First Pitch: Looks Like the Pirates Will Stay In House For Right Field

Heading into the off-season, it looked likely that the Pittsburgh Pirates could stay in-house in right field, rather than going after a free agent. If there was any doubt about that plan, it was removed on Monday when they tendered a contract to Travis Snider. By tendering a contract, the Pirates are guaranteeing that Snider will be on the team next year, and likely making $1.4 M. They also acquired Jaff Decker earlier in the off-season, adding another corner outfield option to the mix.

Previously the top two options looked like Jose Tabata and Andrew Lambo. Tabata had a great finish to the 2013 season, with an .848 OPS in the final two months. Lambo hit 33 home runs last year, with 32 of those coming between Double-A and Triple-A. The addition of Snider means that Lambo will probably start the year back with Indianapolis. Snider and Tabata are both out of options, while Lambo and Decker both have options remaining.

Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette reported today that the Pirates felt that Travis Snider’s toe injury last year impacted his swing. There might be something to that. Snider had a .799 OPS through the month of April, but saw his numbers go downhill fast after that, pretty much around the time his toe injury happened. Snider had surgery on the toe, and should be ready for Spring Training.

The return of Snider means that the Pirates won’t get a chance to see what Lambo can do right away. It would be nice to see if Lambo can carry his power over to the majors, but he’s not going to get that opportunity unless Snider or Tabata goes down with an injury, or until one of them struggles.

I was looking at Lambo’s numbers the other day, and the similarities between him and Snider were pretty surprising. Here are the numbers at the age of 24 in Triple-A for each player.

Snider (2012) – .335/.423/.598, 13 home runs, 209 AB

Lambo (2013) – .272/.344/.589, 18 home runs, 224 AB

Snider’s numbers come with the disclaimer that he was playing in the PCL. However, using an equivalency calculator, Snider would have had a .314/.405/.558 line with 12 homers playing with Indianapolis in the International League. Lambo had more power, but Snider had a better ability to get on base.

What all of this means is that Lambo in 2014 is where Snider was in 2013. Snider didn’t work out, and I guess we’re going to find out in 2014 how much of his season was due to the toe injury.

In order to give Snider a fair shot, he’s going to have to play for at least a month, if not two. That could be shortened if the healthy version of Snider continues to struggle, and especially if Lambo or Decker is hitting in Triple-A. If the Pirates do make a switch to Lambo or Decker, one of those two would probably get a month or two. And if none of these options work out, then the Pirates would probably reach the point where Gregory Polanco would be ready.

Last week I questioned whether the Pirates would add a free agent at first base or right field. After they kept Snider it became clear that they are going with internal options for the right field position. They’ve got several options, so it just comes down to picking the right one. Worst case, they have the same problems they had last year, only this time they could have top prospect Gregory Polanco ready to take over down the stretch, rather than trading for a rental like Marlon Byrd.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**James Loney Emerging as the Top Choice For the Pirates

**James Loney’s Asking Price a Reminder of Russell Martin

**Is First Base Now a Buyer’s Market?

**Pirates are in on David Price Trade Market

**Winter Leagues: Big Game For Benji Gonzalez

  • Looks like GI Jones is about to become a Marlin. Coupled with the Saltalamacchia deal, Loria is going to prove himself a trend bucker by going for poor defense, meaningless HR offense to field a winner.

    In other news, in the wake of Cano signing for 10/$240, Arte Moreno has just bought Disneyland to give to Mike Trout.

  • IMO, blog GM managing without a lot of facts is folly, the Pirates have a long way to go before they finalize a 25man or a 40man roster for 2014, they still have plenty of trade options, FA options and internal signings before the team is complete. For example Snider still belongs to the team as does everyone that the Pirates tendered, but they can trade any of them if they want to, if they have a crowed right field, could be we might see a move or two before the end of ST.
    The Pirates are a very smart organization, in fact one of the smartest organizations in sports and I have not seen one instance of cheapness from this organization since Nutting took over, just a lot of people that don’t have a clue about what they are talking about.

    • Folly indeed, and none of us have a clue about what we’re talking about, but it’s still fun, no? I think it’s fun to watch, read about, talk about what the Pirates might/should/shouldn’t do, my own ignorance notwithstanding. I mean, what’s the alternative? No Talking About Pirates Allowed Until Opening Day Because Leadoff Doesn’t Like The Folly Inherent Therein.

