Neil Walker's return to alter Pirates' roster

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Neil Walker will return to the Pirates' lineup today after his bout with appendicitis. That means two things:

1) The Pirates will have to decide how best to handle Josh Harrison's playing time. Working him into the lineup against lefties will be easy, and the Bucs face two of them this week in David Price and Jon Niese. Against righties, it'll be trickier. The Pirates surely won't bench Gregory Polanco, and they probably won't have Harrison start ahead of Walker against righties either, so that will mostly limit Harrison to third base or left field. Here's hoping the Bucs won't reduce Starling Marte's playing time. He's more important to the Pirates' future than Pedro Alvarez or Harrison, and he's also a better player than either of them.

Personally, I would just find starts for Harrison a few times a week at second and third, and maybe once a week in the outfield. But if the Pirates were to reduce Alvarez's playing time, I couldn't blame them much. The Bucs only control Alvarez for two more years beyond this one, and he probably is what he is at this point. Anything's possible, but he probably shouldn't be viewed as a potential superstar anymore. Of course, if last night's home run is the start of a patented Alvarez hot streak, all bets are off.

2) The Pirates will have to make some sort of roster move. You might think the Bucs would try to send down a pitcher for a few days, but Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton will both have to start before Gerrit Cole returns on Saturday, and if you option Cumpton (Locke starts tonight), you can't call him back up to make his start, so that's out. That means the only real candidates (unless the Pirates want to go with a short bullpen for awhile, which I doubt) are Clint Barmes, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and maybe Gaby Sanchez. Barmes is the only Pirates bench guy who can really play shortstop, so he isn't going anywhere. I doubt Sanchez is either.

That leaves Snider and Tabata. I can see the case for trying to sneak Tabata through waivers -- he remains a bad defensive player and baserunner who has no power whatsoever. But the Bucs will probably drop Snider, who's done little to distinguish himself this year. I still like his upside more than Tabata's, since Snider has power, but neither one is exactly brimming with potential.

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