Since we started this series off with the corner infielders on Tuesday, I’ll do middle infielders today, outfielders tomorrow, and then close out the position players with catchers and utility guys next week. Pitchers are more complicated, but I’ll do something about them as well, hopefully next week.
In the comments of the first post, someone asked why I didn’t mention free agency as an option. It hopefully will be. If the Pirates are a player short of a good squad and need a free agent to fill that spot, I’ll be very disappointed if Huntington can’t go out and do that. That said, free agency is always the last option and I’m simply looking at the options we have before we have to go that route.
On to the middle infield after the jump.
Who’s there now and where is he going? Delwyn Young is currently playing second base stopgap. It’s a noble idea to try him there, but his numbers have fallen to .301/.357/.411 on the season and I’m not sure that’s good enough to keep him at second given his bad defense there. Like Steve Pearce, I think he’s got a future as a platoon/back-up/utility guy and getting him reps at second prepares him for that very well. I like Young and I think he was a great pickup by Huntington, but he’s just not a starter for a good team.
What’s the future? With Shelby Ford’s implosion at Triple-A this year, there’s no immediate second base answers in the minors unless you count Brian Bixler. (I don’t). With the impending arrivals of Pedro Alvarez and Jeff Clement, I still think the club might give Andy LaRoche a shot here and I think that that experiment is probably worth a shot. LaRoche has been very good defensively at third base this year and he won’t be 26 until next month. If the club thinks Delwyn Young can learn to hack it at second base from Perry Hill, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be willing to give LaRoche a shot there.
Who’s there now and where is he going? Ronny Cedeno! Cedeno has, in all seriousness, been much better in his short time with the Pirates than any of us expected, I think. He’s still most likely a short-term stopgap, but his OPS+ in his last season in the NL was 75 and he did have a few decent (but very batting average driven) seasons in the high minors, so I guess it’s not completely insane to think that he could do a very good Jack Wilson impersonation for the next few years of his career. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he should be the Pirates’ starting shortstop, but it does serve as a reminder that players like Wilson are complimentary pieces that aren’t hard to find, not franchise cornerstones.
What’s the future? You can take everything I said here about Cedeno and reapply it back to Argenis Diaz. It’s worth remembering that despite his great defense as a premium position, Jack Wilson was very rarely worth more than two wins as a Pirate. That’s all well and good if you have the other seven positions nailed down, but I’m guessing the Pirates would like to get a little more from their shortstop. Brian Bixler doesn’t appear to be any sort of answer and there are more questions about Brian Friday than anything, so I think you have to look down to Chase D’Arnaud, who’s OPSing .841 at West Virginia and Lynchburg this year. He’s playing a lot of second base, though, because he’s on the same team as Jordy Mercer. He’s hitting much better than Mercer, so I hope he starts getting more reps at shortstop. Jarek Cunningham should’ve been in West Virgnina this year, as well, but he tore his ACL in spring training. That adds to the already-existing concern that he won’t be able to stick at short.
When worrying about the lack of organizational depth in the middle infield, remember the Matt Garza/Delmon Young trade. The Rays had gathered talent with no regards to position, then when they got close to contending they traded Young from their outfield surplus to acquire Garza and Jason Bartlett, two players that filled big need spots for them on the field. Huntington has acquired a lot of outfield talent and a decent amount of corner infield/first base talent. If, say, Jeff Clement is killing the ball but Pedro Alvarez can’t hack it at third base, there’s a trade we can make. If McCutchen, Milledge, and Tabata are playing well in the outfield in Pittsburgh and Gorkys Hernandez starts to develop, there’s a trade we can make. If more than a handful of the pitcher’s we’ve acquired start to pan out, there’s a trade we can make. There’s no reason to start focusing on positions until the team is much closer to contention.