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The Domino Effect of Adding Lonnie Chisenhall

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

By all accounts, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a shrewd move in bringing in OF Lonnie Chisenhall on a short-term deal. But the signing will create a domino effect that will be interesting to watch unfold.

Here’s what we know: The Pittsburgh Pirates addressed their need for a fill in RF while Gregory Polanco works his way back from a significant shoulder injury. This move will also presumably move Adam Frazier to second base full time to start the 2019 season.

And that’s it.

The unknowns may be small in stature, but they are many:

  • If Frazier is the second baseman to open the season, does that mean Kevin Kramer starts the year at Indianapolis? Smart money says yes, and this may be for the best. Kramer looked a bit overmatched in a small big league sample size in 2018.
  • With Erik Gonzalez in tow, seemingly having caught Neal Huntington’s eye, the market for a shortstop upgrade becomes perilous. Gonzalez is out of options; Would that preclude Huntington from going after a Marwin Gonzalez type of free agent, simply because he would not have a spot for him? This would boil down to how high the front office is on E. Gonzalez.
  • What about the 40-man roster? Who will be jettisoned to make room for “Lonnie Baseball”? While we wait for an official announcement on the signing, which should carry the corresponding 40-man decision, we can speculate!

At first glance, the two options that I have listed there appear to be obvious choices, yet some have correctly pointed out that Clay Holmes and Alex McRae represent starting pitching depth options, which are a little thin after Nick Kingham and Steven Brault. At least until Mitch Keller or JT Brubaker might be ready to debut, anyway. That leaves us with a plethora of prospects and fringe MLB types to choose from — Dario Agrazal? Jesus Liranzo? Dovydas Neverauskas or Jose Osuna? — and a dark horse candidate in Michael Feliz. All have legitimate claims to remaining on the 40.

UPDATE: Literally 3 minutes after I published this post, the Pirates announced the move and Alex McRae will be designated for assignment to make room for Chisenhall.

  • Much like Kramer, the Chisenhall signing means one less avenue for Pablo Reyes to find his way to the 2019 Opening Day 25-man. Though he made a fantastic impression in his first 63 MLB plate appearances, Reyes could be in line for a “last one out” scenario. If the Pittsburgh Pirates carry three catchers as they have hinted they might and, again, Huntington is as high on Gonzalez as many believe, potentially casting him as the team’s starting shortstop, this leaves the first four on the bench consisting of Elias Diaz, Jung Ho Kang/Colin Moran, and Jacob Stallings The fifth and final spot on the bench could then come down to a decision between Reyes and Kevin Newman. Reyes has played a minimal amount of shortstop throughout his minor league career, though many feel he is best utilized elsewhere. Could he be ultimately squeezed out? More than likely, the Pirates will back off their three catcher mandate, rendering this a moot issue.
  • Because of all of the above, are the Pittsburgh Pirates more or less done? Sure, a trade where the club gives up some pieces could help solve this dilemma. But as it stands now, the most logical moves for the team to make over the balance of the winter would be for a left-handed reliever and perhaps one last swing at the free agent shortstop market.

The team did well in acquiring Chisenhall. Despite a vocal minority, there is little not to like about the signing. But his presence will require some tricky roster maneuvering from Neal Huntington. Navigating those waters successfully could be the difference between a middling record and serious contention.