BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates will have a lot of interesting roster decisions to make this week, as they try to set their Opening Day roster before the season begins on Sunday. A lot of the bigger decisions will be made tomorrow, with a few opt-out decisions due, making it a huge transaction day. We’ll have all of that covered throughout the day, but for now, we wanted to give a preview of what to expect.
I’m not going to be making predictions here on what will happen. I’ll give my thoughts in some cases on what should happen. But ultimately, everything is up in the air here. Before getting to the key decisions, here is the breakdown of where the roster stands.
The biggest issue the Pirates will face will be a lack of roster spots on the 40-man. There is one easy decision they could make, and that is designating Pedro Florimon for assignment. With Gift Ngoepe on the 40-man roster, and eligible to be optioned all year back and forth between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, the Pirates have no real need for Florimon. They can get by without a strong defensive backup shortstop when Jordy Mercer is healthy, and they still have Gift to call up if Mercer goes down.
From here, the decisions get more difficult. If you want to be unrealistic, then you could say that Sean Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, or whatever other player you under-value should go off the roster. But that’s not happening in those cases, and those players are good enough to be on a Major League roster anyway.
The tricky thing here is balancing depth with immediate need. I’ve seen Rob Scahill mentioned as a guy who can go, but Scahill is a guy who hits 98 MPH with his fastball (something that most people pushing him out overlook) and he has an option. Even if he doesn’t make the roster, that’s good bullpen depth. The same goes for Trey Haley and Kyle Lobstein. Those are your depth options for the bullpen if they don’t make the Opening Day roster. And the Pirates will eventually need all three of them.
Then there’s the depth for position players. Jake Goebbert is the guy who stands out here, as he’s not a “prospect” (despite having eligibility). But who else can back up the outfield if the Pirates need depth? Willy Garcia, if he’s ready. Matt Joyce, if he’s still around. Adam Frazier can also join the “if he’s ready” camp. Then there’s Goebbert, who would be ready at the start of the year, before Frazier or Garcia.
In each case, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where you won’t need three bullpen guys out of Triple-A, or an extra outfielder. But that’s not realistic when you get into the season.
The one other guy who might be able to be outrighted would be John Holdzkom. You’d run the risk of another team trying to pick him up, hoping he gets right, and getting a huge value. Then again, teams could see his injury history last year, see his current possible injury status, and balk at claiming him.
Here are the key situations to watch this week. None of them are clear-cut, so I’ll break down the roster situations that might factor in with each player.
The Pirates must pay Joyce a $100,000 retention bonus tomorrow, or release him. He’s been hitting well, but the roster is crowded. The bench will have Chris Stewart, Sean Rodriguez, and Michael Morse. Joyce will be going up against Cole Figueroa, Jason Rogers, and Goebbert, who I think will go down and serve as Triple-A depth.
I think you need a second middle infielder in the bench mix, so I’d have Figueroa getting a spot. From there, it really doesn’t matter who you pick, since the other guy would probably be gone in a few weeks when Jung-ho Kang returns and David Freese moves to the bench.
If the Pirates add Joyce, then they’re really adding him for just a few weeks. After that, he can go through waivers and would probably get claimed. Or, they’d be stuck with Sean Rodriguez as their only middle infielder off the bench if they decided to keep Joyce over Figueroa. On the flip side, the Pirates could lose Joyce anyway tomorrow if they don’t add him to the roster. As we saw with Eric O’Flaherty, teams will trade a veteran player who has a big league opportunity, rather than stashing him in the minors. This is a common practice across the league, aimed at keeping good relations with future free agent options. If another team wants Joyce for the majors, the Pirates would be unlikely to block him just to keep him around as depth.
So do the Pirates keep Joyce, and then either lose him or have a bench full of corner infielders and corner outfielders in a few weeks? Or do they let him go and roll the dice with Jason Rogers off the bench in the short-term, with David Freese taking the spot in the long-term?
Luebke also has an opt-out tomorrow, and needs to be added to the roster to be protected. I mentioned last week that the Pirates only need to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him. This is true, although he has more than five years of service time, and they would need his consent to send him to the minors. So adding him to the 40-man roster really does nothing in this case, since he could decline to go to the minors either way.
This leaves two scenarios. The easy scenario is that Luebke wants to stick around for a bit, and makes it easy on the Pirates, where they can retain him without using a roster spot. The difficult scenario has Luebke wanting to opt out. With his stuff this spring, and his history, it would be hard to imagine teams passing on him. So the Pirates could either let him walk, or they could add him for a final bullpen spot.
I doubt they let him walk. That would mean they would have gotten rid of two left-handed relievers, leaving Kyle Lobstein as the only top lefty option next to Tony Watson. If Luebke is added to the bullpen, then that would take up the final spot, and settle the question of whether the Pirates will carry two lefties. Also, if Jared Hughes starts the season on the disabled list, it could make it more likely that Luebke makes the team, since they would already be tapping into their reliever depth, and might want more options in the mix.
The biggest question in this situation is whether Luebke wants to stick around, and I think that would be determined by what kind of interest he receives from other clubs.
This isn’t a situation that needs to be resolved tomorrow, but at some point the Pirates need to make a decision on whether Juan Nicasio should be in the rotation. He’s currently going up against Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke for one of the final two spots. If the decision was mine, Nicasio would be in the rotation.
This decision could impact the bullpen decision, especially if Jeff Locke ends up as the odd man out. In that scenario, the Pirates might not need an extra lefty like Luebke, since Locke would take over as the second lefty in the bullpen (but probably more of a long man). No matter who goes to the bullpen, they will pitch in long relief, with the chance to move around in some other roles.
Outside of the final bench spots and the final bullpen spot, this is the only decision the Pirates need to make this week. We’ll see how it all plays out, starting tomorrow.
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