With the offseason upon us, Pat at WHYGAVS and I are combing through the Pirates' roster and describing our ideal offseason. This post deals with the starting lineup.
CATCHER: Ryan Doumit
Bucs Dugout: Like Nate McLouth, Doumit isn't old, but he isn't particularly young either; he just seems to be because he spent so many of his first few years either injured or buried on the bench, and because he looks like an extra from American Pie. As well as Doumit hit this year, he failed to stay healthy yet again, and he'll be 28 when next season starts, so he can't be considered a likely core member of the next good Bucs team. He has three years left before he's eligible for free agency, which is a lot, but a long term deal is out of the question because of his injury troubles. It may be tempting fate, but if he stays healthy for all of 2009, he'll be a terrific trade chip. The Bucs might consider keeping him for one more year.
WHYGAVS: Doumit's hard to figure out. Given his health, I'd say I'd be shopping him right now, but I don't know how valuable a 28-year-old that considers 115 games a "healthy" season will be, even if he's a catcher that can OPS over .800. What's interesting to consider at this point is his defense, I think. He's been subjectively terrible in the second half of this season, as he's simply not used to playing as much as he has this year. A move to first base or the outfield isn't an option: his bat doesn't play nearly as well there. I think I might shop him a little more actively, though those injuries will probably drive his price down enough that it's not worth it to trade him.
Verdict: HOLD FOR NOW.
FIRST BASE: Adam LaRoche
Bucs Dugout: When he was acquired he was heralded as a star in the making, but LaRoche has come back around to being an underrated player. The Pirates are still waiting for LaRoche to start a season the way he typically ends it, but they're running out of time--he's a free agent after 2009. Even if he doesn't start 2009 strong, though, his pattern is well-established, so the Bucs will be able to tell potential trading partners that acquiring LaRoche will make them look brilliant. He may have more value at the deadline, whether he hits in April or not.
WHYGAVS: I'd even add in that while he can't possibly diminish his value with a poor first half because that trait is so well-established in him by this point in his career, he could blow his trade value through the roof with an Xavier Nady-like career year in April and May. Trading him now just makes no sense.
Verdict: HOLD FOR NOW.
SECOND BASE: Freddy Sanchez
Bucs Dugout: Sanchez has quietly posted an .872 OPS after the break, but the facts remain that he hit .226/.251/.304 before it and, regardless of the impact injuries may have had on his performance, he'll turn 31 in the offseason. 31-year-old second basemen with long injury histories don't have long shelf lives. Players whose value is wrapped up in batting average don't either. I wouldn't bet on him to produce next year. If someone could take his contract off the Bucs' hands, that would be great. Signing him to a two-year deal wasn't one of Neal Huntington's better moves. We're probably stuck with him.
WHYGAVS: I really strongly advocated trading Sanchez last winter because I was afraid he'd have a season like this one. Objectively, he was terribly unlucky in the first half and bounced back nicely in the second half, but he is pretty clearly declining from 2006 to 2007 to 2008 and with his shoulder problems, his defense is flat out awful and third base and shortstop are probably no longer options, meaning we probably can't even shop him as a viable utility guy. I agree that we probably won't get much for him because of his contract, but I'd still shop Freddy and hope for a buyer, even if I have to sell low. I just don't see much of a bounceback for Freddy at this point.
SHORTSTOP: Jack Wilson
Bucs Dugout: I've ragged on Jack for years for not being able to hit, but he's quietly been a big reason the last few years of Pirates baseball have even been watchable. At various times, he's been the only player on the team who could play defense at all. Still, he'll be 31 in December and he has a 78 career OPS. If he can be moved for a prospect or two, he should be. The memories of Luis Rivas and Brian Bixler, who played while Wilson was hurt early in the season, are surely painful, but the Bucs need to think long-term here.
WHYGAVS: I don't want to be harsh on Jack here, but it's also worth noting that defensive metrics have disagreed for quite some time on whether or not Jack is a good defensive shortstop or a great one. He does have a penchant for making the routine look spectacular at times and that's what the fans see and love. I'm not saying that Jack's not a good defensive shortstop, because he certainly is. I'm just saying that by replacing him with Bixler at short for a full-season, we probably don't lose nearly as much on the defensive side of things as people think.
Bucs Dugout: That Rivas, a spectatcularly bad defensive middle infielder, started so many games in Jack's place probably made Jack look better than he should have. So, too, did the fact that Dave Littlefield seemed utterly incapable of acquiring good defensive players, despite his apparent goal building the Pirates around pitching and defense. Finding a decent defensive replacement for Wilson shouldn't be nearly as difficult as the Pirates' recent history would lead us to believe; you're absolutely right about that.
Verdict: SHOP, even if the fans will hate it.
THIRD BASE: Andy LaRoche
Bucs Dugout: LaRoche should be kept and should start next year. This is the easiest call of any position on this post. He's young, his minor league numbers indicate that he could be very good, and right now, there's no competition--and no, Neil Walker doesn't count until he starts hitting in Class AAA. The last thing a team should do with a player like LaRoche is to get cute and try to platoon him, and he's got nothing to prove in the minors. He may be hard to watch in 2009. If he is, too bad. Get over it. He might also be quite good.