      • “No Talking About Pirates Allowed Until Opening Day Because Leadoff Doesn’t Like The Folly Inherent Therein.”

        Leadoff does like Pirate talk or he would not be here. The post was more about coming to conclusions about the Pirates approach to the coming season without real knowledge of what their up to. I have no problem with someone saying they would like to see Cano as the Pirate 2nd basemen or they don’t like Walker, thats baseball talk, all good.

        • Okay then – I guess I’m still a little fuzzy on good folly vs bad folly (or for that matter good shenanigans vs evil shenanigans) but I think it’s fun either way, as long as they steer clear of Loney.

  • CalipariFan506
    December 5, 2013 3:39 pm

    Eh. Trading a guy with a lot of control for a one year fix in the division is something to avoid. Whomever we traded could have tortured us a lot longer than Aoki helped us.

    • A guy like kris Johnson could have got this deal done. I know we don’t have him anymore but that’s my comparison to what the brewers got. It would have been a nice upgrade.

  • Too bad we couldn’t get Aoiki from the brewers. The royals only gave up a so so reliever for him. That would have solved right field until polanco was ready mid season and have given us a nice top of the order.

    • I too would have liked to see Aoiki in RF – would have been a solid bridge to Polanco – even if it took more than next year – and allowed Marte to move down in the order. I would classify this as frustrating – not a lot of money – not a lot talent needed to upgrade RF. Snider had better get off to a great start.

    • I’m actually shocked that we didn’t offer more than that at any point. Definitely frustrating

  • Given that Cutch and Marte are locked in for the next several years and Polanco is the heir apparent in RF they only need two of Tabata, Decker, Lambo, Snyder past mid year 2014 at the latest. I expect that they will go through Spring training see how they all perform and look to trade one or two of them, hopefully for some IF depth.

  • Let’s say it is Snider/Tabata in RF. And it is Gaby and someone else (not Lambo) at 1b.

    Decker and Lambo go to Indy. Since Polanco is in RF, where does Decker play (assuming Lambo goes to 1b)?

    And, what of Matt Curry?

    • Or does Decker become our 5th OFer because of his OB %

    • You’d have an outfield of Polanco, Decker, and Lambo. I’d imagine they would want Polanco getting time in right, which means Decker would probably be the center fielder. I think Lambo only goes to first if Jerry Sands returns. Matt Curry is coming off hamate surgery, and will probably remain in Double-A.

      • You think full time in right field? Obviously it makes sense to do that, it just stinks to cut a very good CF out of CF entirely. These are the first world problems of a team with 3 CF’s I guess.

  • At the moment Tabata is the best option in RF – and full time at that. Tabata’s career splits are relatively even between RHP and LHP and in 2013 actually favored him facing RHP.

    Yes, he drives us all crazy, but the numbers show he’s actually not an offensive liability, especially compared to internal competition. And he’s one of the better 2-out RISP hitters on the team. Plus he can take a pitch. I’d honestly consider putting him back at leadoff and using Marte to “protect” Pedro in the absence of any other bat being acquired.

  • Seems like Snider and Lambo have similar offensive upsides with most of their production coming from their power numbers. Tabata has a higher potential for on-base and batting average. Which of the 3 has the best defense? Lambo strikes me as being more athletic than Snider.

  • Hey Tim, I know that Jerry Sands had a poor year last year so he rarely gets mentioned, but do you think he’ll be in the mix at all in 1B or RF?

    • I guess the reason I ask is that Tabata is such a frustrating player to watch. But just when you think he’s done, he goes on a hot streak.

      The power potential of a Lambo/Sands platoon in RF is intriguing to me, and would make me more comfortable with seeing a lighter hitting James Loney at 1B with Sanchez.

    • Sands had a pretty bad year in 2013. He’s out of options, and showed no reason why he should be in the majors. I don’t see him sticking around on the 40-man. If he clears waivers, they can keep him in Triple-A for one more year. If that happens, I could see him getting time in the outfield, with Lambo playing first base.

      • Tim: 40 games at 1B over a 7 year minor league career? Are we a contender? Why has this kid not been exposed to 1B in the minors? The answer is that we have folks in the minors who know what skills are needed at that position, and if they thought he had those skills, he would have been there long before now.

