Making the Pirates better: First base

You know what? I’m tired of being negative about this off-season. I still don’t think that things are going to play out terribly well for the Pirates this winter, but I also don’t think I’ve done a good job of making it clear that I don’t think the Pirates are breaking up the 1927 Yankees again. Ronny Cedeno and Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm and Garrett Jones (should he be non-tendered) are all replaceable. They’re not All-Stars. They might be the best the Pirates can do for 2012, but doesn’t just thinking that make you feel dirty? I hope the Pirates can do better. So let’s sit down and think of ways Neal Huntington might be able to improve this team this winter, because otherwise, it’s going to be an awful and negative off-season.

Of all of the places the Pirates need to find help at this winter, I’m least certain what they’re going to do at first base. They could keep Garrett Jones and platoon him with someone like Matt Hague. They could try to sign Derrek Lee or some similar aging free agent. They could flip Pedro Alvarez to first. They could make a small trade. They could make a big trade. They could go scrap-heap diving. 

On one hand, it’s easy to say that the Pirates should be able to upgrade this position. Lyle Overbay was terrible at first base for a huge chunk of 2011 and simply letting Jones play against righties and having someone else bat against left-handed starters should fix a large part of the problem. With Alex Presley presumably taking a full-time role in the outfield, it could be an easy way to upgrade two positions at once without doing much. On the other hand, Jones isn’t much better than a replacement player at first, his defense there is atrocious, and any platoon parter the Pirates would pair him with would probably be disastrous, be it the unproven Matt Hague or the 2012 version of Matt Diaz.  Having a lot of options doesn’t mean they have a lot of good options.

The free agent market doesn’t strike me as one that’s likely to yield a ton of fruit for the Pirates, either. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are the gems, then guys like Michael Cuddyer and Derrek Lee will help fill in the gaps for the teams that don’t sign Pujols or Fielder. Beyond that, it’s a pretty dicey market. Carlos Pena would make sense for the Pirates, but he’d have to want to sign with the Bucs for that to happen. It’s possible he’d be a consolation prize in the Pujols/Fielder derby, as well, which would drive his price out of the Pirates’ range. The Pirates could likely outbid the Rays for Casey Kotchman, but that would be gambling on him repeating his career 2011 season. What I’m concerned about here is that they do something like non-tender Jones, then try to replace him with someone clearly past his prime and ready for an Overbay-like season like Russel Branyan. 

If the Pirates were to swing a big trade this winter, it seems to me that first base is probably the place they could find the best upgrade. Beyond the Box Score ran a good primer of potential trade candidates earlier this fall. Logan Morrison may be on his way out in Miami after clashing with the team repeatedly over his constant tweeting and with the front office looking to spend big money to make a splash in their new stadium. There’s nowhere for Yonder Alonso to play in Cincinnati unless they deal Joey Votto, but the Reds are likely better suited flipping Alonso for chips to help them contend with Votto (the way the Brewers did with Fielder in 2011). Kendrys Morales (if healthy) and/or Mark Trumbo might be available if the Angels try to make a splash and go after Fielder or Pujols. The Cardinals could try to PA native Matt Adams if they bring Pujols back. The Blue Jays could try and move Adam Lind after another disappointing year in Toronto and maybe a move to the NL would help him. 

The thing to keep in mind when considering a trade is this: it won’t be cheap. Would you be willing to part with Alex Presley? Starling Marte? Joel Hanrahan? Zach Von Rosenberg or Colton Cain or Nick Kingham? Tony Sanchez? The Pirates will most certainly have to move some of their young players at some point in the near future, so the pertinent question is whether this hypothetical move is the best use of that young talent. What if the Pirates ship Hanrahan and Marte and Kyle McPherson (again, hypothetical, I don’t really know what it would take to get that particular deal done though I suspect the Reds would want an overpay to keep Alonso in the division and I know they need a pitching and a closer with Cordero on the free agent market) to the Reds for Alonso, only to have Pedro Alvarez hit 30 homers in 2012 and give a full-season display of why he can’t play third base? Now you have to make another deal, and you’ve tipped your hand quite a bit. A second trade of Alonso or Alvarez could be necessary at that point, and it might be a tougher trade to make with teams knowing you have to deal one. 

None of this is to say the Pirates shouldn’t swing a trade for a first baseman this winter. I think that Pedro Alvarez has created enough doubt that if the Pirates have a chance to make a significant upgrade for a reasonable price (I think this is probably it’s own post as to what “reasonable price” is, but obviously guys like Alonso or Morrison would be worth paying quite a bit more for than, say, Lind) at first base that they should consider it, but there are a number of moving pieces here. Should they burn resources for a first baseman when they really need a shortstop and shorstops are, in general, much harder to find? Would they be better off taking a risk than paying through the nose for a more sure thing? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they’re the questions facing the Pirates at first base this winter.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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