The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t exactly have a loaded offense. They’ve got a lot of young players who are holding down roster spots, regardless of their inconsistent performances, which is a normal thing for young players. They’ve got a few defensive-minded players holding down spots solely for their defensive value, such as Ronny Cedeno at shortstop, and Michael McKenry behind the plate. About the only position where there’s a consensus call for an upgrade is first base.
Lyle Overbay was signed during the off-season to provide the Pirates with a strong defensive first baseman who had some power. He hit 20 homers last year, with a .762 OPS, and averaged about 17 homers a year and a .796 OPS in five seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. So far this year, Overbay is on pace for about 10-12 homers, and has a .669 OPS. What’s worse is that his defense hasn’t lived up to the billing.
There has been a lot of talk, especially on this site, about the possibility of adding Carlos Pena at the trade deadline. If the Cubs are looking to shed salary, the Pirates could be in a good position to land Pena, all while giving up very little from the farm system, as they’re one of few teams that can afford to take on payroll. But Pena is unlikely to be dealt well before the July 31st trade deadline. So what do the Pirates do between now and then? Do they continue with Overbay, and hope he continues his current 8-for-16 streak in his last four games? Or do they look for another option internally?
One popular option is Matt Hague. Hague, the first baseman for the Indianapolis Indians, is currently hitting for a .324/.380/.482 line, with eight homers and 24 doubles in 330 at-bats. He is fresh off a month of June where he hit for a .402 average and a 1.094 OPS in 107 at-bats. After hitting three doubles last night, Hague has 16 doubles since the start of June, a pace that would equal 64 doubles in a full season. For reference, the National League record is 64 doubles in a year, set in 1936 by Joe Medwick.
There are knocks against Hague. I mentioned in today’s Daily Prospect Profile about how John Bowker is a perfect example that AAA success doesn’t equal Major League success. Of course, how much worse could Hague be, compared to what Overbay has done?
There’s also the concern that replacing Overbay could be damaging to the team chemistry. This is a team that has Eric Fryer, Chase d’Arnaud, Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Tony Watson, Daniel Moskos, Chris Leroux, and soon to be returning, Pedro Alvarez. You know what those guys all have in common? They’ve been Hague’s teammates in the minors the last few years.
Then there’s the big issue with Hague’s game: his power is limited to gap power, with the capability of hitting about 15 homers a year. He also has a reverse platoon split, struggling against left handers, which is rare for a right handed batter. But again, Overbay isn’t hitting for much power, and also struggles against left handers.
The Pirates definitely should be looking for first base upgrades. However, instead of putting all of the eggs in the Carlos Pena basket, and waiting until July 31st, why not call up Hague? If he gets the call right after the All-Star break, that gives the Pirates 16 games to evaluate him before the trade deadline on the afternoon of July 31st. Maybe he does well, and they can focus elsewhere for an upgrade. Maybe he struggles, and they go for a guy like Pena. Maybe he does well, and they still go for Pena, but keep Hague around for the start of the 2012 season.
In any event, it’s clear that the Pirates need an upgrade at first base. They’ve got a hot hitting first baseman in AAA. Why not give him a shot?