The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to have an interesting off-season. In the last two weeks I have been recapping all of the individual positions, noting what happened during the 2014 season and looking ahead to future years. Aside from the Russell Martin situation, and all of the decisions to be made on pitching, the Pirates have a lot of decisions to make that could go a lot of different ways. Here is a rundown of each situation.
**Should they keep Travis Snider as an expensive bench player, or try to deal him based off his second half success?
**Should Josh Harrison be a starter, or a super utility player, getting starts all over the field?
**Which of Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, and Gaby Sanchez should the Pirates trade?
All of these moves are connected. For example, if you have Travis Snider as an expensive bench player, then that reduces the possibility for Josh Harrison to get time in the outfield. That means Harrison has less value as a utility player (basically a backup infielder) than he does as a starter. If you start him at third base, then Alvarez isn’t needed at third, which means you don’t really need Davis and Alvarez on the roster. And you might not need Sanchez, unless you want him as a backup third baseman, which wouldn’t be necessary if you keep Alvarez.
I’ve given my thoughts on what the Pirates should do: keep Snider, start Harrison at third, trade Alvarez, and start Davis and Sanchez. Some of you have disagreed with me on certain ideas, and that’s totally understandable. This off-season, especially the situation involving first base, is full of decisions that have no clear right answer.
You don’t know if Travis Snider will repeat his second half, so paying him through arbitration again, and giving him some starts in the outfield might be risky.
Josh Harrison has more plate appearances where he looked like a struggling bench player, compared to plate appearances where he looked like an All-Star. He definitely should get a chance for regular playing time, but this is another area where the Pirates have some risk.
There’s no consensus choice between Davis and Alvarez. Davis has actually been better than Alvarez in his career against right-handers, and the two were about the same in 2014. Yet, Pirates fans don’t like Davis and prefer Alvarez. I’m guessing the situation would be reversed if Davis was drafted by the Pirates, and Alvarez came over in a trade only to have a down year. As for Sanchez, it’s a question of whether he just had a down year, or is starting his decline. The risk at first base involves picking the right guy(s). Even if the Pirates traded Alvarez and got a good player in return, it would hurt seeing him bounce back next year, especially if Davis doesn’t bounce back.
I wanted to play Devil’s Advocate with my suggestion for these guys, thinking about the benefits of keeping everyone. What if there weren’t really set positions, but just a plan for everyone to get X amount of at-bats. This would help negate some of the risk involved with these guys, and make it less likely that the Pirates have holes on their roster.
Take Pedro Alvarez, for example. If you keep him around, even with Davis on the roster, you’ve basically got a very expensive bench player for a small market team. But Alvarez provides the chance for insurance at two positions. If he bounces back and shows that he can once again play third base, then he’s insurance for Harrison. If he bounces back and Davis struggles, then he can take over at first base. And if both players are productive, and Alvarez is also productive, then you’ve got a huge power bat off the bench.
A perfect scenario with these guys involves Alvarez, Davis, and Sanchez to bounce back to their career norms, with Harrison and Snider staying hot after their breakout seasons. That would give the Pirates a lot of depth. They’d have a team of super utility players, with Harrison getting time all over the infield, and some time in the outfield. They’d have Alvarez splitting between first and third. Snider would be starting insurance in the outfield if someone struggled or went down with an injury. And as for other injuries, they’d be covered and wouldn’t have a situation where Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel were starting games — unless they dealt with several injuries at the same time again.
The downside to this approach would be that they could only do it if they didn’t bring back Russell Martin. And they definitely should prioritize Martin. If he does end up signing (which seems unlikely), then they wouldn’t be able to afford the expensive bench, all while adding the necessary pitching that they will need in the rotation and bullpen. But if Martin doesn’t return, then a “keep everyone” plan might be a good way to help replace his value, as the contingency plans involved here could help keep the Pirates with a top offense, even without Martin.
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