These days, you don’t even need to look at the opposing lineup card to tell if the Pirates are going up against a left-handed pitcher. On most nights, if Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are out of the lineup, that usually means the opponents are going with a left-hander on the mound.

I’ve written many times about Walker and Alvarez being platoon players due to their struggles against lefties. The Pirates have been taking this route with Alvarez the last two years, although it hasn’t always been a strict platoon, with the first baseman going up against some of the non-elite left-handers. Alvarez is actually putting up decent numbers this year with that approach, posting a .773 OPS against lefties in 60 plate appearances. That comes with the small sample size disclaimer, especially when he has a .606 OPS against lefties in his career over 618 plate appearances.

Then there’s Walker, who hasn’t always been treated like a platoon guy. He’s struggling this season with a .578 OPS against left-handers in 98 plate appearances. In his career, he has a .656 OPS in 754 plate appearances against lefties. That’s better than his 2015 numbers, but still not good enough to be a regular starter.

Walker has seen his playing time reduced lately. He’s got just six plate appearances this month against left-handers, and zero starts with a lefty starter on the mound. Granted, they’ve only played four games against left-handers this month, including tonight’s game. But each time, Walker was on the bench.

This off-season is going to be interesting to watch with Alvarez and Walker. They are both eligible for arbitration for one more season. Walker is making $8 M this year, and Alvarez is making $5.75 M. And due to MLB’s arbitration process, they’d both be due raises over their current amounts. It’s likely that the combo would be making at least $17-18 M combined next year. That’s a lot to pay two platoon players.

Alvarez seems like the easy decision. He’s been replacement level this year, worth 0.3 WAR. He’s putting up one of his best offensive years, but his defense has been horrible to the point of driving his value way down. The Pirates have top prospect Josh Bell in Triple-A. He’s got some work to do on defense as well, but could be ready to at least take over the position next summer. Until then, Michael Morse could be an interesting option at first base to fill the gap until Bell arrives.

The situation with Walker is a bit more complicated. The Pirates have Josh Harrison as an option at second base, but Walker has been a better option than Harrison. Walker has a 2.3 WAR this season, compared to an 0.7 WAR for Harrison. And even if Walker makes $10-12 M in his final year of arbitration, his value this season is in line with previous years, when he’s put up a 2.6-2.7 WAR each season, along with his career year last year, which saw a 3.7 WAR.

Furthermore, Harrison is going to be needed at the start of the season at third base with Jung-ho Kang injured, and since there’s no way of knowing how Kang will return, it would be good to have Harrison in his super utility role all year.

The Pirates do have some second base prospects in the upper levels. Alen Hanson finished the season in Triple-A, and Max Moroff finished in Altoona. Hanson would be the most likely to take over for Walker, but didn’t look ready at the end of the year, and the Pirates didn’t call him up. It’s possible that Hanson could be ready at some point next season, but the Pirates will probably need a stopgap until he arrives.

I’ve never been for the idea that the Pirates should extend Walker, mostly because of the scenario that is currently playing out. They’re getting his most productive years, and they’ve got young talent ready to take over when he departs. That said, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep him around for the 2016 season, to serve as that stopgap until Hanson arrives. It’s possible that they could get a cheaper stopgap — especially one that wouldn’t be limited to a platoon role — but the money Walker would be owed is about the upper limits of what his production would be worth on the open market.

A lot can change between now and next season. At this time last year, no one was thinking about Jung-ho Kang or Francisco Cervelli as options for the 2015 team. There might be a guy out there who we’re not even thinking of who could replace Walker. So time will tell as to whether keeping him is the right move, but it wouldn’t be a bad move. As for Alvarez, the Pirates seem to have a replacement already, both in the short-term and long-term, and it would make sense to move on to the short-term replacement (Morse) until the long-term guy is ready (Bell).

**Outside of One At-Bat, What is Elias Diaz Doing in the Majors? A look at what Elias Diaz has been working on at the MLB level since being called up on September 1st.

**Keeping Perspective With an Expected Playoff Clinching This Week. The Pirates are about to clinch a playoff spot, which doesn’t have the same appeal that it had a few years ago.

