Hypothetical Pirates 25-man roster: Where do Clint Robinson and Vin Mazzaro fit?

Ed Zurga

After the acquisitions of Clint Robinson, Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart on Wednesday, here's a look at the Pirates' 25-man roster. Note that this obviously isn't a projection of the roster out of Spring Training, since plenty will happen between now and then. It's a hypothesized look at what the roster might be if camp broke today.

STARTING EIGHT

C Michael McKenry
1B Garrett Jones
2B Neil Walker
SS Clint Barmes
3B Pedro Alvarez
OF Starling Marte
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Travis Snider (out of options) / Jose Tabata (out of options)

BENCH

C Tony Sanchez
1B Gaby Sanchez
IF Jordy Mercer
IF Josh Harrison
OF Travis Snider / Jose Tabata

ROTATION

A.J. Burnett
Wandy Rodriguez
James McDonald
Jeff Karstens
Kyle McPherson

BULLPEN

Joel Hanrahan
Jared Hughes
Tony Watson
Chris Resop
Bryan Morris (out of options)
Vin Mazzaro (out of options)
Justin Wilson

Some notes here. Jeff Karstens could well be non-tendered. I assume Charlie Morton will be. The last two spots in the rotation are up for grabs. Tony Sanchez is unlikely to actually start the year on the 25-man, and Wilson probably is too.

Nonetheless, I think the above is useful, since it shows what the Pirates' main issues might be heading into the deadline to tender contracts and to the rest of the offseason.

The Pirates have to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players by Friday. The roster they've got now pretty clearly dictates that Karstens should be tendered. Even if he comes back, there's room to add another starting pitcher. (I'm bullish on Kyle McPherson, but he's had a very limited amount of experience at AAA, and he'll get his chances. Jeff Locke is a fairly credible rotation option too, but I'd much rather have Karstens in there.) Chris Resop really wasn't very good this year, and it wouldn't be a shock if he were non-tendered, but you'd expect the Pirates to be pretty aggressive finding relief help in the free agent market if that happened.

The other arbitration-eligible player whose status is interesting is Gaby Sanchez. You might look at the Clint Robinson acquisition and think it suggests Sanchez is on his way out, but Sanchez is a righty and Robinson is a lefty, so Sanchez is the better player to pair with Garrett Jones. Also, it would be strange to see the Pirates give up a first-round pick to get Sanchez and then dump his so quickly. So my guess is that Sanchez will make the cut.

Assuming Starling Marte (who needs and deserves big-league playing time) and Andrew McCutchen are in two of the outfield spots, that leaves Travis Snider and Jose Tabata for the other spot. The problem is that both are out of options, and they're both way too interesting to cut, so they'll both have to be on the 25-man.

The Pirates almost always go with a five-man bench. That's likely to happen next year, even in April, because they have eight straight games starting April 3 and can't do the usual four-man-April-rotation thing that we argue about every year. Obviously, one of those five bench spots will go to a second catcher, whether that's Sanchez or someone else. The Bucs' usual preference is to use two of the remaining four spots on backup middle infielders, but their current personnel screams for them not to do that next year, because if the Pirates have two middle infielders on the bench along with Gaby Sanchez, they can't carry Robinson. However, carrying Jones, Gaby Sanchez and Robinson on the same 25-man roster would really limit the Pirates' tactical options. Jones can at least play the outfield a little bit; Sanchez and Robinson really can't play anything but first base. So my guess right now is that the Pirates would take Harrison. This leaves Brock Holt (who has an option) and Chase d'Arnaud (who probably doesn't deserve a roster spot) out in the cold.

Harrison is bad, and Robinson strikes me as deserving of a roster spot. It's not exactly a tragedy, but it's unfortunate. But right now, it looks like Robinson is in a similar spot as he was in with the Royals. He'll likely be at AAA, and someone else will have to get hurt or traded for him to get to the big leagues. In essence, it looks like he's primarily just minor-league depth. Which is too bad, but it's still something -- we saw last May how nice it would have been to have minor-league depth that was actually good. Alex Presley is also on the outside looking in in this scenario.

I doubt Robinson's acquisition is enough for the Pirates to consider changing their minds about tendering Sanchez. I also don't think it should be, since Sanchez makes a lot more sense as a platoon partner for Jones, who hits like Rey Sanchez against lefties, than Robinson does.

The bullpen is, of course, a work in progress, and I expect it will look fairly different by the time Spring Training rolls around. Joel Hanrahan might be gone, for example, and Chris Resop might be as well. Many of the decisions, though, will likely be dictated by players' option status. Vin Mazzaro will be a key player to watch in Spring Training, since the Pirates will probably give him a bullpen spot if he comes even close to earning one. For now, at least, it looks like a job could very easily be open to him. He's not as deserving of one as Robinson is, but that's where we are.

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