MIAMI, FL - MAY 15: Clint Barmes #12 of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats during a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on May 15, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
There's been a tremendous amount of (understandable) impatience about the Pirates' offense recently, with a lot of people wondering why Neal Huntington doesn't just head over to the hitter tree and pluck some fruit and put it in his basket.
Unfortunately, there isn't much the Pirates can do right now. They can't really look to Indianapolis for much help, for example -- Indy has the worst offense in the International League, and there's no one on the entire team who has an OPS above .802. There are some guys to keep an eye on as possible replacements for struggling players, but other than Jake Fox, who I think would represent a modest improvement to the Bucs' bench, there isn't much the Pirates can do with any of them right now. Let's look at them one by one.
-P- Jose Morales might at some point be able to replace Rod Barajas. But Morales has only a .762 OPS at Indianapolis right now, and there's a reason he's gotten to age 29 without really getting an extended shot as a starter in the majors. Also, Barajas is finally hitting a bit, going 7-for-20 with two homers in his last six games. That's a tiny sample and an arbitrary endpoint, sure, but it would still be a little premature for the Pirates to completely give up on Barajas, particularly given the implications for the organization's catching depth. The Barajas/Morales situation is worth keeping an eye on, but it's too early for the Pirates to do much about it. They could option Michael McKenry, call up Morales and let him split time with Barajas, but as with the potential Fox addition, that would be a pretty small upgrade.
-P- Jordy Mercer could replace Clint Barmes. Unfortunately, while Mercer can handle shortstop and his hitting has been passable this year (.275/.358/.380, a little worse than Morales), he needs to do more to answer questions about his hitting. This is a player who batted .239 in half a season at Indianapolis last year; he can use more time there. And, more to the point, as annoying as Barmes has been, it's too early for the Pirates to bail on a $10.5 million investment. Barmes' hacktastic approach has led to 29 strikeouts and one walk this year, and I'm not optimistic. But at this point, the Pirates have to keep trying. The sensible thing here is exactly what the Pirates are doing, which is sitting Barmes more often than they ordinarily might. I'd prefer if Yamaico Navarro played a bit more short in Barmes' place, rather than Josh Harrison, but again, that's nothing to really complain much about, and neither Navarro nor Harrison have really hit much either, Harrison's unlikely homer tonight aside.
-P- Starling Marte obviously has more upside than Alex Presley or whoever else the Pirates are going to play in left field now that Presley's gone, but Marte needs to continue working on his strike zone judgment, and his development has to take precedence over whatever ails the big-league team this week.
The Pirates need the position players in their organization to hit much better before they can replace much of anyone. And the trade market doesn't offer a lot of fixes right now either, as Neal Huntington recently pointed out:
"There aren't trades made in April," Huntington said. "There's very few trades of substance made in May, and there's still few trades of substance made in June. Our solutions are going to have to come internally unless we're willing to be less than intelligent and dramatically overpay for someone else's bat."
There isn't much incentive for a team to accept some bargain deal right now, with the trade deadline not for two and a half more months. The Bucs will have to wait, probably until July, to do a whole lot on the trade market, and that's if they're anywhere near contention at that point. On top of that, the fact that they don't have much talent in the high minors will probably be a bit of a hindrance if they were to try to make deals.
That leaves free-talent acquisitions, and perhaps minor trades, as the Bucs' best chances of improving their offense before the summer. Brad Eldred, who recently cleared waivers, is an example of the sort of player I mean, and as fun as Brad Eldred is, if you're considering claiming him and plugging him into your lineup as a fix for your offense, your situation is beyond desperate. The Pirates passed on him.
The Bucs could also swing a deal for a minor-league veteran, someone like Mauro Gomez or Clint Robinson (I think I saw a discussion about Robinson on a Pirates message board recently, but I can't remember where it was), and I do hope they'll go that route -- now that the Bucs have evidently decided Presley isn't a solution in the outfield, they have a spot to fill with someone who has some prayer of hitting, and starting Casey McGehee against righties, or Nate McLouth against pitchers, isn't the solution.
So that's what it comes down to. Short of doing something really creative, the Pirates' best decision might now might be to try to acquire a minor-league slugger, and otherwise just hope for the best with what they have. This isn't meant to excuse Huntington for not doing anything, since he's largely responsible for acquiring this dreadful group of hitters in the first place. But it also doesn't make sense to go cutting Barmes and whoever else just because it would please us, on a visceral level, if the Pirates were to do so.