There are 30 games left in the season after today. The W/L record since the ASB has been disappointing and makes the outcome of the remaining games a lot less important than they would be were the team still challenging for the NL Central title or even around .500--obviously. But, as always, the games aren't meaningless. The list of things to watch is pretty long and when the team does actually expand to 33-35 players next week, will only get longer.
I could make a list of 25 things to watch for. "Will Matt Hague get called up and how will he do in his 30 PAs if he does?" would be one item on the list, but realistically, that isn't going to tell us much. I've tried to cull the list down to things that will be meaningful in determining how the team takes shape next year. YMMV.
1.) How will Charlie Morton, James MacDonald and Jeff Karstens hold up over the last month?
Karstens, the biggest positive surprise this season, looks like he may not make it to the finish line. All three are guaranteed to be in the rotation next year and I'll be interested to see how they finish and if any of the three get shut down before the season ends.
2.) Can Alex Presley continue what he did in his first month?
If he does, barring a trade, next year's opening day outfield is the one you have seen the past few nights. Exciting? Sure. OBP? Yep. Power? 35 homers between the three of them.
3.) Who plays shortstop the last 30 games? (See Poll at the bottom)
If Ronny Cedeno plays almost every day, that would be a clear signal they are going to pick up his $3 million option, which I fully endorse at this point. I can't see the team going into next season with Chase d'Arnaud as the starting shortstop unless he gets at least 25 starts the rest of the way and dramatically improves his level of play. Brandon Wood is not a realistic option.
4.) Do Brad Lincoln and Ross Ohlendorf have futures in Pittsburgh?
I was calling for Lincoln to take Ohlendorf's spot in May until Karstens turned into Greg Maddux-lite. I think his ceiling is now a back-end starter, but we should know more in a month. I'm guessing Ohlendorf gets non-tendered. I can't see paying him $2-2.5 million. He'll get 3-5 starts to suggest otherwise.
5.) Does Derrek Lee do anything to make the Pirates consider signing him in the offseason?
Garrett Jones' streaky performance continues to be a big variable. Jones would make a solid fourth outfielder particularly with the Pirates' lack of power. He'll be on the team next year, even as a Super Two-eligible player, but in what role remains unclear. The failure of the Lyle Overbay Era probably means most fans would be against signing Lee, but I'm open to it.
6.) Does Chris Snyder make it back & how does Ryan Doumit do down the stretch?
It is not out of the question the Pirates look to bring one of these two back on a cheaper deal. I'm guessing they would prefer Snyder. Can he get back for 5-10 games and show that he is healthy?
UPDATE: This note from Rob Biertempfel says Snyder has an "outside chance" of playing again this season.
7.) Does Bryan Morris get the call? Does Evan Meek get a few innings?
Justin Wilson is not coming up. Rudy Owens is not coming up. Jeff Locke is not coming up. I'm the only guy in the world who thinks Matt Hague may not come up. (I'd rather see Derrek Lee play 20 games. Hague isn't going to start at first next year.) Bryan Morris is the only guy who interests me. I think he will get the call.
The Pirates could have an extraordinarily strong bullpen next year. With all the appropriate caveats the following are all in the mix:
RHPs: Joel Hanrahan, Meek, Jose Veras, Chris Resop, Jason Grilli, Chris Leroux, Morris, Daniel McCutchen, Lincoln, Jared Hughes
LHPs: Tony Watson, Daniel Moskos, Justin Wilson
8.) Does Pedro Alvarez come back up and play?
This topic has been tarred and feathered, so I'll just add that I'm actually more interested in seeing how management handles this than what the actual results are because they won't mean much. My guess is they call him up and he doesn't make more than five starts.