        The Pirates of 2014 cannot start the season with Andrew Lambo at 1B. They crashed through that level of “try outs” panic years ago. With the number of GB’s thrown by Pirate Pitchers, we need a solid defensive 1B, and if we cannot find a LH hitting 1B with a sold glove, I would let Gaby Sanchez play 1B full time. Has anyone picked up GJ yet – he at least was a first baseman for almost his entire minor league career.

        • I was talking about Lambo playing 1B in Triple-A.

        • MJ, I don’t think you can assume Lambo hasn’t played 1B in the minors much because he lacks a certain skill set. Yes, certain guys have a natural ability there, but others have learned to be adequate or better there as long as they have a level of athleticism.

          I think the more likely reasons Lambo hasn’t played much 1B are that he’s been an OF his whole life and OF is more challenging/valuable defensively. If someone can play OF well, there’s no reason to switch him to 1B until it becomes absolutely necessary.

        • Four years ago, you could have said about a certain C/3B prospect, “Why has this kid not been exposed to 2B in the minors? The answer is that we have folks in the minors who know what skills are needed at that position, and if they thought he had those skills, he would have been there long before now.”

          But Walker seems to be doing OK as our starting second baseman.

          • He’s doing OK when when he’s not facing a LHP.

          • David: Excellent, but Walker is a Catcher, and Catchers are the QB’s of a baseball team. And, because their skill set requires soft hands, quick hands and feet, knowledge of the total game, and at least an above average arm, they are excellent candidates to play any infield position. Neil Walker is one of the best all-around athletes on the team, and I would not be surprised if the Pirates moved him to 1B, at least against RHP’s – we have plenty of MI’s, and Alen Hanson is only about a year away.

            Aside to stick: The Pirates have been looking for a 1B for many years now, and have had OF to burn. Any OF with the skill set necessary to play 1B would have already been converted. When Jones was in the Twins org he could not get beyond Justin Morneau, so they moved him to the OF in AAA to try to get his bat in the lineup some way. Neither the Dodgers or Pirates have thought to make that move to put him at 1B.

  • Gregory Polanco has hit at every level and currently is the #3 batter in the order for the league leading Escogido team in the DR. He has 8 doubles and 4 HR’s, is 6th in BA, 3rd in RBI’s, and 2nd in OPS. It is not a matter of waiting to see if the other options work, it is letting one or all improve their stock in April, May, and half of June, because when Polanco is “ready”, he will be in the OF in Pittsburgh. And, when he plays RF at PNC, Jameson Taillon will be the SP in that game.

    • I understand that sentiment MJ, but what if Tabby and/or Snyder are OPS, say, .830. That’s possible (see Snyder’s April and Tabby’s Aug-Sept) and a platoon makes it even more possible. Are you really going to take that kind of production out of the lineup for a rookie, no matter how highly ranked he is? Polanco has OPS over .800 for a full year exactly once, in A ball in 2012. Doesn’t exactly guarantee that he will do it right away as a 22 yo MLB rookie, does it?

      Yes, he’s the walking toolshed and I wouldn’t trade him straight up for 2 years of Price, but if the Bucs are getting good production from RF through June, they’re standing pat unless injury or Polanco blowing up AAA makes it a no brainer. It is not a no brainer right now.

      • I have said before that I question whether Polanco will be ready due to his low OPS in the minors. I have been countered with the fact that his winter ball numbers mean he’s going to do well in AAA to start the year…maybe that’s the case and I hope so because he’s a talented kid and the Pirates need as much talent as they can get at the big league level.

        Its interesting that you’re more talking about the other angle: what if Polanco is good but unspectacular in AAA and Tabata, et al, are actually producing pretty decently…I think that answer is simple: let the people performing play and let Polanco continue to get at bats and continue to drive and push him to get better and put out higher production. The more ABs that he sees the better he’ll be able to adapt to major league pitching. So if Tabata really was performing that well then Polanco should get more time to mature.

