First Pitch: Looking at the Options to Replace Andrew McCutchen

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.

Replacing McCutchen

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

**Andrew McCutchen Expected to Go on the 15-Day DL

**No Health Setbacks For Starling Marte in Rehab Stint

**Gerrit Cole to make second rehab start tomorrow

**Prospect Watch: Nick Kingham Continues Rough Stretch in Triple-A

**Pirates To Sign Pitcher Colter Moore

**Pirates Release Two Minor League Pitchers

**Prospect Highlights: Starling Marte Doubles, Rojas Homers, First Look at Angel Sanchez

**Minor League Schedule: Gerrit Cole Makes His Second Rehab Start Tonight

  • Hey… Tony Plush just became available.

  • According to reports from Federal St., it’s not an oblique. No formal announcement on what it is yet. But if this is related to getting hit by that 95mph pitch, there will be hell to pay.

  • pilbobuggins
    August 5, 2014 1:41 pm

    Well folks now is the time for all the potential on the team to step forward,maybe not being able to ride on cutch’s coatails will be just what some of the slackers on this team need. The ones that step up you keep, those that don’t get jettisoned with the trash. No more excuses no more b.s., it’s all hands on deck time in the burgh.

  • Looking at the Phils, the Bucs are in great position to restock some of the Phils problem areas with cost-controlled upgrades. RAJ should be in Neal circa 2008 mode right now. Go for volume rather than top prospects. A deal that included Lambo & Pimintel upgrades Phils at two positions, add in an 11-20 prospect (Barnes, Ramirez) and maybe one other piece, RAJ should take that and be very happy. Phils fans would appreciate it.

    • pilbobuggins
      August 5, 2014 1:45 pm

      Who gives a rotten rats a$$ about what phils fans appreciate, the pirates are in the chase,the phils are in a mess of their own making. We need help on this club,not bailing out phila.,we are not their farm club for petes sake.

      • If you can convince me that Pimintel and Lambo are more important in a pennant chase than getting Marlon Byrd, please expound on your thinking.

        • pilbobuggins
          August 5, 2014 1:57 pm

          You did not mention who the pirates would get. All you said was what the phils wanted/needed. I have no objection to bringing back byrd,although I think willingham is a better short term option and will be cheaper.

          • Since Byrd was the only Phil mentioned in the article, I assumed that would be understood. My mistake.

            About the only thing I like about Willingham these days is that he hits Brewers pitching. He would scare the heck out of me in PNC’s left field. And he gets injured a lot. Byrd and Rios seem sturdier.

            • pilbobuggins
              August 5, 2014 2:05 pm

              I think whichever one that gets to the pirates ( via waiver) is going to be the one they make a play for. If none of them do there will be a lot of poed fans in the burgh yelling about how nh just sat on his hands again.

              • pilbobuggins
                August 5, 2014 2:09 pm

                Personally I would rather see some of the guys that the pirates have nurtured and had faith in step up. With that said,we really can’t sit back and wait for that to happen,a little outside insurance is a must have right now.

              • I wouldn’t be worried about the fan’s reaction if Neal does nothing. I’d be worried about the player’s response and longer-term ramifications of inaction during a pennant chase.

                • pilbobuggins
                  August 5, 2014 3:18 pm

                  Exellent point,altough fan reaction should be taken into consideration by any organization,after all they pay the bills. The main focus should be on making the team better, whether that means a trade or minor league options remains to be seen.

            • pilbobuggins
              August 5, 2014 2:10 pm

              Rios is probably the best option as far as skill and also money wise.

            • pilbobuggins
              August 5, 2014 2:13 pm

              I rather liked the rotten rats a$$ part, thanks for giving me an opportunity to use it.

  • Hard to say what Clint and NH will do, but I’m in favor of Snider at this time. He’s looked good, and confidence is important. Pedro should take Snider’s role as a pinch hitter until he figures it out. Fair is Fair after-all. Also, if Pedro is on the bench then you have an opportunity to spot him in those situations you feel a hitter with his capability can produce the most damage, and protect him from situations where he’s a liability. It’s a win win really for Pedro.

  • What about calling Morel back up and moving Jhay to the outfield? He was just starting to hit before he was sent down.

