In the third inning of yesterday's game against the Cubs I started to think there was a possibility the Pirates would make four roster moves today. Ryan Doumit was out with an injured ankle, Steve Pearce was sitting with a strained calf, Jeff Karstens was getting hit hard and Brandon Wood was showing that his major league career line is who he is. It turns out the Pirates only made two moves today, but I think the implications are pretty interesting. For tonight's game against the Mets the Pirates will only have 17 players who were on the opening day roster dressed for the game.
(IN: Snyder, Wood, Paul, Ciriaco, Harrision, Brown, D. McCutchen, Ascanio. OUT: Jaramillo, Rodriguez, Bowker, Alvarez, Pearce, Doumit, Ohlendorf, Crotta. OTHER: Beimel)
Every team has injuries and they have certainly played a part in this roster turnover. When Ross Ohlendorf went down on April 8 I suggested there was a chance we would never see either he or his catcher Jason Jaramillo in a Pirates' uniform again. Ohlendorf is still rehabbing and I'm relatively certain we won't see him before the all-star break. (UPDATE: Ohlendorf was moved to the 60-day DL. This is more roster management than anything else.)
Jaramillo got sent down later that week after getting one more at bat and got bypassed for a promotion today because he is out with an injured elbow. Jaramillo would probably have been the choice if he were healthy because he is on the 40-man roster and Brown isn't. The Pirates do have an open spot on the 40-man, but because neither Brown or Josh Harrision (also promoted) is on it, a corresponding roster move will have to be made this afternoon. (see Ohlendorf above.)
The Pirates moved catcher Eric Fryer up from AA where he was hitting .345 with a .976 OPS to Indianapolis to take Brown's place and he will probably get the opportunity to catch every day. Interestingly Fryer, who is 25, was moved up and Tony Sanchez was kept in AA. Of the top five Pirates catchers on the depth chart yesterday (Snyder, Doumit, Jaramillo, Brown, Wyatt Toregas) it is possible none are with the organization next April. Fryer could be the backup next season with Snyder or someone outside the organization signed to be the starter and Sanchez sliding in in 2013.
With Brown and Pedro Ciriaco now on the roster the Pirates couldn't wait for Steve Pearce to get healthy and really had no choice but to put him on the DL. It's tough luck again for Pearce as it seems he gets injured every time he has an opportunity to get regular playing time. To take Pearce's place the Pirates purchased the contract of Josh Harrison who will be making his major league debut. The 23-year old Harrison was acquired in the Gorzelanny-Grabow trade and profiles as a super utility guy. He is small (5'8" 175) but has hit at every level and can play virtually anywhere. Harrision got the call over Andy Marte who has been hot lately but is really a bit of a Brandon Wood clone with less defensive versatility.
I'd like to think that Harrison has a chance to stick at the major league level if he shows he can hit, but the Pirates are a bit hamstrung by him not really being a shortstop. The ability to play short may be the only thing keeping Brandon Wood on the roster. When either Alvarez or Pearce comes back Pedro Ciriaco is likely first to be sent down. Ciriaco will be 26 in September and doesn't have a future in the organization.
Neither does Brandon Wood. I was on-board with claiming Wood off waivers but had limited expectations. Wood has proven he is exactly what his line suggested he would be. His career line is .169/.204/.256. With the Pirates his line is .179/.258/.232. His defense has been better than expected, but 63 plate appearances are enough to show that a change of scenery isn't going to magically make him hit. When Pearce and Pedro Alvarez are healthy the only reason to have Wood around is no one else other than Ciriaco can play short adequately. Either way the team is shorthanded. If Harrision proves he can hit it will be an interesting choice to see if they would keep him over Wood.
Karstens is also proving he is exactly what he has been his whole career. The Pirates obviously don't trust him to throw more than about 75 pitches and you don't want to run a starting pitcher out there every fifth day with that kind of pitch count. In his four road starts he has yet to go more than 5.0 innings.
The not-discussed but obvious reason the Pirates moved Karstens back a few days in the rotation was so that he and Brad Lincoln would be pitching on the same day. With Karstens getting hit hard early in Chicago yesterday and Lincoln going that night in Pawtucket I figured this would be Karstens' last start before going back to the pen. Well, not so fast. Lincoln got bombed in 5+ innings and as much as I have been a proponent of bringing him up, I'm not sure you can do it after that last outing.
The larger point is the Pirates are continuing to transform the roster as we enter June. We'll get to see Dusty Brown and Josh Harrison for the first time. Dan Moskos will probably get some more work with Joe Beimel out. Brad Lincoln could get the call shortly. Injuries to Ohlendorf, Jaramillo, Beimel, Doumit and Pearce, depending on severity, may mean we have seen the last of them playing a major role in the organization. None are under contract for next year and Pearce would seem to be the only one with a shot to be back.
At 24-27 there is some reason for optimism. The team's starting pitching has been much better than expected. The bullpen is a major strength. But the reality is the team is on pace for 76 wins. A big improvement from last year, but still not very good. With the draft a week away and some promotions now taking place within the organization (Matt Curry from West Virginia to Altoona, bypassing Bradenton) we will soon start to see players who are candidates to fill the roster spots of Brandon Wood, Xavier Paul, Lyle Overbay, Jose Ascanio and a few others who aren't likely to be back next season. Small steps, but hopefully ones that push the Pirates closer to being a good team.