      • stick: If they do well, they will improve their stock as MLB RF’s. However, barring injury, 2014 is the freebie year to get Gregory Polanco in place alongside Marte and McCutchen. He may struggle, but he has shown himself to be a very mature hitter with knowledge of the strike zone, and the ability to be a 20+ HR/year lefty hitter, and his D is possibly better than what we already have in the Pirate OF! The quicker we get him up, and hopefully he fulfills his promise, the situation of possibly losing Pedro could be offset greatly by his presence. He is not only banging it in the DR, but he has 22W/27K’s so he is not just up there swinging for the fences. And, anyone who thinks he is not playing under pressure in front of his home country, and their rep as rabid and very knowledgeable baseball fans, is mistaken

    • Tabata hit .317 and had a .930 OPS in the 2010 winter league during limited playing time. Tabata also put up similar OPS in AA that Polanco put up this past year and did so at a younger age.

      The point is this: Gregory Polanco needs more time at AAA before we can really say he’ll be able to come up and be productive and beneficial for the major league team this coming season.

      Is Polanco more talented than Tabata? I think so. Then again, Tabata was billed as a 5-tool player at one point and that never fully developed. Polanco has developed much better than Tabata did, but to continue that development he needs the ABs in AAA. Its way too early to say that Polanco will be a beneficial member of the 2014 Pirates by June or even by August…and the winter ball numbers do not change that. Let the kid produce at AAA before you put him in the majors.

  • Loney’s a stiff – he hasn’t cracked 800 OPS since 2007. Loney at $7.5 = Randa at $4MM = makes no sense. Bring in Gamel, let him compete with Lambo in ST, and end up with better production than what Loney and his wiffle-ball bat would have given.

    • Where does this love for Mat Gamel come from? The fact that in his MLB career he’s homered once every 45 PAs vs. Loney’s whiffle-ball 1-in-47 rate?

      GI Jones is arguably more productive in a bad year than Gamel is in a good year. C’mon,get real.

      • I’m not saying put Gamel into the HOF, so “love” seems like a bit of an exaggeration.

        All I’m saying is that he’s an example of a very-low-cost hitter to bring in to compete with Lambo for the LHH first base job. There are probably others out there – he’s just one who comes to mind. The Brewers were ready to hand him their 1B job last year before he hurt his knee in ST.

        Look at Gamel’s MLB stats all you want – the fact is he’s only had 269 PA in the majors, which is too small of a sample size to make any informed judgement. Heck, if you look at Loney’s first 269 PA in his career, you might think he was a 900 OPS hitter, instead of the low-700’s OPS hitter he’s proved himself to be over his successive 3,800 PA.

        Maybe Gamel’s knee is good and he rakes like the Brewers thought he would last year. Or maybe he flames out in ST and you cut him, so what? It didn’t cost you anything. If you sign Loney, you’re stuck with a stiff at 1B and you’ve lost $15MM or $20MM that you could have used to address other needs. That’s the OLD Pirates (Derek Bell, Joe Randa, Pat Meares, etc)… today’s Pirates are (hopefully) smarter than that.

        • I wouldn’t mind brining in Gamel for just the same reason that the Pirates acquired Decker…depth. Give him a shot and see what he’s got. Couldn’t hurt…but I wouldn’t expect him to break camp as the starting or even platooning 1B for the Bucs.

        • I agree with you. I have no time for a career .285 hitter with a .350 OBP, .760 OPS, that can play top tier defense. I prefer never has beens as well.

          • “760 OPS with top tier defense” is what you’re looking for out of a utility infielder, a guy who can play shortstop, etc. If you’re getting 760 OPS from your 1B, that’s a problem.

          • “760 OPS with top tier defense” is what you’re looking for out of a utility infielder, a guy who can play shortstop, etc. If you’re getting 760 OPS from your 1B, that’s a problem.

            Oh, and that utility infielder with “760 OPS with top tier defense” and who can play shortstop? You’re paying that guy $2MM or so, maybe. If you’re getting 760 OPS from your 1B, that’s a problem, and it’s an even bigger problem if you’re paying him $8MM or $10MM or whatever Loney’s trying to get.

            As to “never has beens,” you could apply that term to Domonic Brown going into 2013, and he had more PA than Gamel.

    • Thank you and agreed. Why has James Loney become such an infatuation? Coming off a good year, in which he still didn’t hit even 15 home runs? Again, I would take GI Jones back at far lesser money than bring in Loney.

