I got to thinking last night (as Tony Armas was getting his head bashed in): Who on the Pirates’ current roster is going to make this team next year? We talk all the time about how we should be finding playing time for the up-and-comers … but are there any up-and-comers that deserve a shot?
Position by position, let’s find out who should ride the pine in favor of a younger replacement:
- Ronny Paulino: Opening Day starter in 2008, no doubt in my mind.
- Josh Phelps: Makes the roster as a versatile backup, and at this point, he’s earned that. He might not deserve many starts, but his spot on the 25-man is cemented.
- Carlos Maldonado: Gone as soon as Ryan Doumit’s healthy.
- SUMMARY: Two in, one out—but no one coming from the farm. Only Doumit, currently disabled, could be viewed as a backstop, and we’ve been over this topic enough—is he really a catcher?
- Adam LaRoche: Red-hot redhead, he’ll be sticking around as the starter next season.
- SUMMARY: One for one. Brad Eldred will likely move on to greener, American League pastures this winter, and Steve Pearce will assume the role of power-providing first baseman. Pearce probably should get a look in September, but will he? (If Doumit’s healthy enough to come back and Maldonado gets DFAed, then there’ll be a 40-man spot open for Pearce.)
- Freddy Sanchez: Barring a big trade, he’s the perennial starter for the Pirates through 2009.
- Jose Castillo: The forgotten bastard son. We should’ve looked at him earlier in the year, but now? If Jim Tracy manages this team next season, I sincerely doubt that Jose will be on it.
- Matt Kata: King of versatility and big pinch-hits, I think he, like Phelps, is winning a spot on next year’s roster. In no way, shape or form am I condoning his use as a part-time starter, but he’s proving to be a somewhat useful backup.
- SUMMARY: Unless the Pirates are planning on using Brian Bixler as a utility guy next season, and unless Yurendell de Caster is seen as more than an organizational soldier (a la Jose Hernandez), I think Kata’s got a job. And there’s no Indianapolis infielder that deserves his roster spot right now more than he does.
- Jack Wilson: Traded? You’d have to think so, at this point. That leaves…
- Cesar Izturis: Your starting shortstop? I’m not ready to hand the job to Bixler just yet, though it’ll be his to lose, I’m sure. Izturis provides solid infield depth, but he’ll have to take a pay cut to stick around—or really, to stick anywhere. Like Kata, he might view Pittsburgh as a place to jumpstart his career.
- SUMMARY: Bixler has been anointed shortstop of the future, but I think he needs either a great fall ball performance or an overwhelming spring training to be handed the job outright. I wouldn’t be giving him a look until Indy’s season is over, and even then, not if Wilson’s still on this team.
- Jose Bautista: Better suited as a utility guy, but at a position of weakness organization-wide, Jose could be pushed back into a starting role.
- Neil Walker: Not quite ready for the show, as evidenced by his slumping second half at Altoona and slow start for Indianapolis. He’ll be here eventually, but not for Opening Day 2008 barring a miracle.
- SUMMARY: Again, Kata’s looking like he has a job—assuming the Pirates have soured on Castillo. Yurendell de Caster might warrant another look, but he’s not a legitimate solution.
- Jason Bay: Starter.
- Xavier Nady: Starter.
- Nate McLouth: Starter? Given Duffy’s new shoulder problem, and with Nyjer Morgan only having a couple of months at Triple-A, Nate is our most experienced outfielder, and he’s been playing well.
- SUMMARY: If Nady could play a serviceable center, there’d be room for Ryan Doumit’s bat in the outfield. (Or Steve Pearce’s.) Right now, though, there’s a numbers crunch, and unless Andrew McCutchen can ride a hot streak from now through March, I’d be hesitant to throw him into the fire next April.
It comes down to this: There are three players who could earn spots next year—Pearce, Bixler, McCutchen. Past Pearce, there’s no one who stands out from the crowd screaming for a promotion right now.
We, time and again, lament the fact that our roster is filled with other teams’ castoffs, but we really don’t have any viable replacements. Matt Kata isn’t a tremendous major leaguer, but who deserves his spot more than he does? (Don’t get me started on Michael Ryan again.)
I think Pearce will get his shot come September as Carlos Maldonado is whisked away, back to quad-A status. And I imagine we’ll see another pitcher or two, too, as we try to find a bullpen mix for 2008. Tony Armas probably shouldn’t get another start, so Shane Youman might get a few by default—even though really, he shouldn’t be viewed as more than our seventh or eighth starting pitcher next season.
I wish we had players to get excited about, but right now we’re stuck with the Phelpses and Katas until we haul in big free-agent signings, pull a blockbuster trade or perform in a few June drafts.