  • The biggest problem with the Pirates problems is that they have so many of them and have been trying to overcome them as they go, but they keep compounding them with injuries and Alvarez going in the tank. IMO, Hurdle is the guy on the spot, he has to juggle the lineup with 3 deep players and basically give up his bench. It still comes down to what the Pirates have needed to do all year and that is for the players they have to play to their potential, if they do that they will continue to win, it is as simple as that.
    I think the fact that they have so many ways to go speaks well for the organization. Lambo, Rojas, Tabata are all options in the outfield, Marte coming back, these are all quality players, they won’t be replacing McCutchen with a bum. I don’t like them replacing McCutchen with Snider, I think he is a bench player period.

  • Free Lambo!

  • Cutch is worth about 1 – 2 WAR per month.

    Do we stick to our saber beliefs? If so, the Pirates could be just fine, heading into Sept. within a game or two of the WC spot.

  • “Travis, my boy, if you have any bullets left in the gun this might be the time to fire ’em.”

  • while we’ve all had our Hurdle issues as far as in game strategy, it seems like he usually picks the right buttons to push. man this stinks though.

  • BallHeadWonder
    August 5, 2014 6:49 am

    Call me crazy, but as a Coach myself, We have to show Pedro some Love!!! This is a Back to Back 30 Home Run Hitter!! We have to give this kid some confidence that he can anchor the 3rd base spot and step up for his teammate!! Move Josh to left and keep Travis on the bench!! We have been the walking wounded all season. Our Pitching Staff is a Rotation of Number 4 and 5 Starters, yet We Still Rise!! We have a killer schedule coming up and I Promise we will have someone step up and be an All Star for us while our All Star gets his body right!!

    • pilbobuggins
      August 5, 2014 1:48 pm

      This is a bad enough situation without compounding it by bringing in the albatross,pedros ship has sailed, wave bye,bye.

  • Scott Kliesen
    August 5, 2014 5:29 am

    Any way you slice it, the offense is going to see a drop off. Especially vs LH Pitchers. Thankfully, Pirates only see them about 1X/week on average.

    In order for the Pirates to remain in contention through Labor Day is if the SP picks up the slack for the nearly certain drop off in offense. Time to go back to the early days of 2013 and win a whole bunch of 2-1 and 3-2 games.

  • I would have to start Pedro at third, at least for a couple games to see how the bat/defense looks back in an every day role. For one, losing as much offense as McCutchen provides, I want someone with a better track record than Snider. Second, if his throwing woes are mental then perhaps him not being pressured with being replaced by Harrison for 15+ games may help, or getting one last shot at staying at 3rd may motivate him. Who knows.

    • It will be interesting to see what happens since Hurdle basically backed himself into a corner by stating Pedro lost the 3b job. He has to play somewhere now or be dealt for a good bat who will play every day.

    • It will be interesting to see what happens since Hurdle basically backed himself into a corner by stating Pedro lost the 3b job. He has to play somewhere now or be dealt for a good bat who will play every day.

      • pedro is not going to get dealt for a good bat unless the other GM is hammered. MAYBE you could get a decent prospect. but why would somebody trade away a good hitter for someone who might turn back into a good hitter?

        unless you really mean the actual wooden bat.

        • There are a few big contracts out there that are no longer wanted. There’s still enough promise in Pedro’s power, age and salary to make him desirable. A prospect does this team no good in its current state. Nutting has the money to pay a prorated portion of an absurd contract – or eat one next year if necessary.

          • The team does have the money. Nutting has approved a payroll of at least $90 mil. It’s up to NH to optimize the talent on the team under that budget. Not Nutting.

            Not a lot of 3b out there on the market though. an OF would work just as well and would keep Jay Hay at 3b. Maybe Willingham. Maybe Byrd. Maybe someone else. But as Tim says, a lot must go right for one of those proven veterans to go to the Bucs.

            I for one am kind of excited to see what Snider can do.

            • Not convinced about this $90 mil number, especially referring to the Burnett offer in the spring (is there something else – a recent statement from Nutting or Neil out there?). $90 mil would have been the figure if the Bucs had signed both Loney and Burnett, but Burnett didn’t even get the offer until after Loney had already resigned with Tampa, making the number more like $83 mil.

              • I think payroll is currently somewhere between 77 and 78 million. add 12 and you get about 90. The 12 million dollar offer was reported by Jon Heyman i think.

                regardless of whether the ceiling for payroll is 83 million or 93 or 203 million, they are under it right now. And that’s NH’s responsibilty to optimize along with the optimization of future wins. Not Bob Nutting’s.