      • Cato the Elder
        December 5, 2013 11:28 am

        I think the infatuation is a result 2 things 1) readers of this site can attest that Tim has been trumpeting Loney as a potential good value signing for the Pirates for a while now and 2) a .348 OBP, which is above average for 1B last year (Garret Jones had a miserable .289 OBP last year, so that would represent a significant upgrade). You are correct that Loney does not possess traditional power for a 1B, but that is precisely what makes him affordable. Given the Pirates have plenty of power in their lineup, but are rather poor at getting on base, Loney kind of makes good sense insofar as you wouldn’t be paying for a skill in which the team has an abundance, but would be acquiring a skill that the team lacks. The fact that OBP is paid as handsomely as HRs (not to mention Loney’s very good defense) by the market is one of those areas where the Pirates might exploit a market inefficiency and gain some added value relative to cost. I understand that Loney might not be the type of splash that the average fan wants to see in free agency, but then again the average fan wasn’t too pleased by the signing of Martin or Liriano or the trade of Hanrahan last year. I get it, it is hard to trust a team that has burnt so many these past 2 decades, but hopefully it will get easier to trust the process.

        • I do not even think its so much about trust as it is that Loney may be a decent option, but there are other candidates, even via trade, who present more for the money. Yes, in a trade you have to give up something more than money but the Pirates have the minor league depth from which to pull from and its unrealistic that it would even take a top 10 or 15 prospect to procure one of these additional 1B options.

          • Cato the Elder
            December 5, 2013 1:13 pm

            Well, it is about “trust’ insofar as I trust the Neal and Co. more than I trust fans, i.e. “you.”
            You say: “there are other candidates…who present more for the money,” and you might be right. But given that we don’t know the particulars of the negotiations with free agents or with other teams regarding trades, I am going to go ahead and assume that the front office went ahead and made the best deal possible, at least in their opinion. And I “trust” their opinion more than I trust yours or mine or anybody else’s at this point.

        • I just feel that 7-10 million a year for a minimum 2 year commitment is a lot for a platoon role.

  • I really like this strategy of the Pirates. It’s smart baseball to give Snyder one last month or two so we can see if he can break through. Learning from the Moss experience possibly?

    And having Lambo & Decker at AAA ready to come up if someone falters or is injured – like that too. No pressure on Polanco, he could play the full season at Indie if need be, and be an even more finished product when he gets his shot next year.

    That could mean Polanco gets off to a better start to his career, is even more valuable while under the Bucks’ control for those 6 or 6 3/4 years. And give us a nice trading chip if one of those 4 RF’ers break through.

    Do want Loney at 1st though if they can get him for 2/15.

  • Sounds about right!! The only problem I have is I think Lambo is going to platoon at first base. The Pirates will talk a good game about who their interested in but they won’t sign anybody due to the market. Don’t worry though Neal will come out sometime in Jan and tell us all how hard he tried but 1 year of success isn’t going to attract players to Pittsburgh. He will also come out and say that they made offers to many Free Agents that made them extremely uncomfortable, to which I say BS due to some of these figures I’m seeing.
    The Pirates run their organization like a business and don’t just blow money every year. Nutting wants to see a profit year in and year out. It’s their plan and doesn’t matter how high the salaries of these players get, they will be satisfied with the status que then.

    • I’d like to see Lambo at 1b.

    • Why don’t you just write …Nutting is cheap…. it would save you from all those other wasted words.

    • I can’t see the Pirates playing Lambo at first. He has no experience and NH has (rightfully so) put a premium on defense. I would be surprised if he was even considered.

      • So because NH puts a premium on defense we kept GI Jones around for two years – sub par defensively at TWO positions…
        I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Pirates will be using the new TV money and the increased revenue from playoffs and attendance to pay down debt. Four facts support this.
        1. No tender to AJ – he is worth MORE than the tender price
        2. No real effort to return Byrd – he could have been had for a reasonable price and might have been good asset for trade if Polanco is ready mid year.
        3. Tendering Snyder – Travis comes at a bargain price for next year – and give them a way to stand pat in RF – platoon with Tabata.
        4. Letting Aoki go to KC – not sure Milwaukee would have been ready to trade in division – but if you don’t go after Byrd you have to make an effort to get a quality lead of man who provides you solid RF bridge to Polanco – and the option to keep Polanco at AAA for a full year if needed.

        So Tim – we will get to see if we can catch a break or two and pitch and shift our way to playoff contention for one more year. I am dissappointed – but it’s Nutting’s team and his business to run as he pleases. Just stop the crap about trying to be smart and competitive and build a winning team in Pittsburgh.