Position battles

Over at WHYGAVS, Pat posted today about position competitions. Specifically, he was referring to the battles between Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan in center and Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit behind the plate. Basically, he wonders why there are any competitions at all, as the differences between the players are ďa lot more philosophical than anything.Ē Springboarding from Patís post, I want to take a closer look at the two position battles and try to determine what is going through the heads of Piratesí management.
Like many other fans, I have struggled to get a good read on the new leaders of this team. I truly believe that Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly are intelligent men, and that they are much more capable of successfully analyzing baseball situations than their predecessors. I am convinced that Huntington knows that Doumitís greatest offensive value is behind the plate. I am sure that he understands that the game-calling ability of catchers is greatly overvalued by many people in the game, and that it should not be the most significant factor in his decision. He has to know the danger in judging a 27-year-old centerfielder, who is making his first appearance in Major League Baseball, by 107 decent at-bats late in a lost season. I know he can see the potential value in a Nate McLouth even though he is a mediocre fielder and shows little flash for a leadoff hitter.
So, as Pat asked, why the competitions? One obvious reason is to keep players from growing comfortable. There is nothing wrong with some spring competition on a team that is expected to lose 90+ games this season. In the catching situation, Doumit is clearly an injury risk. It was the reason he was originally moved from behind the plate, and he would likely need a platoon situation in order to last a whole season. I expect that is what we will see in 2008. If it takes me 90 seconds to see that Paulinoís OPS against lefties in 2007 was 1.055 and Doumitís against right-handers was .865, you can be sure that Huntington knows those statistics as well. I think the Pirates were set on a platoon long ago. I found it strange that, as soon as pitchers and catchers reported to Bradenton, we heard numerous reports that Doumit was in great shape and Paulino was struggling to catch simple pop flies. I am sure that Piratesí management was quick to point out those details to local media.
As for centerfield, Morganís highlight catches were a large reason that any interest remained in the team last September. Imagine what the casual Pirate fan would think if McLouth was immediately named the starter after the season. It is unlikely that he or she would be interested in hearing that McLouth has outperformed Morgan at a younger age at every level of the minor leagues. So Huntington states that the starting job is wide open, hoping to keep fan interest. That being said, I think he may consider starting Morgan. There is a market for a speedy, slap-hitting centerfielder that can be a regular on Web Gems. If Huntington decides that Morgan is likely a career minor leaguer, McLouth is a career fourth-outfielder and Andrew McCutchen is the centerfielder of the future, does it matter who gets the playing time in 2008? It might be an interesting idea to start the player who may be overvalued by other general managers. That player is Nyjer Morgan. Huntington may look to flip him to a contender for something of value. I doubt Morgan would bring much in a trade, but he will not be very beneficial staying on the Piratesí roster for the long run. If he gets hot for a period, the Pirates could get lucky and steal a marginal prospect from someone.

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