Three players that seem to be competing for two spots in the future - Neil Walker, Andy LaRoche and Argenis Diaz. We are assuming for this case that Pedro Alvarez will be the Pirates cornerstone third baseman at some point, but that leaves the new double play duo wide open.
Potential Combination #1
2B Andy LaRoche & SS Neil Walker: This one is a case of two players moving away from their respective positions. When Alvarez takes over at 3rd, a move to 2nd for LaRoche seems most possible, as he has seemed to embrace the move himself. Neil Walker has played 3rd base and 2nd in his past, so with all the athletic gifts that he possesses, what would theoretically stop him from learning shortstop? Other than potentially delaying his arrival at PNC Park, his defense has improved tremendously as well as his bat, and he certainly has the natural ability to play the position.
But this combination would leave out the organization's current best shortstop prospect in Argenis Diaz.
Potential Combination #2
2B Andy LaRoche & SS Argenis Diaz: Same case goes for LaRoche. Argenis Diaz, at the immediate moment, seems to be the shortstop of the future, assuming that his defense/bat surpasses Cedeno's. He's already been called up this season to fill in, and ho-hum, he's hitting .314 with Indy. When he came over from the Red Sox, his glove was essentially big-league ready, but his bat was holding back his progress through the ranks. He's still no power hitter now, as 25 of his 27 hits this season have been singles, but he is indeed getting on base.
However, if this scenario is true, Walker is relegated to a utility role on the bench and the with the way he's playing now, that hardly seems like a just fate.
Potential Combination #3
2B Neil Walker & SS Argenis Diaz: Or maybe the Pirates could potentially go this route. Walker has been seeing time entirely at 2nd this year in AAA and currently seems like a shoo-in candidate to take over the job at the MLB level within the next few weeks. Diaz doesn't appear to be banging on Cedeno's door right now, mainly because Cedeno hasn't given the Pirates too many reasons to bench him and because Diaz has a very similar skill set. It should also be mentioned that this combination is the only one that would see both players remaining at their current positions.
But it of course would mean either that Andy LaRoche isn't in the long term plans or Alvarez does in fact have a move to 1st in his future, with Andy staying at 3rd.
Combination #1 seems to be the least defensive minded, as the duo could make their fair share of errors at first. But there is no question that this would provide a significant upgrade at the plate, as Neil Walker is twice the hitter Cedeno will ever be and LaRoche is, uh, we don't even need to make the comparison.
Combination #2 would seem to be a mix of both. Diaz would be able to bring the same defensive capabilities as Cedeno while LaRoche should be more than adequate at 2nd after he works out the kinks of the position. It would seem to be a minimal upgrade at the plate.
Combination #3 would provide no change defensively as to anything we've seen in Pittsburgh thus far. Diaz should prove to be an equal with Cedeno while Walker wouldn't be an upgrade or downgrade from Crosby/Iwamura in the field. But if all goes smoothly, the most noticeable differences would be at the plate. If Diaz continues his .300+ hitting and Walker can bring his hot bat to the Pirates, it looks like a potentially lethal combination.
These scenarios are based around what the team may look like breaking camp in 2011. If you were running the team and the courses of each player isn't dramatically altered from now until next March, what would your double play combination look like?