This is an update of an earlier article on the roster crunch facing the Pirates this fall. The deadline for setting 40-man rosters isn’t until about November 20, but I’m going to be off the grid for an extended period and I wanted to post an update while I still could.
Counting players on the 60-day disabled list (Brandon Cumpton, Deolis Guerra, Casey Sadler, Corey Hart, Jung-Ho Kang and Andrew Lambo), the Pirates effectively have 46 players on the 40-man roster. Of course, that’ll change quickly due to the large number of free agents the team has. In a way that’s just as well, considering that the Pirates don’t just need to protect a number of minor leaguers. They’re also going to need to fill quite a few holes at the major league level. I’m not going to address the questions about retaining Neil Walker and/or Pedro Alvarez, beyond just saying that I don’t see either player going anywhere unless the team is able to make a trade that brings a meaningful return. Leaving those two players aside, though, the Pirates are going to need two or possibly even three relievers; at least one starter and ideally two, considering the need to upgrade Jeff Locke’s spot; a utility infielder who can play shortstop; and possibly a fourth outfielder. These moves may come later in the off-season, so the Pirates could wait to remove some players from the roster until new acquisitions make it necessary.
The following are players whose roster spots will or might open up:
Antonio Bastardo, LHP
Joe Blanton, RHP
A.J. Burnett, RHP
J.A. Happ, LHP
Joakim Soria, RHP
Corey Hart, 1B/OF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Sean Rodriguez, UT
Non-Tender or DFA Candidates
Brandon Cumpton, RHP: Cumpton's shoulder surgery sounding drastic and will keep him out for over a year. He was more of a depth guy anyway, so it seems very unlikely that the Pirates would keep him on the roster.
Deolis Guerra, RHP: The Pirates already dfa'd Guerra once, but had to rescind the move when it turned out that Guerra was hurt. You have to think they'll dfa him again after the season. He has no options left, so he'd have to make the major league roster out of spring training.
Bobby LaFromboise, LHP: Until this year, LaFromboise's status as a potential major leaguer was based entirely on a big 2012 season. Otherwise, he'd never done much, but he pitched well in AAA this year and also in September with the Pirates, except for one bad pitch to Jason Heyward. He has no more options left. I could see the Pirates hanging onto him until they need a spot for a free agent.
Casey Sadler, RHP: At last report, Sadler was undergoing platelet rich plasma injections for a forearm strain. How that went, or whether the next step would be surgery, I don't know. If he's going to miss a lot of time, he'd be in the same boat as Cumpton. As an aside, despite losing Cumpton, Sadler (possibly), Nick Kingham and Angel Sanchez (and trading Adrian Sampson), the Pirates will still have considerable starting depth in AAA. They'll probably have Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl in the rotation plus whatever reclamation project(s) they've got. Pitcherpocalypse can certainly happen, but the days of one or two injuries leaving the team with Yoslan Herrera hopefully are over.
Rob Scahill, RHP: I don't really get what the Pirates see in Scahill. In a seven-year career, the only time he's had fewer hits allowed than innings pitched was his first year, in short-season ball. He didn't pitch well for the Pirates this year, either; despite a good ERA, he had a WHIP of 1.60 and xFIP of 4.15. The only thing he has going for him is the fact that he has one option left. I can't see any reason to keep him on the roster, but the Pirates obviously like him a lot more than I do. Or maybe not; he seldom pitched in September.
Vance Worley, RHP: I don't think the Pirates see Worley as much more than a depth guy and he's eligible for arbitration. They'll almost certainly non-tender him.
Tony Sanchez, C: It's hard to see how this can go on much longer. Sanchez had a poor season both offensively and, at least on the throwing end, defensively (his receiving is still well regarded). Elias Diaz has passed him on the depth chart and Jacob Stallings (assuming he's still around -- see below) could provide much stronger depth defensively. With Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart looking solidly entrenched, there isn't even likely to be room for Sanchez in AAA next year and he'll be out of options. He'd probably clear waivers, but the Pirates won't be able to outright him to AAA as he'll be eligible for minor league free agency.
Travis Ishikawa, 1B/OF: Ishikawa isn't eligible for free agency, but he is eligible for arbitration. It'd make no sense for the Pirates to go that route with him.
Pedro Florimon, SS: With Jung-Ho Kang expected to miss the start of the season, it's possible the Pirates will retain Florimon. It may depend on whether they sign a utility infielder who can play short.
Keon Broxton, OF: It's conceivable that the Pirates added Broxton to the roster solely as a pinch runner, without intending to keep him long-term, but I doubt it. He should be in the running for the 4th outfielder job next spring.
Jaff Decker, OF: Decker's another guy whose attraction to the Pirates I don't get. If you adjust for the hitters paradises he played in when he was with San Diego, he's never been more than a mediocre hitter in AA or AAA. He posted an uninspiring .733 OPS at Indianapolis this year, just 19 points higher than Willy Garcia, who's two and a half years younger, has only a fraction of Decker's experience in AAA, and is struggling through significant contact issues. Broxton had a .775 OPS at Indy despite having much less AAA experience than Decker, although he's only three months younger. Broxton also is much faster and better defensively. Decker has no options left, either.
Andrew Lambo, 1B/OF: Lambo missed his big chance this year due to plantar fasciitis. He still has two options left, but at last report he wasn't making any progress with the foot problem. The Pirates' course with him may depend on the medical reports they're getting.
