Opening Day is less than a week away, and we’re finally starting to see what the last couple spots on the 25-man roster will look like when the Bucs head to Pittsburgh this weekend. It isn’t pretty. Here’s a breakdown of the situation:
The most important position that needed to be filled during spring training was the back of the rotation. Originally, it appeared that four spots were solidified and Jeff Locke would battle Kyle McPherson for the fifth. Oh, and Francisco Liriano would hopefully be healthy soon enough to step in to that fifth spot a couple of weeks into the season. Not a terrible situation, really.
Well, that hasn’t gone according to plan. Jeff Karstens is injured once again (now his strange non-tender and subsequent return on a smaller contract is starting to make a lot more sense) and will start the season on the DL, so now there are two open spots. Locke has pitched well enough to take one of them, but McPherson (8.46 ERA) certainly hasn’t. Enter Jonathan Sanchez, the guy the Pirates signed to a minor league deal earlier this spring coming off an unbelievably bad 2012. It was reasonable at the time to think the Bucs were just taking a flier on Sanchez, seeing if he could harness his control somewhat and turn back into the solid starter he was for the Giants a couple years ago. Instead, he’s been up and down this spring…but more down (5.50 ERA) than up. Sanchez couldn’t throw a strike (his biggest issue historically) for a stretch early in the spring, but rebounded with two good starts just as McPherson was getting bombed and as Karstens went down. Jeanmar Gomez is the only other real fringe rotation candidate and he’s been bad all spring. Gerrit Cole could probably hold his own in the majors at this point, but he’s headed to AAA to get some experience there and probably preserve an additional year of control (which would require holding him there until sometime in June). As a result, Sanchez was awarded a spot in the rotation on Tuesday.
So, the Pirates will be headed north with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Locke, and Sanchez in the rotation. Burnett and Rodriguez should be solid but it’s hard to expect ace-type contributions from either. McDonald COULD be dominant, but he also could be horrendous. He’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle, as he has so far during the spring. Locke will throw strikes but has been hit fairly hard in his limited big league experience, and Sanchez can strike lots of people out but might be the wildest pitcher in the major leagues. Oh, and the Pirates have a brutal April schedule. This is…worrisome.
The bench is not nearly as significant of an issue, but it’s also gotten some folks riled up over the last couple days. The Bucs will carry Brandon Inge north (although he may start out on the DL) and the trade for John McDonald means he’ll obviously be with the club as well. Now they have TWO veterans that can’t hit at all coming off the end of the bench. Their defense is good, they’ll probably provide good clubhouse/veteran leadership, and the other options aren’t much better, but it’s still fairly depressing to see both these guys earn spots. Jordy Mercer is likely the primary victim here. He’s had an excellent spring and his minor league track record certainly shows that he deserves a shot–plus, he’s probably the first internal option for shortstop next year after Clint Barmes leaves town. The Bucs completely ignored Mercer while he was on the big-league bench last year and I guess there’s some merit to letting him play every day in AAA rather than getting two at-bats a week in Pittsburgh. Still, it’s very tough to argue that Inge makes the Pirates better than Mercer would unless you place ENORMOUS value on Inge’s “veteranosity” (which Clint Hurdle surely does). Josh Harrison will also be pushed off the roster, but I don’t mind that so much (you could easily argue Inge is better, even offensively, which says all you need to know about Harrison).
Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Jared Hughes are all locked in, which is fine…but that still leaves three more spots. Justin Wilson will probably take one of them. I like that move, since Wilson gives the Bucs a second lefty (with more strikeout ability than Watson) and big upside…but he’s also dangerously wild and has only thrown 4.2 major league innings. Chris Leroux will probably take another spot, which again is fine with me–he’s the typical “long reliever” that will come to eat up low leverage innings if the starter gets in trouble, and he’s done a decent job there in the past. The last spot? It could go to Jeanmar Gomez, who has shown virtually nothing this spring (mostly as a starter). The only other remaining arms in camp are:
Ryan Reid — non-roster invitee who has had a solid spring but has never pitched in the majors
Mike Zagurski –lefty who started out well this spring but has been getting shelled lately
Vin Mazzaro — spring ERA is 8.44
McPherson — losing the 5th starter battle, will probably start in AAA
Jose Contreras — presumably still not healthy as he hasn’t seen Grapefruit action
Not pretty. Again, this is the last guy out of the bullpen we’re talking about, but with the rotation likely to struggle, the Bucs will need all they can get from the ‘pen
Hopefully when Liriano and Charlie Morton are healthy (or when Cole arrives, but that could take longer) the rotation will strengthen and that will carry over to the bullpen a bit. That said, the Bucs are going to have their work cut out for them winning with this roster in April.
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