Andrew McCutchen is the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates and the thought of the Pirates being without him for a month, particularly with their upcoming schedule against the contenders in the NL Central and NL East, is terrifying. It could be season-breaking, no doubt about it. Still, the Pirates are not a collection of 24 hobos-in-pajamas and one Andrew McCutchen. Their lineup might lack the depth of the lineups of some other contenders, but a team does not come to lead the National League in OBP by accident. All the Pirates can do now is fill the roster spot and hope for the best.
It seems like the first move to make is easy; Starling Marte will presumably be activated for tomorrow’s game and play center field while McCutchen’s out. Travis Snider seems like the obvious choice to man left field from there. His OPS dipped to a season low of .593 on June 4th, but since then he’s hitting .319/.373/.536 with four homers and three doubles in 75 plate appearances. That is an admittedly small sample and much of it comes as a pinch-hitter, but it does seem to make Snider the obvious first person in line for more playing time with McCutchen out. The other option, based on the big league roster, would be to put Josh Harrison in left field and play Pedro Alvarez at third every day, but I sense the Jayson Nix signing is a line of demarcation for the team’s patience with Alvarez. He might get an extra start here or there with McCutchen out, but it seems to me that if he gets a real chance to play regularly again, it’s going to be because he earned it and not because an outfielder got injured.
Even swapping Marte for McCutchen, it seems safe to assume that there will be one more roster move coming. Michael Martinez isn’t really an outfielder, and with Jayson Nix on the team and Pedro Alvarez on the bench, the Pirates don’t need an extra infielder. The options for a backup outfielder are, in approximate order of likelihood (in my opinion, of course):
- Jose Tabata
- Andrew Lambo
- Mel Rojas Jr.
I wouldn’t have put Tabata on this list even three hours ago, but honestly, the Pirates need a right-handed bat with McCutchen out and I don’t really think that Rojas is the answer there, though he is hitting well with Indianapolis. Lambo’s been crushing the ball, but it’s just hard to figure that the Pirates need another left-handed hitter, particularly since it seems like a bench spot is going to be occupied by Pedro Alvarez on a lot of nights.
Of course, Colin Dunlap reported last month that part of the reason Tabata was sent down was that the team was afraid he’d be a bad influence on Polanco since they were worried that he’d been one on Marte; if that’s still the case, it’s possible the team will do something unconventional. It’s also possible that they’ll make a trade; they were rumored to be interested in Marlon Byrd before the trade deadline and the Phillies have definitely put a bunch of their players on waivers. Waiver trades are tough, though, so it’s difficult to count on that.
If we go beyond who the Pirates will call up and think about how they might possibly survive this, then I think that we don’t have to stray out of the outfield. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have had their ups and downs this year, and the Pirates are going to need both of them to step up to help fill the vacuum in the lineup that McCutchen’s absence will create. Marte was hitting well before he got hurt, though, and Polanco’s been on an upturn lately, so that might not be a completely pipe dream. I wish I had deeper analysis than this, but really, if there’s anything that can get the Pirates this I think that Polanco and Marte are the two players that can help the most.
It is, of course, worth noting that the Pirates haven’t officially announced anything yet; both Starling Marte and Jose Tabata are playing for Indianapolis tonight, though Marte is in center field for the first time in the three games of his rehab stint. Rob Biertempfel says his sources only say that the DL is a possibility, so I guess for now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.