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96 COMMENTS

  1. If they keep Walker for one more year at around $10M, they could risk the QO the following year and get the draft pick when he signs elsewhere.

    Or, a Walker for Strasburg deal makes sense for both teams, esp since Rendon is going to play 3B next year.

  2. Another key to all of this is what will they do with Meadows, Bell, Tailion, Hanson and Glasnow in triple A. Do they buccos make a medium deal and package a potential great player w Pedro or Walker to get a proven guy under team control? IMO the Cubs w Bryant and Rizzo are 2 big bats that we don’t have. We need a Chris Davis type, 40 HR, limited errors and a high OPS. Around the horn next yr Kang, Mercer, J Hay and new 1SB and Cerville and Diaz @C will be good. Marte, Cutch and Polanco w Synder or Bell as the 4th OF is good.

    I hope they sign Shellby Miller he plays a crap team now w the buccos he will be very good and not that much money. Sign Happ and send Locke to the pen or cut him

  3. Pedro stinks but the truth is he is only Pirate capable of hitting 30+ hrs per year. The team lacks power. If you let him go and get nothing in return you have left a power void in the lineup. Neither Morse nor Bell are going to hit hrs at that clip. Sure he practices that upper cut swing and then goes out and misses or looks at strike three but once in awhile he does hit a hr when it’s needed. U must get something for him in the spring or else keep him for the half of year and then hope to get something for him at the all star break. Eat the dam salary and stop being so dam cheap.

  4. This team has been built on pitching and defense. The outfield defense is very good but the infield defense, especially at first and second, has been consistently ugly. Even Stewart has been bad behind the plate. NH and Hurdle are not going to allow that to continue.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if 3/4 of the 2016 opening day infield are currently not on the roster.
    (I’m guessing that Melancon, Stewart and one of Locke or Morton are not back.)
    The only sure thing about Huntington is that you can’t predict what he’s going to do. This off season is going to be one of the more interesting ones we’ve had in recent years.

  5. My thinking is they have to keep Walker and probably will let Pedro go but I think I’d role the dice on him as NMR suggested below. It’s a tough call because of our budget but I think 8-9 million on Pedro for a one year deal might not be a bad gamble. I think his defense would be better next year though still bad. But I understand how some have come to believe his defense will always be horrid at 1b which basically negates any offensive value.

  6. I think walker before this year was a “hang in there” type vs lefties. A .675-ish ops before this year while not great is ok considering the damage he does vs righties. We all know walker is a great team guy and sound player all around and the pittsburgh connection makes a decision a little more difficult. I think realistically this is a much more minor Derek jeter situation…the writing is on the wall and Neil will need to go, but he’s still on the edge of his prime and one year won’t break the bank. The pirates have the luxury of a semi-platoon and using him at 1B too. I would say he could be 2016 deadline tradebait, but if you keep him I think he is a major part of team chemistry and leadership so he would not be a guy you would deal midway. I do hope he leaves after next year, has a good 3-5 yr run elsewhere, then comes back as a bench guy to end his career in the burg. I think that’s the best case scenario for him and is as fans…and for the team.

  7. Personally believe both should have been gone after the year they both won silver slugger awards. We would have benefited from the good seasons they had in the trade market. Now Pedro is limited really to only AL teams and Neil is 31+ with injury history and a decreasing offensive and defensive production. They are both probably the poorest fielders on our roster. Honestly I would probably be happier if both were gone next year versus any other scenario.

    • Even in a not career year, Walker is roughly a top 3 offensive 2Bmen in the NL. So really, his offense is very much not decreasing relative to the league but relative to his career year of last year.

      If Walker can put up another year like this year next year, our overall production from his spot would be good. Likely better than trusting a rookie to be a 2-3 WAR guy from the start. His defense hurts, but his overall value is likely better than the rookie alternative (unless we pay just as much for a replacement that can bring decent value).

  8. Although Bell and Hanson should be along sometime next year, its more than likely they face the same struggles early on that all their other rookie/2nd year position players faced. If NH brought Walker/Alvarez back for one more year after examining the market and trades, I would not lose sleep over it. Pretty sure Hanson is going to have Rene Gayo Prospect Swing First Ask Questions Later Disease anyway. At least early on in his career.

