Today was a busy day of moves for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They acquired infielder Justin Sellers from the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations, then designated John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez for assignment (clearing spots on the 40-man roster for Sellers and Charlie Morton, who was reinstated from the DL).
The moves to DFA Axford and Gomez don’t amount to much. They were both heading for arbitration, and I had them both listed as non-tender candidates this year due to their performances. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates tried to bring either pitcher back on minor league deals later in the off-season. I think that would be more likely with Gomez.
As for Sellers, my first thought when looking at his qualifications (utility infielder who can play shortstop) is that he would be the replacement on the bench for Josh Harrison, signaling that Harrison would be a starter. After looking a little deeper at Sellers, he seems to be more of a replacement for Clint Barmes as the backup shortstop, and a guy who can play other positions.
Sellers has no offensive value. He has a career .574 OPS in 287 MLB plate appearances. In Triple-A, he has a career .789 OPS, spending a lot of time in the hitter friendly PCL. This past season he had a .642 OPS in the International League.
The value Sellers brings is with his defense. He has a career 7.5 UZR/150 in 441.2 innings at the shortstop position in the majors, and a 38.8 UZR/150 in just 70.1 innings at third base. He’s got a -2.4 UZR/150 in 112.2 innings at second base. All of those are small sample sizes for UZR standards, but the scouting reports back up the numbers. Sellers isn’t as good defensively as Barmes — who has been in the 11.3-17.6 UZR/150 range over the last five years — but he is good defensively and will cost $1.5 M less than Barmes cost in 2014. There is also less of a need for Barmes, since Jordy Mercer finished in the top five in DRS, and seems to have the shortstop position locked down.
I wouldn’t be opposed to Barmes coming back on a smaller deal than his 2014 contract. His return would mean that Sellers would go to Triple-A to start the year (he has one option year remaining) and would come up in the event of an injury. Basically in that scenario, Sellers becomes the new Michael Martinez, except that he has strong defense at his positions, while Martinez had no value at all in the majors. That would make for a stronger overall team, and it could happen at a lower cost than what the Pirates paid for Barmes and Martinez last year.
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