The long-awaited roster moves that fans, particularly those here, have been first begging, then pleading, now screaming for should begin today. Unfortunately, the impetus for the first of these moves began with Steve Pearce's ankle injury last night which, based on the description in today's PG, probably means he is shelved for at least two weeks.
Pearce's injury opens the door for a promotion of Neil Walker. Every one of these potential callups has been overanalyzed on this site in the last month, so I will spare the facts and color my post with opinion. This is a move that should have been made two weeks ago when Aki Iwamura got hurt, but it wasn't so on we go. With Walker up I would expect him initially to get 3-5 starts a week, with some at second, some at first and possibly the occasional one in left.
Pearce's move to the DL means the team will not have to make a corresponding roster move. But those will begin soon enough when Jack Taschner is eligible to come off the DL in ten days. That will also correspond with Brad Lincoln being able to be called up while still retaining six years of control over his contractual rights. To me the resulting moves become obvious. Both Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres will be sent down.
Karstens has been mildly useful as a spot starter and a long-man, but he is a AAAA pitcher who is nice to have in the organization in case of emergency, but nothing more. In order to send him down to Indy he will have to clear waivers and my guess is he will. If he doesn't, good for him as he gets an opportunity with another team. His window of opportunity with the Pirates is going to close quickly as guys like Ascanio, Jacko and Yates return from long rehab stints and prospects continue to push their way up from lower levels. Eventually Daniel McCutchen will also get another look.
Burres has been a pleasant surprise and given the Pirates the occasional quality start, but his ceiling is also limited and at age 29 it's unrealistic to think much will change. Maybe he goes on to be Jamie Moyer and pitches for 18 more years as a soft-tossing lefty, but I would imagine he has, at most, a handful of starts left in his Pirates career.
Lincoln steps into Burres' spot in the starting rotation and Taschner rejoins the pen which will again consist of the seven members who broke camp with the club at the end of March. We'll revisit that in a minute.
June should also see the promotion of Jose Tabata. I have been a believer that their was no reason to rush Tabata, and if he spent the whole year in AAA developing his skills and maturing as a person and player that would be just fine. But, I have slowly come around to the fact that Tabata may really have earned an earlier promotion based on his impressive hitting and surprising base stealing. The big issue here is not only whether the 21-year old Tabata is ready, but also what to do with Lastings Milledge. I am certainly not in favor of sitting Milledge in favor of Ryan Church, which has happened far too frequently in May. But Milledge has now had 399 PAs as a Pirate and has hit 4 HRs and has a .702 OPS. He's 25, so it's time to discard the prospect tag. The argument that Tabata needs to develop his power before being called up also rings a bit hollow with Milledge giving the team so little. The important point here is that Tabata's promotion basically closes the door on Milledge, at least for the rest of this year. He becomes the team's fourth outfielder and will have to share at bats, at least conceptually, with Church and Delwyn Young.
The poster child for the youth movement is Pedro Alvarez, but he may be the last of these four to get the call. Again Alvarez has been analyzed to death, so you all know the story. Neal Huntington and Kyle Stark have implied that Alvarez's (and others') promotion depends, at least a little, on the performance of others. As mentioned above, Milledge's performance affects Tabata and Clement's affected Pearce, etc. Pedro is being "blocked"--for lack of a better term--at the moment by his struggle to hit for a better average, largely due to his lack of success against lefties, and the incumbent Andy LaRoche.
The parallels between LaRoche and Milledge are starting to become apparent. LaRoche has now had more than 900 PAs with the Pirates and has 18 home runs and a .671 OPS. As much as I have wanted him and Milledge to be successful, it really may be time to think about moving on. It's difficult to argue that they haven't gotten an opportunity. LaRoche had a great September last year and a torrid stretch at the end of April, but it now just appears that he just has a propensity to be streaky. And, unfortunately, that streakiness has carried over to the field.
I'd like to see LaRoche taking pregame grounders at second so that he can eventually compete with Aki and Walker for playing time there, but that apparently has yet to happen. I have no idea why. If the Pirates were willing to experiment with DY learning the job on the fly in real games last year, they should at least be exploring this idea because when Pedro comes up he is certain to play every day. Unfortunately Andy's lack of lateral mobility may signify that the switch may not be as easy as I hoped.
Obviously the Tabata, Alvarez and Pearce moves (returning from the DL) will need corresponding roster moves. It would be incomprehensible to me if the first of these is not DFAing Aki Iwamura. Again, this has been covered enough, but it is the best move for the team. Iwamura is 31, a free agent at the end of the season and no longer in the team's plans. The second and easiest move, albeit one that is contingent on performance, will be sending down Jeff Clement when Pearce comes back--which could be up to four weeks if he does a full rehab stint in Indy. I'm all for the chance Clement has gotten and that should continue, so this move will be evaluated based on his production over the next month.
This then brings us to the more difficult decisions, but only because they involve the team potentially losing assets. Let's be clear. We are talking about fringe roster positions here (see John Raynor), so it shouldn't impact the organization long-term, but will affect the composition nonetheless. The last decision involves what to do with the group of Delwyn Young, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby. Crosby's position appears to be safe for the year as he is the only remotely adequate backup to Ronny Cedeno at short so he mostly likely stays. Young turns 28 in June and really lacks a position defensively. He is a reasonable backup outfielder and has had some success as a pinch hitter. His career OPS is .712 in 645 PAs and I think that is a fair representation of who he is.
Church is 31 and has a career .779 OPS and is a solid fourth outfielder. He had a disappointing season last year with only 4 HRs in 399 PAs (exactly the same as Milledge has in the exact same number of PAs in his Pirates career, by the way) and has only a .633 OPS in 93 PAs this year. With his age and injuries I am worried that we have seen the best of Church. Earlier this month manager John Russell made the laughable statement that is was hard not to keep running him out there, implying that he was playing well. (That has only been topped by Russell's gem that leadoff hitter Aki Iwamora's inability to get on base was not the reason the team wasn't scoring runs.) Church hasn't been good, but he may have a little trade value at the deadline. The Pirates own his rights for another year, which means he would probably make about $2 million next year if he were to go to arbitration. The team controls DY for another four years and could renew him for about $450K.
I guess I would look first to trade Church. If that didn't work I think I would DFA him over DY, but I'm sure others would feel differently. My reasoning is there is a small chance DY is with the team next year at $450K and I see very little chance of keeping Church for $ 2 million based on his performance, not cost per se.
At this point, the Pirates will then be approaching another trade deadline. As is always the case, some fans tend to overvalue their Bucs, but I'll try not to. Ryan Doumit has value, but with Tony Sanchez at least two full seasons away I don't see him getting moved. That leaves Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and various members of the bullpen. This is just rampant speculation, so I will leave Maholm and Duke for another time. The one point that I think is worth pointing out is that Octavio Dotel has a reasonable club option on his contract for next year at $4.5 million. If he continues to pitch as he has in May, he could bring a solid return at the deadline. With Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek looking like the real deal, there is no reason to keep Dotel around if there is a good baseball return. Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco and Javier Lopez could all bring small returns at the deadline, but I wouldn't expect much. Rather, I would hope the team would consider resigning all of them. Donnelly could elect to become a free agent, but the other two would be arbitration eligible.
I'm not sure I would call it the cavalry, but it appears to me that change is definitely here and the team is moving in the right direction. There appears to be some good talent in the system that is pushing its way up the ladder. Supplemented with another good draft the course, in my opinion, appears to be sound. The evaluation process continues. We should have some new pieces to look at starting today.