By Wilbur Miller
With the Pirates’ remaining September games holding their usual lack of interest, the minor league season over, and the Pedro Alvarez situation likely to drag on for at least several more months, what is there to do except take an updated look at the Pirates’ 40-man roster and possible off-season moves? Or transition to the Steelers . . . .
Step one is looking at the players who may be candidates to come off the roster. It currently stands at 41 if you count Phil Dumatrait, who’ll have to come off the 60-day disabled list after the season is over. Different players are in different situations, so I’ve tried to group them according to their status. I haven’t included guys who are likely to be traded, notably Jack Wilson and John Grabow.
The Pirates probably hope to re-sign Mientkiewicz, although the Post-Gazette has reported that they’ve made no move to do so. Mientkiewicz’ desire to start may get in the way in any event. It’s generally assumed they’d like to bring Jason Michaels back, although it’s hard to imagine why unless you seriously believe that he’s going to continue his spree of dramatic hits . . . which, by the way, stopped a couple months ago. If you actually look at the back of his bubble gum card, he hasn’t hit well since 2005. It’s hard to imagine they’d want to bring back Gomez, who doesn’t contribute anything other than a decent number of singles, or Rivas, who can’t hit and whom the Pirates’ own statistical analyst has determined is the fourth worst defensive secondbaseman of the last half century.
It’s hard to see any sense in paying an arbitration salary to any of these three. Chavez is almost certain to be removed from the roster, especially with Ronny Paulino and Robinzon Diaz available. He’s the sort of catcher teams keep in AAA on a minor league contract. In fact, the Pirates could try to re-sign him to another minor league deal, or they could try to find a similar, good-field, no-hit catcher. Yates and Davis just aren’t good pitchers. Yates, however, was a Neal Huntington trade acquisition so he’ll probably be retained, unfortunately. Davis may not be. In fact, he’s another guy they might try to re-sign to a minor league deal.
Players Who Just Aren’t Very Good
John Van Benschoten
Where to start . . . . Belisario didn’t pitch well in AA. He’s never had good command or a useful secondary pitch and should have been healthy this year after having a chance to get himself back into shape last year. Davidson has had 2+ seasons in AA and has pitched fairly well but never dominated. He seems to be treading water. Salas and Chavez pitched well in AAA but not in brief opportunities in the majors. As a Huntington trade acquisition, Salas may have a better chance of staying. Van Benschoten’s story is certainly well known. The Pirates may very well try to sneak Van Benschoten and/or Davidson through waivers and assign them to the minors. They could also try that with Belisario, Salas and Chavez, but those three might become free agents if they were removed from the roster. I’m not sure one way or the other. It’s unlikely they’d give up on Herrera yet. They could try to take Beam off the roster and sign him to a minor league deal, but he probably has just enough value to justify trying to retain him and he’ll be cheaper than Davis and Yates. Of this group, Belisario, Davidson and Van Benschoten are probably the most likely to come off the roster and Herrera and Beam the least likely. The bottom line, though, is that any time the Pirates find themselves with a need for a roster spot, there are plenty of options.
This is very roughly in descending order of likelihood to be added.
Neil Walker – For certain.
Jamie Romak – The Pirates don’t like the strikeouts, but he should be a lock.
Jeff Sues – Very likely a lock due to a strong year after finally getting healthy as well as the fact that he can hit 97 mph.
Evan Meek -- (This is an addition because I initially missed Meek somehow.) Meek made a lot of progress, especially with his control, after a deal with Tampa allowed the Pirates to send him to the minors. They'll almost certainly lose him if they don't protect him because a player who's selected a second time in the Rule 5 draft doesn't have to be kept in the majors the following year.
Juan Mateo – Formerly a top Cubs’ prospect, he has a good arm and seemingly overcame shoulder problems with a tremendous second half in AA. He should be a much better candidate to be on the roster than guys like Belisario and Davidson, and if he's not added, he’ll be lost as a free agent even before the Rule 5 draft.
Eric Krebs – Has very good stuff and had a strong year. His numbers were hurt by one bad month following him getting hit on the head with a line drive. He’s another pitcher who probably has a better chance of succeeding than numerous relievers now on the roster.
Ronald Uviedo – A tough one because I’m not sure how highly the Pirates regard him and he’s pitched only briefly above low A. They may risk him getting selected.
Kyle Bloom – Another tough one, because he seemed to turn things around with a very good final three months in AA, and is a LHP with pretty good stuff. The Pirates may be best off hoping nobody drafts him.
Steve Lerud – Likely to be a backup at best, so the Pirates will probably risk him getting through the Rule 5 draft.
Jason Delaney – Slow corner player who’ll be 26 shortly and lacks power . . . won’t happen.
Brad Clapp – He started putting it together in low A, but is frequently hurt. Not a risk to be selected.
Brad Corley – Slugged under .400 this year, won’t take a walk and will be 25 at the end of the year. Non-prospect.
James Boone – Can’t stay healthy and hit .219 this year. He’s not a threat to be drafted.
Jonel Pacheco – Probably topped out with decent year in AA this year, and will soon be 26.
Out of this group, I’d draw the line either before or after Uviedo. The Pirates could easily clear enough roster space without losing anybody they’d miss, and still have room to add a few players over the winter. A lot will depend on the degree to which Huntington is going to cling to relievers like Davis, Salas and Yates. If they lose 2-4 free agents and remove Davis and Chavez, that opens 4-6 spots. They could try to send Van Benschoten, Belisario and Davidson through waivers to make it 7-9. With Dumatrait and everybody down through Uviedo, they need eight spots. They'd still have dubious players like Yates, Chavez and Salas on the roster, so there'd be plenty of flexibility left should they want to add major leaguers through free agency or otherwise.