    For me Happ’s the more interesting case. After all the arm injuries at Altoona and Indy and the question marks up here, finding a viable #3 may be the priority. I have to say, the way he’s pitching, it’s almost too good to be true from his career numbers. But there is an old saying beggars cant be choosers.

  9. I don’t necessarily disagree with these conclusions, but the analysis is very much incomplete without talking about overall budget and needs. It would be absolute insanity to expect Huntington to compete in this division by strictly making purely value-based decisions.

    Walker is the easy choice, in my opinion, unless Huntington could actually get an Andrew Heaney-type return as somebody mentioned the other day. Even with his faults, he’s still an average or better big leaguer and you most certainly are not going to replace that at 2B for less.

    Alvarez would be an easy choice on the 2008-2012 Pirate teams, but I’m not so quick to drop him due to salary next year. This is now a hundred million dollar ballclub with a lot of cheap talent and few major holes. There *should* be money available to put on risky assets, and Alvarez may be the very definition of that.

    Since getting fed up with the club’s patience and contact experiment, 2nd half Alvarez has somewhat quietly hit .259/.333/.532 (138 wRC+). That’s truly elite power with average on-base ability. For the season, 13 first basemen with at least 400 PA have hit worse. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster, but if you can picture an improvement to even just plain old “bad” we’re talking about a 1-2 win player, and more importantly, depth. I think we’re lying to ourselves if we truly believe we can *expect* Mike Morse to be both healthy and productive. He’s fully proven that over his career. Unless you train Walker at the position over the winter, relying on Morse backed up by Josh Bell without a shred of further depth is obviously setting yourself up for disaster.

    • My only issue with that is if we are clearly lying to ourselves to believe Morse can be productive, its gotta be lying to ourselves to expect a ton of progression for Pedro on defense at 1B when he’s a year into regular playing time and still dropping balls that hit his glove.

      I thought Pedro would get better with time, its just not happening on defense. Morse’s health is a risk, but if healthy he’s a non terrible option to stop gap for 2 months.

      Seems like relying on Pedro to get better might be as dumb as assuming Bell can take over mid year and do well. Both risky, but Pedro is doing things on defense id never expect a guy with this many innings under his belt to do.

      • I don’t disagree, but you’re missing my point. If a club doesn’t have one safe option at a position and does have resources to use, eliminating from a depth of risky options is not the way to make the position better or more stable. Plan for failure, don’t pick one and cross your fingers.

        I won’t shed any tears nor be too upset if the club parts ways with Alvarez over his defense for the reason you list, but we are still talking about a guy who was a perfectly acceptable fielder just one year ago. Further adding to the conundrum, a year ago at this time he was throwing the ball into the Allegheny and now he’s at least somewhat regularly slinging it to second with relative ease. If he can overcome what we saw last year, I don’t know how you count him out of learning to catch baseballs that hit him in his mitt. Inexplicable, but that’s Alvarez.

    • Presumably there would be a left handed complement to Morse on the 25-man – at least that would be in keeping with roster construction for the last several years. Could be a Clint Robinson type.

      If you assume they keep Melancon, Walker and Alvarez, add a #3SP at slightly below market rate (~$10M) and replace Bastardo and SRod with similarly priced vets, the OD payroll is around $110M. I can’t help thinking one or two of those 3 (Walker/Melancon/Alvarez) salaries is heading out the door.

      • Would you mind laying out roughly what you’re accounting for in each of those categories?

        I’m seeing about $45m in guaranteed contracts, and lets assume a $10m starting pitcher in free agency. That would put all the arb guys plus min salaries to fill the roster at $65m? Seems rich.

        • Carrying forward into 2016, guaranteed contracts:

          Liriano $13.7 + Cutch $13.2 + Morton $8 + Harrison $5.3 + Morse $4.7 (net of est. payments from LA; sources vary) + Marte $3.3 + Kang $2.5 = $50.7. Pirates are on the hook for Morse whether they play him or release him.

          Cole + Polanco + Caminero + Scahill (or his replacement) = $2.2M. That brings us to $52.9 for 11 players.

