By Wilbur Miller
As major league teams move into the late-season playoff drive and the Pirates sink further and further into their accustomed irrelevance, thereís little for Pirate fans to do beyond debating trades and looking toward next year. With that in mind, one matter thatíll get some attention in the off-season is the 40-man roster. The Pirates donít have much high-end talent, as usual, but they have more depth than in past years. Thereíll be fewer placeholders occupying roster spots, so thereíll be some actual competition for spots taking place over the last couple months of the Piratesí season and the last month of the minor league season.
Candidates to Come Off the Roster
Eric Hacker, RHP -- He hasnít pitched especially well in AAA and is already 26. Thereís nothing in his history to suggest that he has a lot of upside and heís had labrum surgery, from which pitchers rarely recover well. Because the Pirates gave up a player (Romulo Sanchez) to get him, theyíll probably stick with him for a while but heíd be a possibility to be designated for assignment to make room for a free agent, or trade or waiver acquisition, later in the off-season.
Craig Hansen, RHP -- With the Bay trade looking worse and worse almost daily, Neal Huntington will be reluctant to give up on Hansen, but itís getting near time to pull the plug. The team got another scatter-armed project for Joe Kerrigan to work on when it picked up Joel Hanrahan and Hansen canít seem to get healthy anyway. At this stage, if they DFAíd Hansen thereís probably a very good chance heíd pass through waivers.
Ian Snell, RHP -- One way or another, heíll be gone.
Jeff Sues, RHP -- Sues has had a very disappointing year and has lost some velocity. Whether he stays on the roster may depend on what exactly the team believes has been the source of his problems.
Tyler Yates, RHP -- Heíll definitely come off the roster. The Pirates will try to sign him to a minor-league deal.
Steve Lerud, C -- He hasnít had a good year. With Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz playing well during Ryan Doumitís absence and first-round pick Tony Sanchez likely to move up quickly, thereís little reason to retain Lerud on the roster.
Brian Bixler, SS -- Heís played his way out of prospect status. With the major league middle infield about to vanish, the Pirates may keep him on for a while, but the acquisition of Argenis Diaz may make even that unnecessary. They may want to keep either him or Luis Cruz as AAA depth. Cruz is the better defensive player, so itís most likely to be Bixler who comes off the roster.
Luis Cruz, SS -- See above. Cruz canít hit at all, so itíd be nice to see the Pirates search for slightly better depth to replace both him and Bixler.
Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson -- Barring a miracle, theyíre gone.
Neil Walker, 3B -- Thereís little reason to regard him as a prospect any more, but his status as a former first-rounder will protect him.
Jeff Salazar, OF -- Heís a virtual lock to come off the roster after the season.
Players Who Could Be Gone if Not Added to the Roster
Kris Watts, C -- Heís hit very well for Lynchburg this year, but heís not good defensively and the Pirates have given no indication they consider him a prospect. Since heís 25 and playing in class A, they have some reason to be skeptical.
Jamie Romak, 1B/OF -- No longer a prospect after a disastrous season.
Miles Durham, 1B/OF -- Durham has hit very well since his promotion to AA, but heís 26 years old. Heís basically Adam Boeve: a solid power hitter whoís been old for the levels heís played at, very old in fact. Heís not likely to be added to the roster or to be selected in the draft.
Shelby Ford, 2B -- He presents a tough choice, as the Pirates probably considered him their secondbaseman of the near-term future, but heís put up pitcher-like hitting numbers in AAA this year. If the Pirates think the problems stem from his early-season wrist injury, they might add him to the roster, but itís hard to see a team wanting to draft him.
Jim Negrych, 2B -- He hasnít had the awful season Ford has had, but he hasnít had a good season, either. Negrych needs his bat to carry him and a .744 OPS (as of July 22) doesnít do that. Another hard choice.
Gorkys Hernandez, OF -- Heís eligible for the draft because he played in the Dominican Summer League in 2005 before playing four years in the US. Heís a lock to be added to the roster.
Kyle Bloom, LHP -- His Rule 5 experience set him back some, as he got off to a bad start once he rejoined the Altoona rotation. He has a 2.72 ERA over his last ten starts, but his BB and K numbers are poor. Bloom is 26 now and probably not worth adding to the roster. Heíll be a minor league free agent if the Pirates donít add him. As a LHP with some recent success in AA, heíll be a fairly attractive addition on a minor league contract and so will probably have a lot of alternatives to re-signing with the Pirates.
Jared Hughes, RHP -- Hughes was off to a surprisingly good start in AA when he got hurt. He even had an almost passable K rate. His injury was supposedly minor, but heís been gone for two months. It seems unlikely heíd be drafted, considering that his track record is poor beyond seven starts this year.
Mike Crotta, RHP -- With a .301 opponentsí BA and a K rate below 6.00, heís not a roster candidate.
Tyler Herron, RHP -- A former highly rated prospect, heís continued to struggle since the Pirates signed him to a minor league deal. It was worth a try, but his velocity hasnít picked back up yet. Heís not likely to be selected in the draft. Herron wonít be eligible for minor league free agency for another year, so the Pirates should get another shot to try to get him straightened out.
Brad Lincoln, RHP -- Heís a lock to be added.
Bryan Morris, RHP -- He was 19 when he signed and that was four seasons ago, so he should be eligible for the draft. If Iím right about that, heís a lock to be added to the roster despite his struggles this year.
Chris Bootcheck, Mike Koplove, RHPs -- Itís possible the Pirates could consider adding either as a September callup, to keep them from departing as free agents in the fall. Theyíve both put up impressive numbers in AAA. Koplove, unlike Bootcheck, had extended success in the majors before a weak 2005 season landed him in the minors. For some reason, heís never gotten a meaningful chance since then. Still, I doubt either will be added.
Juan Mateo, RHP -- He seemed like a good candidate coming into the season and has pitched well in AAA, but he hasnít dominated the way he did in AA last year. He didnít get added to the roster then and so probably wonít now, so heíll move on as a free agent.
Sean Smith, RHP -- Heís pitched well this year as heís made the transition to the bullpen, and he throws hard, but the fact that heís spent most of the year in AA probably shows he wonít be added to the roster.
Scott Nestor, RHP -- Another of the Piratesí hard-throwing reclamation projects, he was on the 40-man rosters of both the Marlins and Phillies previously. His 6-plus ERA at Altoona wonít excite anybody, but most of the runs came in a couple bad outings and his control has improved to the point where itís only bad. He still throws plenty hard and fans a lot of hitters. If they think heís made enough progress, the Pirates may add him to the roster the way they did Ronald Belisario, whoís doing well now . . . for the Dodgers.
Harvey Garcia, RHP -- Heís yet another power-armed, former Marlinsí prospect. Like Nestor, he showed enough to get on their 40-man. He was released after he had rotator cuff surgery. He doesnít have much pro experience and has had trouble with his control and secondary pitches. Heís dominated in very limited action so far for Lynchburg. Like Nestor, the Pirates could add him to the roster if they see enough potential.
Mike Felix, LHP -- Just kidding.
Mike Dubee, RHP -- Dubee dominated at Lynchburg, but has gotten hit much harder in AA. Heís a soft-throwing changeup artist, which will leave scouts suspicious whether he can do well at higher levels. Heíll present another tough decision, but my guess is he wonít be added to the roster.
Dustin Molleken -- Heís been around a long time without pitching much due to injury problems. Heís 25 now and seems to be healthy. He throws hard but still needs work on his command and secondary pitches. He hasnít pitched quite well enough this year to justify being added to the roster, but heíll be lost to minor league free agency if heís not.