After the David Freese and Adeiny Hechavarria trades, the Pittsburgh Pirates now have a clear set of objectives for the last month of the 2018 season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ trades consummated yesterday do not constitute a white flag on the 2018 season.
No, the team’s 10-16 record in August more or less filled that role.
But what the trades do mean is that the club now has a clear to-do list for the rest of the season. These tasks are not on an earth-shattering scale; Rather, they are smart, thoughtful moves that any team in the Pirates’ station in Major League Baseball should do.
Get him up here
I could go up and down the list of prospects who should see time in the major leagues in September. But I’ll save everyone some time and concentrate on the one prospect above all others that must see time with the big league club in 2018.
Kevin Kramer has put together a hell of a season — a couple of seasons, actually. WTM said it best in his most recent Canonballs Coming feature, but it bears repeating: Are the Pittsburgh Pirates actually watching what he is doing?
Kramer has simply adjusted well to advancing through the team’s minor league system. He showed it when moving to Double-A Altoona previously, and is showing it again at Triple-A Indianapolis. His dubious power tool has developed game power, with 15 home runs and 34 doubles on the season. He can handle himself at 2B and his overall production makes his still yet-free swinging ways (26.2 percent strikeout rate this season) easier to live with.
So, yeah, he needs to be on the big league club now. Yesterday. As soon as possible. Getting an honest look at him sooner rather than later would go a long way towards the Pittsburgh Pirates figuring out their middle infield logjam.
Note: During the process of writing this post, The Pittsburgh Pirates have started to call up players. Kramer is not among them.
Burdi, Reyes, Stallings, Neverauskas and Osuna called up.— Bill Brink (@BrinkPG) September 1, 2018
Neal Huntington has repeatedly pointed to the value of allowing players to complete full seasons at whatever minor league level they are currently at. While that can and should be debated, it stands as likely the primary reason why Kramer has not been called up with this initial group.
Of course, just being up is not enough. Clint Hurdle would have to actually play him. Which brings us to...
Getting Clint Comfortable
Clint Hurdle gets a lot of grief for preferring veterans and their #veteranosity rather than young talent.
Neal Huntington has not exactly pulled a Billy Beane on Hurdle, but he has made it very clear the direction this franchise is headed. By taking away Hurdle’s favorite toys, he may very well have done the veteran manager a huge favor.
Presuming Kramer comes up in September, Hurdle has a full month to get acclimated to the very idea of relying on younger players, if only because he may not have much of a choice.
It’s not as if Hurdle has been completely loyal to veterans in all instances. He knew enough to ride the hot hand in Austin Meadows when he first came up, just like he did with Gregory Polanco in 2014. He took to the idea of Josh Bell breaking into the majors as a first baseman despite Bell’s shaky-at-best defensive capabilities.
Hurdle’s zeroing-in on veterans seems to be focused on certain players in certain roles. If we narrow our commentary down to the middle infield, we perhaps see the most veteran-heavy thinking from Hurdle up the middle.
If Hurdle can see past Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison’s waning days in Pittsburgh; If Kramer comes up and Hurdle can see his way into giving both he and Kevin Newman a substantial amount of playing time, he can use this dead time in September to build up his comfort level with both playing a substantial role in 2019. Call it a breaking in period if you will.
Elias Diaz’s hamstring injury may throw a wrench here, but it would behoove the Pittsburgh Pirates to get Francisco Cervelli as many reps at first base as possible in September.
The debate has raged on which options the Pirates should or should not pick up for next year. When Cervelli’s name comes up in these debates, many point to his health as a deciding factor that tips the scale towards parting ways.
Yet there is a solution that can prolong Cervelli’s career and keep his bat in the lineup: Fully commit to Cervelli at first part time rather than the cameos we have seen to date. Even giving Cervelli consecutive starts at first base (something that has not happened as of yet) would be a start. With eyes towards 2019, a fully acclimated Cervelli at first base would seemingly solve more problems than would be created otherwise.
Though Cervelli clearly has warts of his own at first base, giving him opportunities there could also alleviate the team of the defensive deficiencies still rampant in Bell’s fielding. As of this writing, Bell qualifies dead least among all qualified first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved with a -10 rating.
Spot Starts anyone? (TRIGGER WARNING)
The Pittsburgh Pirates might also — gasp — explore the idea of resting their starting pitchers over the season’s last stretch.
Jameson Taillon has already pitched the most innings of his career. Though he is pitching just about as well as any starter in the National League right now, why would the club risk anything with a top of the rotation arm? Joe Musgrove has shown serious long-term starting pitcher potential at times, but may be showing signs of breaking down lately. He is only at 97 innings pitched on the year, but has already eclipsed his previous season-high number of innings pitched as a starter (78). Trevor Williams is pitching out of his mind right now, so he may not be a candidate for rest, much like Chris Archer who the Pirates might want to see as much as possible down the stretch to identify needed work.
There is a case to be made for Ivan Nova to see some pine also, to protect whatever value he may be retaining as a trade-able asset.
The best argument for getting these starters some “rest” would be to allow for Nick Kingham to get more meaningful work down the stretch. Kingham is on his last option year. The organization will need every single data point it can mine from Kingham to help prepare them to make a tough decision next Spring.
With the team’s postseason hopes realistically stamped out, the entire Pittsburgh Pirates organization — top to bottom — must now focus on 2019.
It would make sense for Neal Huntington and company to get a fresh start by laying the ground work in September.