          Arb estimates: Walker $10.5M + Melancon $9M (comp: Tyler Clippard) + Alvarez $7.5M + Cervelli $4M (comp: Wilson Ramos) + Watson $2.8M (comp: Mike Dunn) + Mercer $2.4M (comp: Cozart) + Locke $2.3M (comp: Lyles) + Stewart $1.8M + Hughes $1.2M.

          Comps aren’t perfect, but I used them mostly for gross and % raises, not for the actual award, except for 1st time arb cases. The 9 arb salaries add up to $41.5M. Running total is now $94.4M for 20 players.

          $10M for the Happ-type #3 gets you to $104.4M for 22 guys.

          Replacing Bastardo and SRod dollar for dollar adds $5M. Now we’re at $109.4M for 24 guys. Add a long man, even at the league minimum, and you’re basically at $110M.

          It’s a crude tool, and I could certainly be on the high side in a couple cases, but in aggregate no more than a couple million. And maybe Barstardo’s replacement generates a million or two in additional savings. But there you have it.

          • Eesh, that starts to add up quick. How in the hell did this club ever contend with $70m payrolls?

            I think they can trim at the margins…you can absolutely replace Bastardo and Srod for less than $5m, for instance. But the bigger picture is pretty clear.

    • Got to agree with you regarding the 1st base situation NMR. I’ve sort of been thinking a Morse/Alvarez platoon might be the way to go till Bell is ready and able to move up. Of course the money is important, but that 1st bases scenario you mention is no way for one of the top 5 teams in baseball to enter a season.

    • I think you may have hit the nail on the head when you said “train Walker to play 1B over the winter.” He’s the insurance policy to the disaster scenario of Morse and Bell playing poorly and/or getting hurt.

    • Lamb is an unknown at this point. But it would not surprise me to see Morse and Lamborghini start the season at 1B if Lamborghini is healed up.

  10. Kang injury will keep him out about 9 months, putting back around end of May. Don’t be surprised if they make another Rameriez type signing.

    Pedro is done, he needs to be a DH. If the buccos got something for Travis Synder they can get the same for Pedro.

    Walker will be back for another year, then will go to the AL also. Lots of options in triple A that can play middle infield.
    The buccos need to sign Chris Davis, biggest thing for the buccos that no one is talking about is the TV deal with root Is up means a lot more money for them after 2016

    • Pretty sure the current Root deal is through 2018 or 2019, not ending this year.

      Both the White Sox and Angels seem like solid landing places for Pedro. Agreed Bucs won’t get much, but they will get something, IMO.

      How the FO handles Walker will be a verdict on their philosophy. For 2016, I don’t see how not having Walker makes the Bucs a better team, in light of the uncertainty of Kang’s return. But this offseason is their best opportunity to get the highest value. Whatever we think of Walker, fact is he’s among the top offensive performers at 2b over past 2-3 years and should still perform at 2+ WAR for another three years, so $12 mil/year isn’t absurd by any means.

      • The Root deal ends after the 2016 season, there was a good article comparing the Padres and Pirates. Similar markets Padres went from 24 to 6th. Pirates are 27 of 30, could jump to 10-12.

        Walker just can’t seem to stay healthy, he is very productive. But Mathew Pirates value long term control and any big contracts will be given to Cole, Polanco, a 1st basemen and/or another starting pitcher.

  11. Any idea on management teams view of Hanson and intangibles? Saw him play for first time this year. Not sure if I am making too much of this, but his seeming lack of focus in the field stuck out to me. Takes his glove off and looking everywhere but home plate as pitcher was about to go into his windup. Definitely a gifted player.

  12. Agree with you on both decisions. The one thing I’d add is that Walker could work on 1B over the winter to be a platoon option there. Hopefully this season has taught us not to take defense at 1B for granted. I think Walker would be above average there which would help make up for his offense likely being below-average for a first baseman. And maybe have him work at 3B too–the added flexibility could help the team in 2016 and help him maximize earnings in free agency following next season.

    • $10M or so for a part time player? I love both of the these guys personally – have an autographed Walker jersey and Pedro’s power will be missed. I don’t understand why he could not be coached out of his trowing problems year or his glove issues this year – I give up though – he needs a fresh start.

      • “Part time” players don’t project for 600 PAs.