Travis Snider, OF: I can't help thinking Snider should be better than he showed with Baltimore this year, but maybe that's not realistic. He's arbitration-eligible and I can't see the Pirates going that route. Unfortunately, he's not going to bring the return he did a year ago.
Candidates for Addition to the Roster
Jacob Stallings, C: Stallings is easily superior to Tony Sanchez defensively. His modest offensive improvement this year was probably driven by a .340 BABIP that he's not likely to sustain. His BB rate is less than half what it was before this year and his K rate has increased, so there are a lot of reasons to think that his offensive ceiling is very limited. The defense, though, might be enough for the Pirates to prefer him as a depth option in AAA.
Jin-De Jhang, C: I'm not absolutely sure Jhang is eligible for Rule 5, but he may be. He was 18 when he signed in June 2011, but didn't play until 2012. He's had a solid offensive season this year, but he's also had defensive problems and scouts don't like his build. I doubt he'll be added or selected, but he is a catcher who can hit.
Josh Bell, 1B.
Jose Osuna, 1B/OF: Osuna adapted quickly to AA and he won't turn 23 until after the season. The numbers aren't imposing, though, and he's limited defensively to first, although the Pirates have given him some time in the outfield. He already went unselected in the draft and his profile as a prospect hasn't changed. It's unlikely the Pirates would add him to the roster.
Stetson Allie, 1B/OF: Allie took a step backward this year, and that's after going unselected lat year. He won't be added to the roster.
Max Moroff, IF: Moroff is eligible because, although he was drafted out of high school, he was 19 when he signed. He had a breakout season in AA and should be a no-brainer, especially with the possibility of the Pirates dealing Neil Walker.
Dan Gamache, UT: After hitting very well in limited (due to injury) action in AA last year, Gamache did the same this year. His .335 average was partly BABIP-driven (.374), but he showed solid power with a low K rate. He didn't hit much after a promotion to AAA for 30 games. Gamache went unselected last year, but teams have a lot more to go on, including his surprise victory in the Eastern League HR contest. I kinda doubt the Pirates will add him to the roster, but he's a left-handed hitter who appears to have a solid bat and can play second or third, but not short.
Eric Wood, 3B: Wood has struggled at Altoona. He's still young, but it's unlikely he'd be added to the roster.
Gift Ngoepe, IF: Ngoepe has already been passed over twice in the Rule 5 draft. This time he'll be a minor league free agent if the Pirates don't add him to the roster. His hitting has improved slightly, possibly because he stopped switch-hitting, but he still struggles severely with offspeed stuff. Unfortunately, his late-season stint in AAA was largely wiped out by an oblique injury. He's the sort of player who makes sense to have in AAA, given his defensive skills, but I'd sure hate to see him go elsewhere.
Barrett Barnes, OF: Barnes has spent little time on the field, but the Pirates have to make a call just the same. He had a solid but not outstanding season, with a .782 OPS in Bradenton (58 games) and .703 in Altoona (37). He turned 24 at the end of July, which is a negative. He does have power, although it hasn't appeared in games enough yet, and he can play center well enough at least to be a fourth outfielder. I'm guessing the Pirates will protect him just to ensure they get a chance to see whether he can develop if he gets a couple years without missing a lot of time.
Harold Ramirez, OF: Ramirez is another guy who's missed a lot of time, although not as much as Barnes. His power hasn't developed yet, but he can play center (and probably would if Austin Meadows wasn't on the same team) and, once he got on the field, he was the best hitter in an extreme pitchers league at age 20.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP.
Angel Sanchez, RHP: Sanchez turned things around in Altoona this year and was even better in AAA. He even has two options left. Unfortunately, his season ended with Tommy John surgery. He won't be eligible for minor league free agency, so I'm guessing the Pirates won't add him to the roster, at least until a year from now.
Zack Dodson, LHP: He's left-handed and scouts still regard his stuff as good, but I doubt he'll be added to the roster. He'll be a minor league free agent.
Jhondaniel Medina, RHP: He's always had very low ERAs, but this year Medina walked almost as many as he struck out. And guys who've been relievers even in the low minors are always highly suspect.
John Kuchno, RHP: Kuchno is a groundball machine, which the Pirates surely like, but he was just OK in relief this year, with nearly as many walks as Ks. I doubt he'll be added or selected.
Clay Holmes, RHP: This should be an easy call, although I suppose the Pirates could gamble that nobody will select him given the missed time and lack of a substantial track record. He pitched well after returning, but the Pirates shut him down after just 23 innings. They claimed it was just a precaution, but they also claimed Cole Tucker wasn't hurt.
Luis Heredia, RHP: Heredia doesn't even look like a prospect any more and he was only a little young for his level this year. Add in his conditioning issues and it's hard to see why another team would want to take the trouble. The Pirates have a big investment in Heredia, but the idea that he could be a major leaguer after three option years looks pretty far-fetched.
As I see it, there are five no-brainers: Bell, Moroff, Harold Ramirez, Glasnow and Holmes. After that, the only really strong candidate is probably Barnes, which would make six. The trades of Adrian Sampson and Yhonathan Barrios, and the injury to Angel Sanchez, relieved some of the crunch. Eight free agents will leave and I think Cumpton, Guerra, Worley, Ishikawa and Snider are highly likely to be removed from the roster. That would leave seven openings.