                • We’ve also added $3.5 mil for Ike since then, but ya, point taken – they do have money to spare. However, its not just about money – I’d be reluctant to give up anything major in a trade. Lester for Bell(?) would have looked horrible right now, losing Cutch less than a week after going “all in.” That’s probably a bullet dodged and maybe a lesson learned.

                  • See the link on sidebar for 40-man roster payroll. It’s currently a shade above $77 mill including Ike. And that’s with still paying Wandy.

              • I don’t think the Bucs ever planned to start the season with a $90 mill payroll. They expect to add on as the season progresses as do most teams. According to multiple sources, Neal was authorized to go to $90 mill at the deadline if he needed to (Price would’ve added about $5.5 mill). Whether $90 is still the figure post-deadline is debatable, but they certainly have room to add the pro-rated portions of Byrd or Rios plus a reliever if needed.

                • how did they never plan to hit 90, but make Burnett the offer that they reportedly did?

                  Mid 80s before ike davis. about 90 after ike davis.

                  • My comment was about starting the season with a $90 mill payroll – specifically, what is payroll on Opening Day. Adding Burnett would’ve put them in mid-80s. You wouldn’t be paying $5 mill to Volquez. And Ike was an add on, not part of payroll on opening day.

                    • they signed volquez before they offered Burnett $12 mil.

                      but yeah. it doesn’t even matter what the exact ceiling is right now. All that matters is that they can clearly afford to bring on a highly paid player for the 2014 stretch run if the right player reaches them in waivers and a fair deal can be reached.

  • It’s actually pretty remarkable that the Pirates are in it, just 1/2 game out of the wildcard, considering the number of calamities this team has endured, whether it’s the rotation (Wandy out after 6 starts, Frankie pitching like a 5th starter for 3 months), the defense (from above average last year to dead last in the NL), the injuries (Martin, Walker, Cole, Marte, now Cutch), the bullpen (3 1/2 reliable arms, depending on which Justin Wilson shows up that night), or the disappointing production from 1B, 3B and RF (for all of Polanco’s gifts, he’s still rounding into shape with a .105 ISO, which is next to last among regulars, and RF as a whole – including Tabata and Snider – ranks 10th in the NL).

    Not to discount the things that have gone unexpectedly well (JHay, Walker’s resurgence, Martin, Worley and Locke), but there’s a lot of slack that can be picked up by everybody else while Cutch is out.

    • SB: Excellent review of a season where it was 2 steps forward and 3 back, followed by 3 steps forward and only 2 back. Since the AS Break they are 10 – 6 and scrapping – this team cannot win easily, always some sort of tension right around the bend. And the core of this team is still maturing. We definitely need a few excellent starts from our SP’s and shutdown efforts out of the BP until we get a few people back and healthy.

  • Reading that just made me vomit a little in my mouth. Snider had a great July no doubt, his best month since he’s been here. Most of that was off the bench. He’s started both of this weekend’s games and went 1-for-11. Keep him on the bench and as a spot starter where he’s been very productive.

    This is no longer 2010. There’s no room for tryouts. Neal has to prove he has his team’s back and go outside for a proven player.

    • Exactly. The ONLY time Snider has ever been productive is as a bench player. Starting once a week and pinch hitting has actually gotten some production out of him. Maybe he can have a long career as a pinch hitter, he’s had way too many failures as a starter to earn another, in a pennant race.

  • I never thought I would ask this – when is Barmes due off of the DL? My prediction would be that Walker plays 3rd, Barmes at short, and Mercer at 2nd. Snider is not a starter, good bat off the bench, but not a starter. Harrison, Polanco, and Marte are your outfielders.

    Granted you lose 32 HRs with McCutchen and Alvarez not in the lineup, but St. Louis only hit 125 HR’s last year (30th in the Majors) on its way to the World Series.

    • I predict that your prediction will not come to pass. No need to move both Walker and Mercer off their natural positions in order to cover 3B. JHay will get most of the starts, Nix will spell him, Barmes can play there when he’s off the DL.

  • Scott Cromling
    August 5, 2014 1:22 am

    What about the outfield alignment? I’m assuming marte plays center, but if he isn’t available yet, does Polanco roam center? Also I’d rather have polanco in the spacious left field at PNC now rather than Snider/whoever if marte plays center

    • As long as Marte is on the DL, Polanco will probably be in center because hes the only person who ever played there besides Martinez. Also, hes never played left to my knowledge as a pro, so I doubt he plays there now

Menu