The Post-Gazette explains why Jordy Mercer headed back to Indianapolis.
Mercer is the only one of the three major league capable shortstops who has options remaining, meaning he was the only one the team could send to Indianapolis without fear of losing to another team through waivers. Though the Pirates eventually could part with one of those players -- Clint Barmes or John McDonald --the front office is not comfortable doing so until Chase d'Arnaud (torn thumb ligament) returns from the 60-day disabled list. That could happen as soon as June 1. ...
"I'm a fan," Hurdle said. "If the way things would play out and in 2014, comes to spring training, he could very well be the guy to get the shot to play at shortstop."
Obviously, the Pirates don't think too highly of the abilities of Ivan De Jesus, who has hit well at Indianapolis, as a shortstop. I can understand the rationale for wanting more than two shortstops in the organization.
In any case, what you hear over and over in Hurdle's comments about Mercer is references to 2014. Here's why. Barmes and McDonald will be free agents, and if they don't think De Jesus can be a shortstop (a view that I think a lot of evaluators would share) there's really no one other than Mercer within immediate view. At Double-A, Gift Ngoepe hasn't hit at all, and Drew Maggi doesn't have much of a future.
Here's the list of shortstop free agents this offseason. (An asterisk means the player's team has an option on 2014.)
Jamey Carroll *
Alexi Casilla *
Yunel Escobar *
Derek Jeter *
Urgh. If the Pirates can even find a way to block Mercer next year, I'll be impressed with their ingenuity. Carroll has been underrated most of his career, but he's 39, and the Twins have a very cheap option on him. It's unclear what the Rays will do with Escobar, but if he's any good at all the rest of this season, it will make sense for them to pick up his option. I suppose Drew is a possibility, but he hasn't hit much since 2010. Furcal is dealing with a major injury.
Then you've got three all-glove, no-bat guys in McDonald, Ryan and Barmes. McDonald probably won't be on a major-league roster at this point next year. Ryan is a backup at this point, and in 2014, Barmes will be too, unless he hits. I'm a big fan of Barmes' defense, and I'm still not convinced that Mercer is a better everyday option than Barmes. But even after a strong weekend, Barmes needs to keep hitting, at least a little.)
The one guy on this list who I'd be interested in having as a starting shortstop is Peralta. So that means the Pirates' options will be as follows: sign Peralta, do something creative, or sign a backup type (perhaps someone like Ryan, although if Barmes doesn't start hitting, it would be kind of funny if he stuck around as Mercer's backup) and go with Mercer.
In other words, there aren't a lot of great choices. And we may be at a point throughout baseball where we have to adjust our expectations with regard to the shortstop position. Just look at these guys. The only everyday shortstops throughout baseball who are hitting are Jean Segura, Troy Tulowitski, Brandon Crawford, Ian Desmond, Peralta, and Jed Lowrie. There's also Didi Gregorius, Jose Reyes and a couple other guys who haven't played enough to qualify, but in general, there isn't much offensive firepower available at shortstop. It would be excellent if the Pirates had a shortstop prospect who could really hit charging through their system, because that would be a great way to get an advantage on the rest of the league. Of course, a pet unicorn would be nice as well.
Anyway, we've talked a lot about what Mercer's role on the 2013 team should be. Whatever comes of this season, though, Mercer has reason for optimism about his chances of playing in 2014.