        This season will be Walker’s 2nd highest # of PAs. It’s not like Bucs face a ton of LHP, and even when they do, Walker PHs vs relief.

      • If Walker could play 1B and 3B in addition to 2B, then we’d have him in the lineup just about every game against RHP. Given how they prioritize rest (which I agree with), he’d be getting just about as many AB’s as anyone and easily enough to justify $12M or so.

  13. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

    Sign the Korean to play first base and get a solid glove guy to take Walker’s place. Young pitchers who are being asked to get more ground ball outs need a solid defense behind them. Pedro will go on to hit tons of HRs and produce for someone else – he needs a fresh start. Walker had a nice year last year – but seems to be less productive this year – and awful defensively

  14. No one has mentioned the SS position. Is Mercer your guy going forward? I personally like him. Is Kang definitely going to play 3B when he returns?

      • Kang suffered a very serious leg injury that will likely have long term repercussions for his career.

        He was already a borderline defensive SS, who’s value came from the bat. Both will be negatively impacted next year, I don’t see him ever being a regular at the position again.

        He’s a 3rd baseman now.

  15. One topic not mentioned by Tim: if you keep either Walker or Alvarez all season you’ll get nothing for them at season’s end (unless you offer them a QO, which won’t happen). Walker won’t be traded midseason because of clubhouse chemistry. Expect NW to be traded offseason. OTOH, Pedro will be gone in July.

    Could Gamache serve as the placeholder at 2nd till Kang’s return or till Hanson is deemed ready.

    No mention of Melancon, but the Bucs have a serious predictament looming with him as well.

    • You would get their production for the 2016 season. If you trade them earlier, you’d get something, but that would be to pay for the production you’d be losing by dealing them away.

      Gamache isn’t strong defensively, and isn’t a starting option as a result.

      Melancon will be an interesting situation. He’d be a perfect “sell high” candidate.

  16. The most important point made in the article “no way of knowing how Kang will return”. I’m am less sanguine about him having any type of range with the trauma he suffered. Although a different type of injury we all remember Rennie Stennett and how he never did comeback to what he was before his injury. Kang will be more valuable to this team than Walker.

  17. The need for a quality starting pitcher from game 1 on is there top need, and in order to do that some monies beyond AJ’s contract coming off will be needed…so for me I believe that both NW and PA will be gone….

    • I doubt Pirates are going to spend big to bring in a SP w Taillon and Glasnow so close to being MLB ready. I think they may try to sign Happ to a 1-year deal or someone like him. I very much doubt they sign a big dollar (for them) long-term contract w a “quality” SP.

      • Happ, except for his awful 1st start, has been an extremely pleasant surprise. Would a 1 year deal with incentatives and an option get it done?

        • May make sense for him to sign a 1-year deal w the thought being he does well enough over full season to warrant a bigger deal next off-season. Plus the potential FA SP pool next year is smaller, too.

          • Happ is 32. This will be his best chance at an extended contract, regardless of the number of FA SP out there. I doubt he settles for anything short of 3/$27 mill. And given we’re paying Morton $8 million, I think Happ can get more.

            • I’ll be very surprised if he’s offered a 3 year deal. This short window of good pitching isn’t big enough to cloud how mediocre he has been for most of his career.

              • Negotiating contracts is dynamic. And LH SPs who can touch 95 with command… high demand for that.

                If Happ’s agent brings the following comparables to the table: Feldman (30/3), Volquez (20/2), Danks (65/5), Vargas (32/4), Guthrie (25/3) – all of whom have been equal or worse than Happ over a 5-year period – I’d bet the house that agent brings home a 3-year deal.

      • Need to go beyond just re signing Happ….with AJ gone and the threat of having both Morton and Locke in rotation…not good…I also do not see them doing a long term deal, beyond 3 years but even though Glasnow and Taillon are on the horizon…what can you expect from either when they first come up…a big learning curve….
        It’s almost a must for them to get a quality pitcher to at least take AJ spot if they are going to compete with the Cards and Cubs….

        • cole liriano happ morton locke doesn’t look too bad for opening day. If anything they’ll sign a low risk reclamation project..

        • You have a valid point. The fact Pirates have a great bullpen allows them to be more selective w SP. Sure it would be nice to sign a SP like Smardjia, but does anyone really expect them to?

