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Battling Bucs : Free Agency Fun

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
With little going on in the baseball world right now I figured I'd speculate on some free agents who I think make sense for the Pirates both from a need and value perspective. What this means is I'll be ignoring the top names like Ellsbury, Choo, etc. For now I have decided to focus solely on position players as getting into the pitching market presents its own set of challenges chief among them whether Burnett opts to retire or return.
Yes the Pirates seem relatively set at catcher with Martin set as the starter, Sanchez looking like a good understudy and McKenry being relatively cheap AAA depth. However the point of free agency contrary to a lot of beliefs is just to make your team better. If that means upgrading what is already a solid spot than so be it. Truth be told though I can't really think of any upgrade that would seem to make sense. Ruiz, Saltalamacchia and McCann could all be considered upgrades but all will likely have large price tags attached. Dioner Navarro is an intriguing name but I think it is probably best if the Pirates pass on this market altogether unless they really feel the need to swap out McKenry with a different 3rd catcher.
1st Base
Mike Napoli is the top name in this class and could make a lot of sense but with hip problems and an estimated price tag around 3/39 the Pirates would probably be best served to look elsewhere. Problem is there isn't much else out there. In fact there are only three other names which I think are worthy of mentioning: James Loney, Corey Hart and Justin Morneau. Hart is my pick of the group as he would give the Pirates a powerful right handed bat to stick in the heart of their order but the problem is he seems to really want to return to Milwaukee and is even willing to take a discount to stay. Of the other two Loney would seem to be the better choice but honestly I don't see much difference between the two. Loney is probably the safer choice but I think Morneau has a very good chance of out producing Loney next year and I'm thinking he'll only get a one year deal whereas Loney will likely command a 2 or 3 year deal.
2nd Base
Walker isn't going anywhere this year but we must admit the Pirates have nothing behind their current starting infielders and in Walker and Alvarez's case they could definitely benefit by having a caddy to handle left handed pitching on at least a semi-regular basis.
3rd Base
Alvarez is in the same boat as Walker. He obviously isn't going anywhere and will remain the starter but the Pirates could certainly stand to upgrade his current backup (Harrison).
Nick Punto and Willie Bloomquist look like possible fits for a backup 2B/3B role who can also hit left handed pitching. Both players have hit lefties decently in their careers and both are versatile enough to serve as good utility players. Not exciting pickups but could fit in. Two less obvious but still possible fits are Kelly Johnson and Eric Chavez. Both players bat left handed so they aren't platoon partners per se but both did a reasonable job against left handed pitching last year and would be able to serve as solid depth. Chavez can play both infield corners and Johnson can play 2B, 3B and both outfield corners. In the Brandon Inge mold the Pirates could see if veterans Kevin Youkillis or Jamey Carroll have anything left in the tank after disappointing 2013s.
The Pirates could look for a starter or depth here. On the depth side Bloomquist and Punto could come into play as both are capable of playing shortstop though especially in Bloomquist's case they aren't particularly good at it. On the starting end of the spectrum there are only two real choices, Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta. Drew has a comp pick attached to him and quite frankly he is too much of an injury risk to commit both a draft pick and a lot of dollars to. Peralta on the other hand could be an interesting addition. His defense isn't the greatest at SS but he is certainly solid there and his bat would more than certainly play. Ideally if the Pirates were to sign Peralta I would like them to use him in a utility role having him spell Walker and Alvarez, play some SS while also getting some starts in RF. Ultimately if everything works out meaning Polanco arrives and Mercer shows himself ready for full tiem duty Peralta could be shifted to 1B. However I don't see any of the players mentioned as the most likely candidates. The far more likely scenario is the Pirates will go with Mercer as the regular shortstop and bring in a glove guy to be his backup. The two best glove on the market are the familiar Clint Barmes and the awfully similar Brendan Ryan. Both players bring top shelf defense with little offense.
This is where the Pirates could make a big splash but with Polanco nearly ready I would bet against a move for one of the top names available. So remove Ellsbury, Granderson, Choo, Beltran and Cruz from the equation and lets see what is left. Obviously the first name that comes to most fans mind is Marlon Byrd. Byrd would be an interesting guy to bring back but at 36 years old and just 6 months removed from his baseball career looking all but over he certainly represents a big risk should he receive more than a 1 year deal. Behind him there are three players who I think would make an interesting platoon partner for Tabata. David Murphy, Jason Kubel and the familar Nate McLouth are all players who would be decent bets to hold up the large end of a RF platoon. Kubel is the most risky of the bunch seeing as his 2013 was awful but that is really his only sign of decline. Of three Murphy is my favorite. He is coming off a poor 2013 campaign but his perephials seem to show it was laregly bad luck. Murphy is a guy who doesn't do anything great but also isn't horrible at anything. On a 1 year deal worth 5-6 million he and Tabata could provide good production in RF.
Thinking a little more outside the box Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez are good sluggers the Pirates could play in RF but both are bad enough defensively that any offensive gains they might give you would probably be minimalized. Chris Young and Rajai Davis are other intriguing names but they are players who have a history of mashing left handed pitchign while strugglign against right handed pitching so I don't really see them as great fits unless the Pirates decide to go with Tabata as the regular RF and one of them as a 4th OF. You could also put ANdres Torres and Jeff Baker into that same mix with Baker being able to serve as something of a utility player.
I could go on with other potential fits but I think that serves the general point I'm trying to convey which is that the Pirates can opt to go a lot of different directions to imrpve the team. I'm still really not quite certain how I want the Pirates to proceed but by doing exercises like this it is starting to become more clear. As a small market team the Pirates are never going to be at a point where it makes snese to invests big dollars and many years in the top options so that makes figuring out how to best use free agency all that much more difficult. I'm sure Neal Huntington has a plan and with a lot of ways to go about improving the team it is probably not a bad one but that also means it won't be so clear that it is the best plan either. Regardless of what happens over the next few months this offseason is going to have a much different feel to it and I'm going to be a bit happier when I start questioning the moves the Pirates make.

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