Dejan Kovacevic’s blog post this morning about the Rule 5 draft, focusing on Josh Rodriguez’s unlikeliness to make the Pirates’ roster and Nathan Adcock’s seemingly decent shot at sticking with the Royals, at least for now, has touched off a bit of debate in Pirate Blog Land (the High Seas of the Pirate Blogs? I’ve just never really cared for “Blogosphere”), with Charlie wondering exactly why the Pirates wouldn’t keep Josh Rodriguez and Pedro Ciriaco when they’ve traditionally gone with two backup middle infielders in the past.
It’s a fair question, but I think that Charlie’s a bit off base (I agree with the tone of everything else in his post regarding Adcock and Rodriguez, just not the thought that Rodriguez will stick) because of the Pirates’ situation with other out of option players. I’ve done this before, but let’s consider eight starters, plus Matt Diaz, plus Ryan Doumit. That gives us ten position players out of 13 roster spots that will be filled by position players. Now let’s add Ciriaco to the team, because that seems like a given at this point. Add one more roster spot for Steve Pearce, Andy Marte, or Josh Fields; one of those three will absolutely make the team because of his ability to play the corners on the infield and bat right handed. That leaves two guys for the final spot if we assume the Pirates will be OK with essentially 1 1/2 catchers (not meaning that Ryan Doumit is half a catcher, mind you (I can see why you think I’d argue this, but that’s not the point this time around), but that he’ll be used quite a bit for pinch-hitting and potentially in the field, which will often remove him from the bench late in the game when a backup catcher might be needed). Those two guys are Rodriguez and John Bowker.
Rodriguez will hit better than Ciriaco, even if he hasn’t this spring. That’s probably true. From what I saw in Bradenton, though, he seems pretty limited at shortstop. I know I’m working with a small sample size and subjective eyeball measurements here, but his range at short didn’t seem great. He could play short, if necessary, but I don’t think that he necessarily should. Bowker, meanwhile, has hit the ball very well in the final couple weeks last year when he got regular playing time and is hammering the ball this spring. He seems a bit redundant at this point with Overbay and Jones on the roster, but there’s a nonzero chance that one of those two will completely crater this year (I’m underselling this; I think there’s a pretty good chance that one of them (ahemJonesahem) will bottom out) and if they do, playing Bowker regularly would be a more attractive option that putting Matt Diaz out there every day (I’ll write more about this soon, but of the free agent signings from the offseason I think Diaz is the leading contender for this year’s Ryan Church Award) or giving Steve Pearce a ton of at-bats against right-handed pitching. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is at best a marginal upgrade over Ciriaco at short if we assume his defense is worse and maybe a little bit of a better fit at second if the Pirates need to give regularly playing time to one of the two there.
If the decision is adding depth behind Jones/Overbay and adding depth behind Walker, though, I think keeping Bowker is probably the better choice. If Walker is hurt or so massively ineffective that he requires benching, the Pirates are going to have big problems no matter who plays second base instead of him. You can also probably argue that the Pirates have a better chance of making a deal with the Indians to keep Rodriguez in the system than they do of slipping Bowker through waivers after his power surge this spring. I don’t think a deal like that is likely (trades like the Evan Meek trade are fairly unusual), but I definitely think that a left-handed bat that thumped six extra base hits just 32 plate appearances this spring would be attractive to quite a few teams, should he become available. Whatever the case, I think that Bowker’s good spring has probably sealed Josh Rodriguez’s fate and would be surprised and even a little upset if Rodriguez ends up making the club and the Pirates lose Bowker.