Midway through the season, the Pirates are right where we should've expected them to be. The pitching has been fine (the Pirates' 4.28 team ERA is about average), and the offense is a mess (the team has scored 330 runs, tied for 27th in the major leagues). The pitching could have been much better if Oliver Perez were pitching near as well as he did in 2004, and the Bucs' pitching may well be better in the second half. Dave Williams and Rick White probably will probably tail off a bit, but the Pirates could still improve if the old Perez is back after his injury and Zach Duke continues to pitch like he did yesterday. I've disagreed with a number of small moves the Pirates' management has made with the pitching (using Ian Snell in the bullpen, for example, or using Ryan Vogelsong in high-leverage situations), but in general, the pitching has been and should continue to be solid.
What about the offense? Other than trading someone, how should the Pirates proceed there?
-Jack Wilson has been a mess all season - his .594 OPS coming into today's game is bad even for him. But the Pirates would never replace him, and they probably shouldn't anyway because his defense now matches his defensive reputation. There isn't anyone the Pirates could replace him with who could hit well enough to justify taking Wilson's glove off the field. Freddy Sanchez hasn't done nearly enough with the bat to displace Wilson, and he's the only other Pirate capable of starting in the middle infield. Bobby Hill and Rob Mackowiak aren't good enough fielders to spend much time at second, and there isn't anyone waiting in the high minors.
-As some have pointed out, Mackowiak has killed the ball when he has played third base, so Pittsburgh has gotten approximately average production at third base despite not having a regular player there. Mackowiak's success there almost certainly means nothing. It's surely a sample-size thing; in fact, Mackowiak had a .749 OPS playing third in 2004. And Tike Redman's current .713 OPS in center is about the best the Pirates could have expected from him. He should remain a bench player, with Mackowiak getting most of the at-bats in center.
So what about third base? As much as I like Freddy Sanchez - for the league minimum salary, he'd be a perfectly good starter at second base for many teams - he doesn't hit enough to be much of a regular third baseman. And at his age, it seems highly unlikely that he's ever going to hit or field well enough to force his way past Wilson or Castillo.
The Pirates might consider calling up Yurendell DeCaster, who is hitting .311/.390/.541 at Indianapolis. He's a marginal prospect - he's already 25, and he's never drawn many walks. But his performance, and the Pirates' problems finding a regular third baseman, make this an opportune time for the Pirates to give him a chance. Another factor the Pirates might consider is Jose Bautista's recent hot hitting at Altoona: if Bautista continues to advance and hit well, he'll probably be ready to play in the majors at the end of the 2006 season. 2005 is already lost for the Bucs, and they've got a mess at third; it wouldn't hurt them to see what De Caster can do before Bautista comes along.
-The Pirates should install Ryan Doumit behind the plate. I see no evidence at this point that Humberto Cota will become the kind of guy the Pirates should want behind the plate every day. He's not young, and he has not hit well since 2001. Doumit hasn't hit very well in limited time in the majors this year, either, but at least his minor league performance indicates that he has a good chance of coming around. The Pirates should use Cota as a backup catcher and demote Dave Ross, who's pointless now that Doumit is there.
-Daryle Ward has been fine, for a stopgap - but he has been hideous against lefties, with a .564 OPS against them in 78 at bats. Craig Wilson will solve that problem (and a few of the Pirates' other offensive problems), but until he returns, the Pirates should make good on their promise to use the much-maligned Mike Restovich as their backup first baseman. Restovich should torch left-handed starters, and he'll at least be amusing, as opposed to merely bad, in the field.
Which bench or minor league player would you like to see more of in the second half?
This poll is closed
Yurendell De Caster