The Pittsburgh Pirates announced today that Jordy Mercer has a lower leg contusion and a sprain of the medial collateral ligament of his left knee. The injury occurred yesterday during a collision near second base with Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez. Mercer has been placed on the 15-day disabled and Brett Morel will take his place on the active roster. Corey Hart had to be moved to the 60-day DL to create room for Morel on the 40-man roster.

The timetable for a return from this type of injury is approximately six weeks, so Mercer will be out until early September. For Hart, that means he won’t be able to return until August 24th. He was just recently shutdown on his rehab assignment at Indianapolis and went back to Pittsburgh for evaluation.

The Pirates entered the year with what seemed like a ton of depth. They made a lot of off-season moves to build up this depth, including boosting the infield by trading for Sean Rodriguez and signing Jung-ho Kang. This was all in response to a two week stretch last year when they had Brent Morel, Michael Martinez, and Jayson Nix on their roster at the same time, with at least one of those guys getting a start on most nights.

It seemed like they had enough depth to avoid that issue again this year, but it appears that’s not the case, as Brent Morel was called up today. Injuries will happen over the course of a season, and plenty of teams will have guys like Morel on the roster. But how did the Pirates go from a situation where it seemed like this wouldn’t happen, to this actually happening again?

Back in February, I created a series of flow charts to display the depth that the team potentially had. There were a lot of question marks and a lot of possibilities for each position. Here was the third base chart once again:

3B2015chart

Just running down the list:

1. Josh Harrison is currently injured, which started the look for a backup.

2. Jung-ho Kang looks like a starting option, although with the injury to Jordy Mercer, he is now needed at shortstop (that’s a totally different flow chart, and skipping ahead, it seems the Pirates prefer Brent Morel for third base over Pedro Florimon for shortstop).

3. Deibinson Romero looked like a sleeper minor league free agent, hitting for a .302/.403/.548 line in 126 at-bats with Indianapolis. However, he was sold to a Korean team, which only happens when the player wants to go play in Korea. The fact that he wanted to go to Korea would indicate that he didn’t have any MLB teams looking to add him to their active rosters. As the Pirates have shown with Clayton Richard, they will give a player that opportunity if he is blocked in their system. This is a pretty standard practice across the league.

4. Pedro Alvarez does not look like a guy who should be moving back to third base.

5. The Pirates seem to trust Sean Rodriguez a lot, although he’s only hitting for a .558 OPS on the year. His biggest role this year has been a late inning defensive replacement at first base. He definitely doesn’t look like he’s got the bat to be a starter at third.

6. Since Romero is gone, and Justin Sellers has been starting and stopping his rehab all year, that just leaves Morel.

You can’t control injuries, so the loss of Harrison and Mercer at the same time is unavoidable. The big complaint here is that they could have kept Romero around, although about two months ago it would have been hard to predict that Harrison and Mercer would have gone down at the same time. Not to mention, Sean Rodriguez had an OPS in the .700 range around the time that Romero was sold (although that was a small sample size and Rodriguez has seen his numbers drop with increased playing time).

I’ll also note that Morel has a .966 OPS over his last 129 at-bats, which is an arbitrary end point, but one that I picked because Romero’s success came in 126 at-bats. I’m also comparing the two because Morel is actually seven months younger than Romero. The big advantage Romero has is that he hasn’t had a chance to fail in the majors, while Morel has had several of those chances, only amounting to a career .600 OPS. That means we should take Morel’s Triple-A numbers with a grain of salt until he can do it in the majors. It also means we shouldn’t just assume that Romero was going to be a breakout guy.

Essentially the Pirates chose Morel as their depth when they let Romero walk. And considering that third base is one of the weakest positions in the farm system, I’d say there was a little bit more of a risk that they’d run into this problem here than anywhere else.

Everything had to go wrong at the same time to get to this point. Harrison and Mercer had to get injured at the same time. Rodriguez and Alvarez had to both be struggling. Romero had to be sold away. Sellers had to stay injured. That’s how the Pirates ended up with Brent Morel once again. You hope that he has finally figured it out this time, but a lot of skepticism should be warranted. So the bigger hope is that Mercer or Harrison return sooner, rather than later, and that injuries at other positions can be avoided.

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65 COMMENTS

  1. Ok, get ready to throw the rocks….

    Is the moving Pedro to 3rd out of the question
    against right handed pitchers? Could the defense
    be any worse than him being at 1st? Even just
    until we are healthy?

    Ok, remember, am an amateur at this
    and am respectfully asking.
    I will say that I was one of the ones most concerned
    when we lost Romero.

    Also, I will mention it again. Can we ask the Jays for Hague back for
    something around $1 to see if he can help at 1st, 3rd and RF?
    If it does not work out, we are only out $1.