          I’d bank on Pirates shopping at the Goodwill this off-season as they’ve done with much success in years past.

          • If Samardzija and his agent are smart, they will give the Pirates serious consideration. He had real issues with his current potching coach, and he has also just changed his representation.

            • I’d love for Pirates to get Samardzija, I just don’t believe Pirates will pursue him due to financial reasons. Hope I’m wrong.

              • His numbers are terrible Scott despite the one excellent start he had the other day. How much is he worth at this point ?

        • What exactly is the “threat” of having Morton and Locke in the rotation? The Pirates had both in the rotation this year, and the rotation currently ranks 4th in MLB in WAR, 4th in ERA, 1st in FIP, and 3rd in xFIP.

          • Because the Cardinals have Wainwright, Wacha, Garcia, Martinez, and Lynn. We don’t match up with Morton and Locke and we need to be better than the Cardinals.

            • The Pirates are 8-8 against the Cardinals, and their rotations have been evenly matched this season in terms of FIP and xFIP, with a slight edge to the Pirates. The Cardinals have a better ERA (3.01 to 3.51). The combination points to defense as being the problem, and not the starters.

              The Pirates do match up with the Cardinals in this area, and overall they’ve been evenly matched in 1-on-1 situations.

            • Wainwright is about 9000 years old and both he and Garcia are ( seriously ) a major health issue waiting to happen. Martinez seems to have some kind of issues with his makeup, while Wacha isn’t quite the Superman he looked like he would be two years ago. Lynn is in the same category as any other # 5 in a rotation.

          • “The Cubs rotation is 3rd in WAR, 5th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, and 2nd in xFIP so they totally will go into next season with Hendricks and Wood in the rotation without taking a shot at David Price or any other starter”, said nobody ever.

            Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, while fine back end starters, can and should be upgraded if possible on a team competing in the best division in baseball.

              • So at least you agree that Morton and/or Locke should be upgraded.

                The question then becomes how confident the club is in either or both of those pitchers being healthy and effective. With depth fleeting and a #3 starter also missing, I think it would be a mistake to rely on both Morton *and* Locke in the rotation.

                • I don’t think either need to be upgraded. The Pirates have been one of the best teams in baseball for the last three years with Morton and Locke as primary fixtures in the rotation. In fact, Locke has the second most starts on the team from 2013-15. The idea that they can’t win with those two goes against what they’ve actually done.

                  They have upgrades in the system that will eventually take over. But the last three years have shown us that they can win with Locke and Morton in the rotation.

                  • As they have with Alvarez, right?

                    This goes back to your post yesterday. You’re content, and that’s your prerogative.

                    I don’t see any logical reason a club that hasn’t met it’s goal should settle on options that clearly can be upgraded.

                    • It’s different than Alvarez. The rotation has combined to rank 4th across the board in ERA/FIP/xFIP from 2013-15. And that’s with Locke/Morton playing a big role. Meanwhile, the Pirates rank 24th in WAR this year at first base, getting replacement level production.

                      The idea that you can upgrade over a position is very open ended, as it ignores the fact that you can upgrade over a lot of positions. The Pirates could upgrade over Morton and Locke. They could also upgrade over Alvarez, Walker, Mercer, middle relievers, bench players, etc. And then after they’ve found upgrades for every position, there would still be a chance to upgrade certain positions even further.

                      The question is whether they need to upgrade over certain positions. This off-season they need to find a really good replacement for Burnett in the number three spot in the rotation. I’d say they need to find an upgrade at first base before they need to focus on Locke/Morton. And with uncertainty surrounding Kang, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to find an upgrade for the bench to add more depth in the infield. They’ll need to find replacements in the bullpen when Soria, Blanton, and Bastardo leave as free agents.

                      They might be able to upgrade over one of Locke/Morton after that, but I think it’s a lower priority. A better move would be a Clayton Richard/Vance Worley type reclamation project in Triple-A, capable of taking over if the team needs early season depth.

