Andrew McCutchen will most likely go on the disabled list with an oblique injury, which is a huge blow to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not impossible for them to contend from here, but it’s going to be very difficult, especially without their MVP. There’s no one player who can replace the lost production from McCutchen, but the Pirates would still have a chance of contending if they get just good production from McCutchen’s replacement. Here is a look at some of the options available to them until McCutchen returns.
Travis Snider as a Starter
When Gregory Polanco came up, it was an easy decision to send Travis Snider to the bench. He had a .627 OPS, which was in line with his numbers in previous years with the Pirates. Since Polanco has arrived, Snider has been playing off the bench, and as a result, has been on fire. He has a .292/.343/.523 line in 70 plate appearances, with four home runs.
That kind of production would warrant another shot at being a starter. Snider was formerly one of the top hitting prospects in the game, but he hasn’t worked out yet. Even while he’s been struggling the last few years, scouts from opposing teams have loved his stuff. The Pirates have seen talented young players struggle in Pittsburgh, only to put it together elsewhere. Brandon Moss is a recent example. You’d hate to see the same thing happen with Snider.
If there’s a chance that this production from Snider is legit, then now is the time to find out. If it is legit, then that goes a long way to replacing the lost production from McCutchen. If Snider struggles again as a starter, you can just turn to another option, with the knowledge that Snider is probably only good in a bench role. He’s not going to get another opportunity like this when McCutchen returns, unless there’s another injury. This is the perfect time for one last look as a starter.
Pedro Alvarez Returning to the Lineup, Josh Harrison to the Outfield
Recently Pedro Alvarez lost his job to Josh Harrison, with Harrison moving from his role as a utility player to a full-time third baseman. When I say “recently”, I mean “the change happened Sunday.” Harrison has been one of the top contributors on the team this year, and has played well in the corner outfield spots. He could take over in the outfield, although that would mean Alvarez would be back as a starting third baseman, at a time when the Pirates seem to be giving up on him at third base.
This would basically be a decision between Alvarez and Travis Snider. Either way, you’ve got Josh Harrison starting. Alvarez has a .727 OPS this year, while Snider has a .712 OPS. That gives Alvarez the slight edge on the season. Alvarez has struggled defensively, although Snider hasn’t been the best defender. I think it would make sense to play the hot hand and go with Snider, rather than putting Alvarez back in at a time when he’s struggling on both sides of the ball.
Make a Trade
It’s harder to make a deal at this time of the year, especially when you’re in a position of need. That said, it’s not impossible, as we saw last year with the addition of Marlon Byrd. The Phillies just placed Byrd on waivers, and he will either clear or get claimed by Wednesday. The Pirates have the tenth priority on Byrd at the moment, with one of the teams in front of them being the Phillies. They would need eight teams to pass on Byrd (the eight teams worse than them in the standings), to be able to put a claim in and attempt a deal. However, even if they claim Byrd, a deal might be unlikely.
Looking over the rumors on MLBTR, the Phillies were asking a lot in return for Byrd. They didn’t strike a deal, despite there being interest. We’ll have to see if the Phillies come down on their price, or if the Pirates go up on theirs. The Pirates were mentioned as being interested in Byrd before the deadline, although that might have been connected to the rumors that they would have made Starling Marte available in a deal. I don’t know if getting Byrd for one month would be worth a top prospect and over a $10 M commitment for the next 14 months.
Bring Up Someone From Triple-A
I think the Pirates are going to have to bring someone up right away, since Starling Marte is still rehabbing with Indianapolis. That process shouldn’t take long, so any replacement would only be up for a few days. However, the Pirates could opt for a longer term replacement from their minor league system if they don’t want to put Alvarez back in the lineup, and don’t trust Snider as a starter.
The best option right now would be Andrew Lambo. He’s been great this year with Indianapolis, posting a .329/.398/.544 line in 158 at-bats. He also had a lot of success last year in Triple-A. The Pirates could bring him up, have him start a few games until Marte returns, then make a decision from there.
The one drawback is that Lambo did sit a game last week due to his thumb hurting. He returned a day later, so it doesn’t appear this was a serious issue.
Mel Rojas has also done well in Triple-A, with a .280/.364/.386 line. Lambo’s numbers are better, and he’s currently on the 40-man roster (although Rojas will have to be placed on the 40-man this off-season to be protected from the Rule 5 draft). Because of that combo, Lambo has the edge.
I think the best option would be to go with Snider. You can bring up Lambo for a few starts until Marte returns (assuming Marte isn’t returning right away, as he hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his rehab). Lambo could remain in the majors after Marte returns, but as a bench player while Snider gets another shot. I’ve been skeptical that Snider could be a starting outfielder, but that’s because he’s never shown any indication that he could handle the role. His performance over the last two months isn’t exactly proof that he can make it as a starter, but it’s good enough to give him another shot. If he works out, and continues putting up these numbers, then he’d be providing offense that the Pirates could contend with.
If Snider doesn’t work out, then the team could turn back to Alvarez, and hope that he puts things together. I actually think this is less likely than Snider continuing his hitting as a starter.
I don’t think a guy from Triple-A should start, unless the first two options fail, or unless someone like Lambo really impresses off the bench, just like Snider is doing now. I wouldn’t trade for anyone like Byrd, unless the cost was reasonable for what he brings this year, plus his salary. Based on the asking price from Philadelphia, it doesn’t seem like the price will be reasonable.
It will help when Starling Marte returns. It would also help if Gregory Polanco steps up during this time, along with other struggling players like Ike Davis. And if Snider can step in and continue this hitting, the Pirates could stay in the playoff race over the next month, even without McCutchen.
Links and Notes