    The Barmes Idea is ok by me but he may cost us too much
    for what we get.

  2. They could probably get Martin Prado for almost nothing. He’s good defensively, not terrible at the plate, and could slot in as a utility guy after the team gets healthy. But he is owed $11M next year ($3M paid by the Yankees, not sure if that would transfer if he was traded), so it wouldn’t happen unless the Marlins pay even more of his salary.

  3. I would like to see Gift get a chance, but the Bucs must believe Morel has a chance to be better with the bat. It is the only logical reason I can come up with why it’s Morel over Gift.

    • Does everyone understand that Morel isn’t actually expect to play as long as Sean Rodriguez is healthy?

      • I’m not going to suggest that Morel is good, but at the moment he’s on a pretty good hot streak, AAA or not. If I was Hurdle, I’d use Morel until that streak died its natural death. SRod has simply been awful in RISP situations, and now you can add “can’t lay down a decent bunt” on top of the other failings.

        There have been plenty of times, as we’ve seen ourselves over the past few years, where some scrub comes up and has a great week or two before settling back into reality. Ciriaco, Harrison, Sutton, etc. You could say Ish is there right now. Of course that might not happen, but why not take the risk, not like it’s a big gamble the way SRod has been playing.

    • Brent Morel, of the .600 ML OPS, has a AAA OPS about 70 points higher than Gift (who has only 51 AAA PAs). His AA OPS is about 150 points higher. Overall, his MiL OPS is about 110 points higher. So, yeah, I think it’s reasonable to believe that Morel would be “better with the bat” than Gift.

      • If you look at morel vs. other 3b as comparison and gift vs other SS. I think keeping Kong at 3b and gift’s dfense at SS would be a better fit.

      • I don’t think anyone is arguing that, although Morel has not proven to be much of a hitter either. Gift proves great play at SS, which is more important right now in my opinion.

    • So we need a shortstop or third baseman, a first baseman, and a right handed bat. Punch and Judy starting tonight at first and third. A rested Cutch returns to the lineup…………I wonder if we might see him attempt a steal, turn a gap shot into a triple, or run out a ground ball full speed now that he’s rested. With these injuries, what would the Golden State Warriors do? All eyes turn to the GM.

  4. The Pirates bypass their own minor league prospects to bring up a veteran AAAA player again who has no long term future with the team…….Gift would have made more sense, as he is at least a plus glove at SS, allowing Kang to move to 3B where is better than at SS. Gift has paid his dues. Trade him to a team that may actually need a great fielding SS.

    The beat goes on….they might as well trade most of the prospects at Indy and Altoona for a couple of useful rentals, because it doesn’t look like more than couple will ever get a real shot in Pittsburgh.

    • NMR did not seem to think Gift was all that much better of an option than Clint Barmes would be in a trade. If that is the case, considering that I normally trust his judgment/opinion a good deal, then maybe Gift wouldn’t be such a better solution. I do not think Gift would hit any more than Morel would, honestly.

      • I think folks tend to overlook that adjustment periods often happen on offense *and* defense. Jordy Mercer himself was so poor upon being called up that Hurdle benched him in favor of, wait for it, Clint Barmes down the stretch.

        I wouldn’t doubt at all if Gift Ngoepe is quicker and has a better arm than 36 yo Clint Barmes, but over the next six weeks I absolutely believe Barmes would be the better Major League shortstop.

          • It’s true that Ngoepe hasn’t hit in the minors, but I don’t think he would struggle with the glove if called up. Mercer struggled because SS is not his best position. Before Chase D’Arnoud flamed out he was preferred at SS over Jordy. Mercer’s hitting enabled him to leapfrog Chase and put him at SS full time. Jordy, in a perfect world, is probably a second basemen. Defensively, Ngoepe has all the tools and natural ability to be an excellent MLB SS. Above average hitting from a glove-first SS (and glove first is what you want at SS) is a luxury.

              • Exactly, which is why guys like Tulo are not the norm. My only point is that Ngoepe’s offense will not be a significant downgrade from someone like Barmes, and in my opinion his glove will be better.

          • he has hit very well this year, in AA and AAA….Barmes has never been confused with Tulo with the bat…

    • “Gift has paid his dues”

      Gift has a total of 51 PAs at AAA. It’s not a question of dues; it’s a question of showing ability to hit at the ML level better than a pitcher.

      • I’d rather have him playing SS and have outstanding defense, as this team has been struggling to score runs and cannot afford errors.

    • He is poor at SS (doesn’t have the arm or consistency) and hasn’t played 3b since his DSL days.

      They’d have to play him some at Indy just to give him reps.

  5. Lost in the Pirates-Lose-Another-Starting-Infielder narrative is the fact that Jordy Mercer isn’t actually that good at baseball.

