For the purposes of this series, I’m assuming that the Pirates feel comfortable with their options at second base, third base and center field. We will focus on catcher, first base, the corner outfield spots, the rotation and the bullpen. Shortstop is a middle ground; Clint Hurdle said Clint Barmes will start there next season but we can’t assume the Pirates won’t look after the way Barmes hit in the first half of last season.
We'll start with catchers.
The incumbents: The Pirates have Michael McKenry, a 2011 trade acquisition, under contract. McKenry hit .233/.320/.442 in 275 plate appearances across 88 games this season. He improved his on-base percentage and walk rate, though his strikeout rate increased. His 13.8 percent home run to fly ball rate helped him provide value to the lineup.
They also have Tony Sanchez, their first-round draft pick from 2009. The franchise will add him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in December, but he will need more time in the minor leagues before he is ready. He hit .233/.316/.408 in 236 plate appearances with Class AAA Indianapolis this season, including eight home runs.
The Pirates also have a $3.5 million club option on Rod Barajas, with no buyout. Barajas hit .206/.283/.343 with 11 home runs and was atrocious at throwing out base-runners.
The options (ages are opening day 2013):
Russell Martin, Yankees, 30
Stats: .211/.311/.403, 21 home runs, 485 plate appearances in 133 games
2012 salary: $7.5 million, avoided arbitration
Etc.: Martin hit .242 after the All-Star break after a .179 first half. His on-base percentage and slugging percentage also increased after a slow start. The Yankees may want to re-sign him, and after making the ALCS, Martin may want to continue to play for a contender, marginalizing the Pirates’ chances. His price tag may also be too high.
A.J. Pierzynski, 36, White Sox
Stats: .278/.326/.501, 27 home runs, 520 plate appearances in 135 games
2012 salary: $6 million, final year of two-year, $8 million contract
Etc.: Pierzynski set a career high in home runs this season at age 35. His average and on-base percentage stayed close to the marks he set over his previous five seasons while his slugging percentage jumped, but so did his strikeout rate. His breakout year will cause his price to increase, and the Pirates may be leery of going high enough to get him because of his age. He may also want to play for a contender in the final year or two of his career.
Gerald Laird, 33, Tigers
Stats: .282/.337/.374, two home runs, 191 plate appearances in 63 games
2012 salary: $1 million
Etc.: Laird has not had more than 299 plate appearances in a season since 2009. He does not represent a significant option for a No. 1 catcher.
Mike Napoli, 31, Rangers
Stats: .227/.343/.469, 24 home runs, 417 plate appearances in 108 games
2012 salary: $9.4 million, avoided arbitration
Etc.: Napoli regressed from his 2011 season, when he hit .320 with 30 home runs for the Rangers. He struck out more and got on base less. Still, someone will pay him because of his power and the scarcity of good catchers, so it is unlikely the Pirates can land him.
Miguel Olivo, 34, Mariners
Stats: .222/.239/.381, 12 home runs, 323 plate appearances in 87 games
2012 salary: $3.5 million, final year of two-year, $7 million contract. Mariners declined his $3 million club option for 2013.
Etc.: Olivo was useful once he began to play regularly again, starting with the Marlins in 2006, but his on-base percentage puts him in Barajas territory. He has a .275 career mark and a .248 on-base percentage over the past two seasons. He threw 31 percent of base-runners this season, but that might not outweigh his bat.
David Ross, 35, Braves
Stats: .256/.321/.449, nine home runs, 196 plate appearances in 62 games
2012 salary: $1.625 million, second year of two-year, $3.25 million contract
Etc.: Ross has not played regularly since 2007, when he had a .670 OPS with the Reds in a career-high 348 plate appearances. He has shown the ability to get on base in recent seasons. He could serve as a solid backup catcher but is likely not a No. 1 candidate.
Kelly Shoppach, 32, Mets
Stats: .233/.309/.425, eight home runs, 245 plate appearances in 76 games
2012 salary: $1.35 million
Etc.: Shoppach was useful for the Red Sox before they traded him to the Mets. Workload is also a concern for Shoppach, as it is for several of the available catchers. Given the options, the Pirates may opt to split time somewhat evenly between McKenry and another catcher rather than designate a No. 1 catcher.
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