldn’t be against Mercer or D’Arnaud getting a little bit more time in AA to start the season, which could open up some playing time in AAA to start the year. Overall the Pirates have a traffic jam in their AAA infield for the 2011 season, and the number one priority for the team should be giving the most playing time to the players with the most upside.