There will be no collapse this year.
This Pirates team is very good. They are brimming with confidence. It is palpable. I sincerely believe they might be the best team in baseball right now. Seriously. As fans who’ve had to endure 20 years of yuck, and two straight seasons of hopes crashing and burning, we tend to wait for the other shoe to drop. We see the flaws in the team that could sink us again. Namely RF. Some wish 1B had better production, but the platoon has worked out as well as can be expected. Gaby Sanchez has been mashing LHP to the tune of an OPS of 1.064. Garrett Jones is not as productive this season as last, but he still has an OPS versus RHP of .780 (and .750 overall). Certainly room for improvement, but serviceable.
RF has been a thorn, though. Travis Snider has been dreadful while Jose Tabata can’t stay healthy. My feeling is when Tabata comes back you stick him in RF as the primary starter and see what you have. He has been hitting RHP very well this year, and two years ago tore up LHP. He is still only 24 years old and the Bucs are committed contractually to him. Alex Presley probably makes a better 4th outfielder than Snider does since he can play the spacious LF at PNC Park better than Snider, plus he hits and runs better than Snider. I’m not sure if they can get any value for Snider, but he might be worth shipping off. Assuming they can’t ship Snider, I would suggest they DFA Brandon Inge, even if he does seem well liked on the team. He just isn’t a very good hitter anymore and is old. Snider is still a kid. But, that is speaking as a fan, and not logically. The fact is that the Buc will ll send Tony Sanchez back down to AAA where he can get full time at bats.
I would not trade a bunch of prospects for Giancarlo Stanton, though. He would/could make a difference this year, but I would see if Tabata can stay healthy and produce consistently first. Doubtful both those things occur since they’ve not yet, but even then I would consider a less expensive OF option in a trade than what it would take to get Stanton. Even though I doubt Stanton is available. People said the same thing about Andrew McCutchen being available years ago with the Bucs. Teams don’t trade top talent that is inexpensive to the payroll.
I would never have dreamed that the Bucs would be in a situation where they would be able to consider dumping James McDonald from the team because the pitching staff is so deep that there is no place for him. But, that is exactly where we are at. The Pirates need to make a decision on him in the coming days and it makes little sense to have him on the team. Unless you give him a mop-up role in the bullpen. The problem is, the Pirates are involved in so many close games that they don’t really have space for a mop-up role. It is all hands on deck in the pen. You hate to see them give up on a guy who look like a Cy Young contender through the first half of last season, but how do you justify keeping him this season. They certainly can’t DFA him because someone will pick him up.
Good problem to have. My guess is they put him in the pen somewhere and hopes he works things out. The Pirates didn’t get where they are now by being rash. They hold onto all chess pieces as long as possible and that won’t change here.
Jeanmar Gomez also returns soon and will need to head to the bullpen since he doesn’t have any options left. Charlie Morton has pitched very well and has no options, and although I suggested previously he would be a bullpen candidate, he is more likely a starter. Jeff Locke has been the best pitcher on the team. Let that sink in. Jeff Locke. Best. Pitcher. On. The. Team. Can that continue? To some degree, I think so. Now, I doubt he would be the guy we would roll out there in Game 1 of a 7 game series, but you can’t argue with his results.
So if Locke and Morton are starters, and we know Francisco Liriano is going to remain a starter. And, we know when they return AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez will be in the rotation, what are we to do with Gerritt Cole. He is good enough to be a starter on this team. But, he is the only starter with options left. The reason the Bucs are where they are is their depth in the rotation, but the only way to keep that depth is to have arms stretched out in AAA. It would appear that Cole would the only option to do that.
And some argue that sending Cole down would ensure he didn’t attain Super Two status. That makes the most sense.
But, somehow, I don’t think the Bucs do send him down. I don’t think he’ll attain Super Two status, which is difficult to predict. Cole has simply pitched too well and is too good to send down.. My guess is initial thought on Morton remaining in the rotation two paragraphs ago was wrong. Morton goes to the bullpen. If they find a need to stretch Gomez and Morton back out to insert into the rotation, they can do that. Plus, they have Brandon Cumpton, Andrew Oliver, and Stolmy Pimentel in Indianapolis who can serve if needed and are already stretched out.
So, who would the Pirates move from the pen to accommodate McDonald, Gomez, and Morton? Ryan Ried, Duke Welker, and some forearm injury to another landing them on the DL, of course. Problem solved.
So there you have it. Once everyone available to rotation is healthy, your rotation will be:
- AJ Burnett
- Francisco Liriano
- Jeff Locke
- Gerritt Cole
- Wandy Rodriguez
That is a championship caliber rotation. I would even suggest to make sure Cole’s and Locke’s seasonal pitch counts don’t get too high, to give Gomez and Morton spot starts to keep them somewhat stretched out. I think come playoff time, it will be essential to have Cole available. But, I don’t want any risk of his seasonal pitch count increasing too greatly risking his effectiveness in future seasons.
I had the pleasure of going to Norfolk to watch Stolmy Pimentel start against the Norfolk Tides last Monday. I made eye contact and exchanged nods with Tony Sanchez. He had just finished signing autographs and looked at me to see if he had one more request and look very relieved when it was obvious that autographs are not my thing. It was pretty cool to have an entire conversation in about one second. He knew I was wishing him luck and he was thanking me for not asking for an autograph.
Later in the game, Tony Sanchez blasted a home run. I have that on video and might upload it later.