    If this injury pushes the club to acquire even a marginal player like Juan Uribe it could very possibly wind up working out for the better.

          • Except that I can back mine up with Uribe being three times as valuable as Mercer so far this season while logging 50 less PA, Uribe projected to be roughly twice as valuable as Mercer over the rest of the season, and Mercer’s own career 74 wRC+ against RHP to support my argument for those who haven’t been watching baseball for the past two years.

            • I would love Juan Uribe. He is on an Atlanta team not going anywhere…he can cover the hot corner for 5 weeks until Jay Hay is back. I agree that Jordy Mercer isn’t THAT good…but the depth behind him is even WORSE.

              • Not really, they are just too young. You can’t fix everything at once. Hopefully in another six years they’ll have a stud in waiting at every postion in AAA.

                • Thank you. We’re arguing semantics at this point, but fact is Jordy Mercer over six weeks simply isn’t very valuable.

                  • Do you agree that we need to see the team act quickly here to address the issue? We are ONE injury away from being in HUGE trouble on the left side of the infield.

                    • Not so much, if only for my argument above that Mercer isn’t actually a big loss.

                      Now if Kang gets knocked out next week then yeah, they’re f’d. But I don’t know if that alone is worth getting all premature over.

                    • Problem, as I see it, is that the little value that Mercer had will be lost. Morel is a below replacement player and Kang will lose some value, I think, in moving from 3B to SS where his defense and range do not play as well.

                    • I don’t disagree with that at all, only the timing issue you originally presented. I was assuming you meant quickly as in, like tomorrow. Deadline only being two weeks away means that time really isn’t an issue, IMO.

                    • Well, except for the fact that we’ll be playing the Royals and the Nationals with Brent Morel! Haha. I honestly think that Morel probably gets starts over Rodriguez even…and, again, Morel is a terrible thing to see in a contending team’s starting lineup!

  6. The next 11 days are gonna be very interesting. I saw people suggesting the Pirates trade for Upton and Barmes. That might not be a bad idea at this point. I still think the Pirates need a more consistent pitcher than Locke or Morton on the back end of the rotation.

    • A ” More consistent pitcher than Locke or Morton ” aren’t at the back end of any rotation. They are a 3 or 2. Get a clue.

      • Unless you have a solid 5 man rotation. We have AJ, Frank, and Cole in the first 3 spots so whoever we pick up will automatically make the back end more consistent. My sentiment is that Cole is the ace, Frank is 2, and AJ is 3 despite AJ outperforming Frank for much of the first half. Say we pick up a Scott Kazmir (which would be awesome)… that would make AJ our 4th starter which would make the back end of the rotation more consistent. What do ya know… Glad to see all us Pirate fans can get along.

  7. There is no doubt that we need to go get a starting infielder now if we are going to be trying to get to the division title. If we want to stay on as wild card, we may be able to hold our head above water with what we have….

  8. Would Conor Gillaspie be of help? He has a bit of power, probably hits better than Morel and can play 1st and 3rd.

        • A nobody PTBNL…Im OK with that. Not that he’s that much better than Morel and he’s essentially the same age as Morel.

          I think this is where the team needs to act quickly, set the market and get a real upgrade for the left (and right) side of the infield.

  9. Everyone seemed surprised they won the bidding for Kang. Imagine the position we would be in if that did not occur. I know NH would have possibly acquired another player to fill that void, but I am not sure. I am sure if he did they wouldn’t have performed like Kang. Another plug here for Walker to first and Hanson up to provide a spark to this listless offense. Can Neal do any worse really?

    • Didn’t Walker play the hot corner for a while in the minors? Why is no one considering him an option for 3rd? Move Walker to 3rd, call up Hanson for 2B.

      • I’m sure the brain trust has gone thru all alternatives including that one.

        But, I see your reasoning and it makes sense to me.

      • My exact point too. We know what Morel can do in the majors…and it isn’t much. At least Hanson is a legitimate prospect. When it is this bad and this deep in the depth chart why not give it a shot? We are in a division race!

        • You mean what Morel can’t do, right? This just makes me cringe knowing how awful he is. Neal and his brass can’t seriously believe that Morel is going to be a competent stop-gap. They’ve got to make a move to patch things up. I know they probably don’t feel comfortable asking Walker to change positions but like Kozy said, he was at third for quite a while in the minors. It’s not foreign to him. Hanson is a far better option, especially offensively, and has made great strides on his D at second. Heck, given Walker’s lack of range, he might actually be the better option at second.

          He’s on the 40-man, he’s had several hundred upper level AB’s, give the kid a shot. It’s miles better than Brent (I’m seriously shuddering right now just saying/typing his name) Morel.

  10. First of all, the chart is tremendous. Second of all 6 weeks is good news to me. I was thinking much worse. How long until Harrison is back? 5 weeks?

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