Pittsburgh Pirates: Firming the Roster

The Pirates brain trust gather tonight for their annual spring organizational meeting and sure to be part of the topic will be Pirates lead off batter Chris Duffy, who went 0-3 again Monday pushing his batting average down to .063 over his last six games and .163 for the spring.

Last year Duffy opened the year 19-98 before he was reassigned to AAA but failed to report. This year Pirate fans are wondering how much of a leash, if any, Jim Tracy should allow Duffy with Luis Matos in camp hitting .273/.360/.455 in 44 spring at bats. Yet, Matos is hitting just .100 in his last 10 at bats after being delegated to the bench showing his need for repetitive at bats, as well as the probability he would not make a good player off the bench.

Nate McLouth is also still in camp but is not known to be a good defensive center fielder. Plus, he’s hitting just .182 in his last 11 at bats. Michael Ryan, who is having a very good spring offensively, has limited playing time in center field making it unlikely Dave Littlefield would consider starting him there.

Xavier Nady also has limited playing time in center field but would seem to be the better alternative between him, McLouth, and Ryan, especially when facing left hand pitchers. That could leave Matos available to play center facing right hand pitchers and Chris Duffy reassigned to AAA.

That also might open the door for the Pirates to get Brad Eldred’s big stick in the lineup by playing right field.

On the pitching front, right-hander Jonah Bayliss has certainly opened some eyes this spring causing speculation he will get the nod to break camp in the bullpen. Pushing him is Marty McLeary who has shown renewed command along with showing off a very tight slider. However, both player’s lack of experience might yield an opportunity for Dan Kolb, although he has not pitched well lately.

Many believe Kolb and Bayliss will be taken but the fans seem to want Bayliss and Josh Sharpless, who continues to show signs of significant command problems.

The left-hand side of the bullpen looks pretty well set with John Grabow and Damaso Marte. Grabow looks to be responding to rehab and should be available to open the year. Juan Perez will probably end up in AAA.

Not responding to rehab is Freddy Sanchez’s knee as he took off to Birmingham to see Doc Andrews who announced the Pirates initial diagnosis of a sprained ligament was correct. Sanchez will begin the year on the disabled list and could very well stay there a good part of April.

That opens the door to Jose Bautista to play third base and Jose Castillo to play second base. Another consideration could be to pickup Todd Walker to play 2B who is being released by the Padres because playing at PNC could slow Walker’s offensive erosion. He still has excellent plate discipline plus he would certainly be an upgrade over Bautista at 3B when Sanchez returns. But does he have any fire left in the tank?

Don Kelly has been taking fly ball drills in the outfield so Jim Tracy might be considering him as a left-hand utility man off the bench. If Kelly is taken, that would mean Jose Hernandez will not make the team and it probably signals a return to AAA for Nate McLouth.

It could also signal the Pirates desire to open the year with a 12-man pitching staff.

The Pirates also continue to scour the release wire and are expected to add at least one experienced reliever shortly, probably by trade. There has been some talk about Ryan Doumit and Humberto Cota being scouted by other teams for a backup catcher role, Jose Castillo has been sought out some (one source said the Cubs were interested), and even Nate McLouth has been scouted.

A few of the Pirates relievers have been sought out but some scouts have said Dave Littlefield won’t even talk about dealing pitching right now, as thin as the Pirates relief corps is. Shawn Chacon could be the only exception, but it is thought Littlefield will wait a month or two before deciding whether to let Chacon go.

Almost every player on the Pirates roster has an option or two remaining so unless David Littlefield was to receive a reasonable player in return, few doubt he will deal anybody unless he can acquire a solid right-hand setup man or a left handed right fielder to compliment a Nady platoon.

Expect to see a handful of cuts tomorrow which will pretty much shape the team. One option the Pirates seem to have, mentioned by Bob Walk today, is to leave Tony Armas off the roster until the day before his first start. That will allow the Pirates to keep one additional player they might have had to cut while the other teams firm their 40-man rosters, and opening a wider door for that player to make it through waivers once dropped off for Armas.

The Pirates season partially hinges on the decisions the front office makes starting tomorrow. Will we break camp with a new center fielder who has never played at PNC? A new utility man in Kelly who hasn’t played at PNC either? A new right fielder in Eldred who has yet to play the position in a regular season game? McLouth, Doumit, and Duffy all reassigned to AAA?

Will it be Sharpless or Bayliss? Kolb or Perez? Cota or Doumit? Hernandez or Kelly?

Or will the Pirates play it safe, as we expect, and allow Chris Duffy his first 75 at bats, have Nady play right field, pack Eldred off to AAA, use Kolb and Bayliss, and break camp with Jose Hernandez attached by the umbilical cord?

We’ll see.


  1. nrvrad1st@aol.com

    Plenty of food for thought there, sunny.
    The White Sox need a backup catcher and Macko is said to be available. How would a Doumit trade go down for both sides? Macko solves a lot of problems and lets Kelly develop at Indy.

    Walker would be a good pickup, IMO and he also would allow Kelly to go to AAA.

    I don’t understand the deal about leaving Armas off the roster. Is he optioned to Indy and recalled? Whatever the deal, it’s too smart of a deal for DL to ever make.

    The NRIs have shown enough to make the F.O. squirm to adjust both the 25 man and 40 man rosters.


  2. Pirate

    “The White Sox need a backup catcher and Macko..”
    I don’t think we’ll see Rob back in Pittsburgh Bob. Just a guess. The Rockies and Rangers are looking for a backup receiver too, and the Rays might be.

    “Is he optioned to Indy and recalled?”

    Yes. He signed a minor league contract so that is possible.

    I don’t think there is much of a battle from the NRI’s myself, Bob. I think it will be the same old conservative approach they have always taken with a possible exception of them taking Kolb.

    Just a guess. Dejan might have more later since the meeting has been going on for quite some time now.

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