Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 7/10/12

Check out Part 1 of the series right here.  The players covered were Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton, Josh Willingham, and Chase Headley.

The second in a multi-part series laying out what pieces are available to the Pittsburgh Pirates, how well they’ll mesh with the team, and what the Pirates may have to move in return…      (Opening image credit, SD Examiner)

Part 2:  Available hitters continued, and their suitability grade with the current team roster

Encarnacion; Image credit sportsnet.ca

B+  1B Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

2012 Season:  .295, 23 HR, .947 OPS

In terms of pure production, it doesn’t get much better than Encarnacion, or the previously-mentioned Josh Willingham.  But unlike Willingham, who just signed a new 3-year deal, Encarnacion is a free agent at season’s end, increasing the chances that the Blue Jays will move him in the relentlessly competitive AL East.  Despite a solid 43-43 record to date, the team is already 9.5 games back of the soaring Yankees.

Despite his huge year, Encarnacion hasn’t had another .800+ OPS since 2008.  He’s a clear upgrade over the Pirates’ current 1B options, even if his production wanes in the late summer.

SS Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros

2012 Season:  .254, 14 HR, .803 OPS

The former Red Sox’ MINF would be a clear upgrade over $11,000,000-man Clint Barmes, but almost anyone would at this point, including current in-house options Drew Sutton, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison.  Lowrie cooled after a hot start, but still sports an impressive OPS for a shortstop.  The question is how much have years of being bounced between the Majors and minors with Boston affected him, as he’s already nearly his season high for AB.  Lowrie’s OPS+ range from a high of 139 in 2010 to a low of 83 last year (excluding a 22 OPS+ in 32 games in ’09), so it’s a little unclear what Lowrie would provide down the stretch, other than being a definite upgrade over Barmes.

Plus, the Astros are clearly rebuilding, so it may be unlikely they’ll part with a SS who doesn’t reach free agency until 2015.

Thankfully, PNC Park’s LF wall is lower; Image credit bleachernation

B-  OF Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs2012 Season:  .265, 15 HR, .792 OPS

Bad news:  Soriano is currently signed to one of the worst contracts in baseball, which lasts through 2014, and is 36 years old.  Good news:  Soriano hasn’t hit less than 20 HR in a season since 2001, has broken 40 once, and 30 four other times.  Even in the twilight of his career, the 2B-turned-LF has posted OPS+ of 114, 105, and 113 over the past three seasons.  He’s still an above average, consistent producer, and the Cubs want rid of him so badly that they’re apparently willing to eat large portions of the $17MM he’s owed each of the next two seasons.

With the Pirates’ recent success in acquiring A.J. Burnett from the Yankees in a similar salary dump, it’s not out of the question for them to inquire about Soriano’s services to the current tenant of the NL Central basement tenant.

C+  1B Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins

From 2006-2009, Morneau was one of the best run producers in all of baseball.  Then, the injuries hit.  Only playing 81 games in 2009, and 69 last year, the firstbasemen has also missed time with a wrist injury this season as well.  It’s clearly taken a toll on his production, which freefell to a .618 OPS last year, but rebounded to a decent .752 mark this season.  Unfortunately, that’s lower that 1B Garrett Jones’s current .797 mark.

In short, Morneau is damaged goods.  Could the Pirates take a chance on him considering his past history, and the ability to move Jones to RF full-time, or is he too big of a question mark for which to deal decent prospects?  The Twins’ asking price (Morneau has 1 year remaining on a 6-year, $80MM deal) could determine whether he’s still manning 1B at Target Field this fall.

Other possible options…

C+  OF Tyler Colvin, Colorado Rockies

SS Hanley Ramirez, Miami Marlins

C-  OF Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies

Thanks for reading.  Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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