                      Also, the idea of an upgrade discounts the idea that individual players can upgrade over their own performances. Locke has a 3.95 xFIP this year, but a 4.48 ERA. Morton has a 3.85 xFIP and a 4.26 ERA. Morton had a 3.52 ERA/3.74 xFIP from 2013-14. Locke had a 3.69/4.06 ERA/xFIP in those years. Right now their ERAs could be improved upon, but the xFIP numbers aren’t bad, and based on recent history, the ERAs should play the same or better than those xFIP numbers.

                      I also think the upgrades for their individual numbers could be possible with a focus on upgrading the infield defense, which is another priority that I’d place higher than upgrading Locke/Morton.

                  • This isn’t a “CHARLIE MORTON SUCKS” discussion. This is a discussion about improving a team that’s already very good. That is what good teams do.

                    • Good teams dont upgrade every area they “could” upgrade. Tim pointed out that we could upgrade about 5-8 spots, but thats not really logical. As with any team, it’ll be what is highest priority. Doubtful that the back end is a huge priority over refilling the bullpen, adding an arm to cover AJ’s spot, and potentially solving the bigger issue of 1B and bench depth.

                      With our budget (which isnt tiny but not large) its not really logical to expect them to fill the bullpen holes of guys leaving, replace AJ, upgrade over Locke/Morton, and fill out the bench and possibly upgrade at 1B.

                      Good teams find upgrades at key spots, but not all spots. Seems like we can upgrade in meaningful ways and still have Locke and Morton around for a chunk of next year.

                    • Of course it’s not logical to fill *every* hole, nor did I ever say they should. But yes, of all the spots you list, starting pitcher should absolutely be a priority. Spending limited resources on 1B, bullpen, and bench over starting pitching isn’t something this front office has ever done, nor should they.

                    • Yes, SP should be a priority. But not 3 SP. You fill the AJ role, and at that point you have a ton of areas to fill you likely can do so with low money. You can spend decently well on a mid rotation arm and backfill the rotation with a buy low arm as they do on a regular basis. Meaning once they fill the pressing need of mid rotation, they can attack areas like replacing 2-3 bench spots and 1-2 bullpen arms with equal priority as back end arm to go along with the 2 they already have.

                      No reason to prioritize 2 SPs over the rest of the team needs. Go get a solid arm, and then filling out a few quality bench options seems more pressing than spending the bulk of the payroll on an expensive (if we want to “upgrade) back end arm. Losing S Rod and being without Kang for a month or so makes the bench more than a medium priority if we value depth as much as we should.

                    • You’re having a difficult time reading, Luke. Nowhere did I say the club should replace *both* Morton and Locke. Nowhere.

                      “You can spend decently well on a mid rotation arm and backfill the rotation with a buy low arm as they do on a regular basis.”

                      This is quite literally what I’m suggesting. You fill the rotation pushing one of Morton or Locke to the bullpen and you obviously fill both needs at once. This isn’t rocket science.

                      And if we’re talking about wise spending, how many failed $2-3m veteran bench failures do you need to realize that is most certainly not how this club should be using their resources?

                    • Those failures would be exactly why im suggesting making that area a bigger priority than the 2nd SP they go after in FA. Go get your big arm, and then focus on the bench more than you have to give quality depth.

                      I think 1 SP is the clear priority, and after that its absolutely the bench. Replace S Rod and Hart with actual solid options (bench options wont be overall solid, but you get my point) and skimp on the 2nd SP you go after because you can. You bring in a fine 2nd 1B type and a non light hitting middle IF type and the bench becomes solid. That’ll take more than 2-3 million but is a bigger boon to the team than prioritizing that money towards replacing Locke early in the offseason.

                    • I’m having a hard time understanding the objections to this point.

                      Your original point that the Cubs can (and likely will) supplant Haren with Price (or maybe someone lesser like Kazmir or Zimmerman) is spot on.

                      Even setting aside the argument that Morton and Locke are serviceable for a contending team, there’s also the issue of zero SP depth until such time Taillon joins the team.

                      The Bucs will have two SPs with some history of being worth 2+ WAR in a season. The Cubs and Cards will each have 4, maybe 5.

                    • Thank you. I have no idea what’s so difficult to understand about this point.

                      Pushing one of Morton or Locke to the pen early on not only provides necessary depth but also fills one of those bullpen holes folks are all the sudden so concerned about. There isn’t any argument, none, against the point that the Pirates are better suited finding a 2 win starting pitcher than a 2 win first baseman or bullpen arm with the same investment. None. Pitching is what these guys do best. So why not maximize that ability?

