I enjoyed reading John Perrotto's prescription for the Pirates' offseason over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required). There's a lot in it, like the report that Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo will probably interview to be the Bucs' manager. Here are a couple of thoughts:
-P- Paul Maholm, James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf will very probably have three spots in the rotation, leaving two up for grabs. I'm coming around to the idea that the Pirates should just keep Zach Duke, who really is no worse (or not much worse) an option than a guy like Kevin Millwood, and I think the Pirates should begin to look at their problem primarily as a defensive one rather than an issue with the pitching.
What would be the harm in moving Pedro Alvarez to first base right now? He's already below-average there, and I don't think that's for a lack of coaching or anything he might readily improve. He's just a big guy, and he's not terribly fast or quick, and those things are just going to get worse. Five years from now, we're going to remember his time at third base the way we currently remember Jim Thome's. A couple months ago, Adam Reynolds proposed moving Alvarez to first and Neil Walker from second to third, where his defense plays much better, and acquiring a defensively strong middle infielder, like Orlando Hudson. I think he might be right. Duke's and Maholm's ERAs should drop substantially given that alignment, and then the Pirates could avoid the Millwood types or just sign one to fill the last spot in the rotation, in the reasonably likely event that Charlie Morton or Brad Lincoln can't do better.
-P- Perrotto also suggests non-tendering Duke, Lastings Milledge, Wil Ledezma, Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young. LaRoche and Young I'm fine with, but I don't see the point in dumping Milledge and I think giving Ledezma a contract would be a great idea. The key is that both these guys will be cheap. Milledge isn't even that bad, is still relatively young and probably won't make much more than $2 million in arbitration. (I'm trying to think of comparable players from the recent past here, mildly disappointing but useful players with good pedigrees - Austin Kearns made less than $1 million in his first year of arbitration; Corey Patterson made $2.8 million.) If it were possible to sign a 25-year-old former first-round pick with a .723 career OPS to a $2 million free agent contract, wouldn't that be a great move with clear upside? Milledge shouldn't be handed the keys to the city or anything, but I think non-tendering him would be an overreaction to a disappointing year.
As for Ledezma, Perrotto specifically mentions his peripherals as a reason he shouldn't be kept. Actually, his peripherals are precisely the reason he should stay. As I've said before, I think he pretty clearly should get a contract. He's throwing harder than he ever has, he struck out more than a batter an inning last year, and because of his spotty history, he should be very cheap, probably around $1 million. Ledezma is 29; it's not at all unheard of for players his age to suddenly become good relievers, and with his improving velocity and peripherals, his is exactly the profile I'd look for if I were trying to find that sort of player. I actually like the Pirates' chances of putting together a decent bullpen next year, led by Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop and Ledezma.