Tike Redman in 2003: 248 PAs
Chris Duffy in 2005: 136 PAs
Andy LaRoche as a Pirate in 2008: 159 PAs (through Sunday)
I'm not saying he's going to be an All-Star. I'm saying you'll never find out in 200 plate appearances. You can say he's shown you no sign he's going to hit, but that's because he's hitting terribly. Seriously, give this guy a chance.
CORNER OUTFIELD: Brandon Moss
Bucs Dugout: I'm not a huge fan of Moss, but this is a no-brainer. My guess is that he'll be a pretty good fourth outfielder on the next good Pirates team, but there were times when I would've said that about Nate McLouth too. One silver lining of the Pirates being so bad is that they have the luxury of finding out whether someone like Moss can hit enough to start. His performance so far for the Bucs hasn't been wildly encouraging, but neither has it been a disaster.
WHYGAVS: BONECRUSHER! There's no reason not to give him a chance at this point. He's struggled of late, but flashed some very nice power with the Pirates after the trade and the Pirates need to figure out if he can sustain that long enough to be a useful stater.
CENTER FIELD: Nate McLouth
Bucs Dugout: With Andrew McCutchen, a better defensive center fielder than McLouth, nearly ready, it may be time to think hard about moving McLouth for prospects. That may sound harsh, given the excellent year he's had in his first full season of regular playing time, but he's almost 27, he's probably in the midst of a peak season, and if he sticks with the Pirates he's going to become a full-time corner outfielder. I hope I'm wrong, but he's more like the next Randy Winn than the next Jason Bay. If you want good stuff for a player like McLouth, you've got to trade high. Yes, I know I sound crazy, and no, I don't think it will actually happen.
WHYGAVS: Age is everything here for McLouth. If he were, say, 24, this would be an amazing breakout and he might be young enough to be helpful when things start to turn around. As it is, he's kind of like Doumit in that he's a great hitter for his position, which is usually offense-light, but not nearly as useful as a corner outfielder, especially if this year is his ceiling. It is nice to see him bounce back in September and that makes me think he might be able to approximate this season again, but I'd certainly shop him. The downside of that is that a trade of McLouth this winter would almost certainly result in a full-on fan revolt and while I'm not an advocate of making moves for PR purposes, the public ramifications of this move would be downright awful. Still, rebuilding is rebuilding and it'd be stupid not to at least listen to offers and maybe even shop around a little, but it'd have to be a nice package to move him.
Bucs Dugout: As with Wilson, this is a case where it's easy to lose perspective. You're right; if McLouth were younger, the season he's having would mean something else. When I watch him, I still want to believe he's young, not only because he looks like he can't grow a beard, but because the Bucs under Littlefield had so few good young players to give jobs to, and they were reluctant to commit to some of the youngsters who were actually good enough to stick. So players like McLouth and Doumit and Craig Wilson had to play part-time for years even though they were much better than most of the players in front of them. (In Littlefield's defense, Doumit also got hurt a lot.) The fact is, though, that 26-year-olds aren't young.
Verdict: SHOP, but don't be hasty.
CORNER OUTFIELD: ????
Bucs Dugout: The Pirates' disinterest in Steve Pearce is obvious, but if I were in charge, he'd be the Bucs' right fielder. Moss will have one corner spot next year, but it's unclear who will have the other. If the Bucs really thought McCutchen would be with the team at the beginning of next season, one would think they would have made him a September callup. If they wanted Pearce to play, they wouldn't be burying him right now. That leaves the very real possibility that one of the Pirates' outfield spots will be occupied by a free agent or Nyjer Morgan. It'll be a serious disappointment if it's a free agent. God help the Pirates if it's Morgan; starting him would be a horrible idea. I'd be happy with either a Moss-McLouth-Pearce outfield or a McLouth-McCutchen-Moss outfield, but the former would be my preference. McCutchen has played well at Class AAA but hasn't dominated there, so if I were in charge (and I didn't trade McLouth) I'd use the first couple months of the season to find out what Pearce can do. Of course, since the Pirates clearly d on't like Pearce, it's all academic.
WHYGAVS: I don't have a lot to add to this. Arguing Pearce and Morgan is a pointless exercise at this point, but I'm going to be hugely disappointed if Nyjer's a starting corner outfielder next year. Play Pearce, or really do anything that keeps Nyjer Morgan from getting 500 plate appearances and getting thrown out on the base paths 65 times in a season. Well, except re-signing and playing Jason Michaels. I know he's been "clutch" this year, but his numbers are terrible.
Bucs Dugout: Nyjer Morgan, a starting corner outfielder. That may be the first time I've seen those words strung together before, and it knocked me back a little bit. It can't happen. There's simply no way the new management is that dumb. Actually, Michaels or a similar free agent might be the most likely possibility. That's still pretty depressing.
Verdict: START PEARCE.