                    • Going back 3 seasons, if you look at games started by guys OTHER than the the 5 guys who started the most games in that season, you have about 30 starts a year coming from guys 6+. That’s another reason why you need to replace Locke and/or Morton. You upgrade so that when someone goes down, you still have MLB ready pitchers, and you aren’t throwing away games by starting AAA-quality pitchers.

                      And that’s not even accounting for the top 5 GS are not usually the same 5 that were planned on opening day, and if you did the number of fill-in starts woudl be even higher. You need a lot of competent SP. Locke and Morton have proven they are competent fall-back options, but they shouldn’t be your plan A.

          • What is wrong with wanting to do better than replacement level for your 4th and 5th starter? The numbers you quote were not aided by Locke and Morton, they were hurt by them. So, the team can be better with better pitchers there. Getting better should always be the goal.

  18. I’ll be beyond surprised if they don’t trade Alvarez to an AL team. He has some value as a DH. He won’t fetch much of a return, but Pirates have a way of turning another team’s trash into Pirate treasure.

    As for Walker, the Kang injury combined with Hanson’s notorious slow starts make it a foregone conclusion he’ll be back next season. Pirates can certainly afford his salary.

    • I see your point and agree about Pedro.

      I doubt the Kang injury will have any effect on whether Walker remains in Pittsburgh or not. I think the Pirates will talk with him long and hard about being a platoon 1B to start 2016, and then he could possibly be bench strength or a utility IF afterward when Josh Bell is called up in June. Neil is smart enough to know that scenario will greatly reduce his value going forward, and might prefer a trade now as a 2B. This has not been a good year for him coming up to this decision year for the Pirates.

      For the Pirates, I think the winning trend of the Cardinals, combined with the emergence of the Cubs, while Cincy and Milwaukee are still dangerous, means they have to approach this for the long term good of the team – it is a business! Hanson’s offensive stats were down in AAA, but his defensive prowess at 2B, being a switchhitting Leadoff guy with base stealing and EBH power while still only 22, is too much to overlook.

      • I agree Hanson is the future 2B, but that future doesn’t begin on Opening Day.

        The Kang injury means Harrison is every day 3B until he returns. If Kang was healthy, then I could see Harrison be starting 2B until Hanson arrives.

        Of course, a FA signing or trade for a 3B could change all of this, too.

    • AL teams that could be interested in Alvarez? I could think of 3 off the top of my head, Angels, Indians, White Sox…..

  19. Tim,

    What kind of trade value do you think these guys possess going into this off-season? Also, what kind of player do you think the Pirates would be targeting if they were shopping one or both Alvarez and Walker?

    • I don’t think Alvarez has any value. Otherwise they would have traded him by now. I think Walker could have some value, but it’s not going to be much due to the high contract. It’s a situation where they could get a prospect or two, but no one elite.

  20. Alvarez is a nightmare. He doesn’t think at the plate, is off balance and has concrete for hands on defense. GONE! Walker, he’s on his downside, too many strikeouts and the Bucs have many options GONE!
    P.S. I’d love to keep Walker because he’s a switch-hitter but he’s just too inconsistent.

    • If they would roll the dice on Hanson(I think Hanson has to be your 2b until late May because Jhay will have to play 3b) and let Walker go they need to be aggressive in upgrading another part of team because chances are we will probably get a not insignificant decline in projected WAR between 2016 Walker and 2016 Hanson/Jhay. I’m not talking a huge signing but maybe putting some of that Walker money into a high quality #3 starter or something like that.

    • I think you’re missing the mark on Alvarez at the plate. He’s not spectacular, but he’s fine offensively, 111 wRC+ is in line with his 2013 and 2014, and is the same as Walker, ahead of Harrison, Ramirez, Polanco. He has reduced his K’s from 2012-2013 and is swinging at fewer balls outside the zone than ever.

      You’re right about his defense. It totally destroys his value. It is a nightmare and negates any value he has on offense. It’s a shame and it’s hard to explain, since he had full seasons of pretty good fielding at 3B.

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