At this time every year, I try to write something about the roster issues the Pirates will be facing over the next few months. It doesn’t seem like a very worthwhile task this year, though, because so little of what the team has done recently — well, really for three years now — has made any sense. It’s frustrating to think about what the team should do while knowing that there’s little chance of them doing anything useful. But I’d figured I’d just pretend that Neal Huntington isn’t making it his priority to compete for 78 wins rather than trying to get back into contention, or that Clint Hurdle doesn’t think he’s running a halfway house for washed-up veterans transitioning back to the world.
I’ll do this in two parts. The first will focus on players currently on the 40-man roster and the second on players who aren’t.
The Pirates currently have 43 players on the 40-man roster. Nick Burdi, Chad Kuhl and Nik Turley are all on the 60-day disabled list.
Free Agents Without Options
Sean Rodriguez, UT — This has to be the end, right? Right?!
Jordy Mercer, SS — Mercer’s been roughly an average hitter for a shortstop this year, but no longer has much range on defense. The Pirates don’t seem in a hurry to get him back from the disabled list, in contrast to their desperation to keep Josh Harrison in the lineup as much as possible. There’s little chance the Pirates will try to bring Mercer back.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS — I continue to believe the Pirates will try to bring Hechavarria back if he’s willing to sign cheaply. He’s a perfect Neal Huntington-type player: a comfortable, low-upside player with a very narrow potential performance range. Perfect for a team aiming at 78 wins. And make no mistake: If Hechavarria returns, it won’t be to ease Kevin Newman into the shortstop role. Hechavarria will be the starter.
Free Agents With Options
Josh Harrison, 2B — Harrison actually has two team options: 2019 at $10.5M with a $1M buyout, and 2020 at $11.5M with a $0.5M buyout. I can’t imagine his 2019 option would fit into the Pirates’ budget, but who knows? They may try to get him back at a much lower salary. Given that he’s hit poorly in three of the last four seasons and has declined to below average defensively, Harrison will be lucky to get a major league contract as a free agent. He certainly won’t get anything remotely like $10M.
David Freese, 1B/3B — Freese’s 2019 team option is $6M with a $500K buyout. With deeply disappointing players at both infield corners, there’s a good chance the Pirates will exercise the option. The decision may, however, turn at least partly on what they do with . . . .
Jung-Ho Kang, 3B/SS — The Pirates can retain Kang for 2019 at a cost of $5.5M, with a $250K buyout. Kang would be high-risk. Even if he returns in September from wrist surgery, as the team is hoping, they’re not likely to learn much. He does, however, have a good chance of hitting 30+ home runs if he bounces back to where he was in 2016. The Pirates desperately need offense from the infield corners and have no realistic chance of getting a significant upgrade via any other alternative. (No, they’re not going after Manny Machado.) And this is the team that committed to paying Sean Rodriguez $5.75M this year, despite the fact that he has a career OPS+ of 87 and was coming off a major shoulder injury. Why would they consider Kang to risky at $5.5M? Well, in the bizarro world of the Pirates’ front office, high-risk, low-upside players seem preferable to high-risk, high-upside players.
These are guys the Pirates might consider removing from the 40-man roster. None of them is likely to go anywhere unless and until roster space is needed.
Tanner Anderson — Anderson’s upside is AAA depth/white flag pitcher. He’s easily replaceable.
Buddy Boshers — Boshers has a middling record as a LOOGY, but Clint Hurdle doesn’t use LOOGYs. He made sense, if at all, as a guy who could face one lefty batter at a time and could be called up when rosters expand to help in the playoff chase. The Pirates are out of it, though, so Boshers really doesn’t have a role to play.
Nick Burdi — Burdi’s Tommy John recovery got interrupted by an oblique injury, so he’s thrown only ten innings. He has to spend 90 days in the majors, which can carry over to next season. His minor league rehab (which is 60 days for Tommy John recovery) runs out on September 14, but then he’d have to stay in the majors for the first two and a half months of 2019. Given the Pirates’ obsession with bullpen management, they might consider that too much trouble. They wouldn’t need to make a decision, though, until they saw where he was at next spring.
Jesus Liranzo — Liranzo dominated in AA and opponents are batting only .177 against him in AAA, but he’s walking two batters every three innings. He’s probably worth hanging onto for now.
Alex McRae — See Anderson, Tanner.
Dovydas Neverauskas — Neverauskas’ numbers in AAA are remarkably similar to Liranzo’s. His 15 outings with the Pirates, though, were horrific. As with Liranzo, there probably shouldn’t be any rush to get him off the roster, but he could certainly be spared if something more promising came along.
Nik Turley — After serving his PED suspension, Turley went on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow strain. The odds are probably high that he’ll come off the roster, either once he’s healthy enough to be removed from the DL or when the DL goes away during the off-season.