by John Toperzer
The Penguins PR machine started rolling with an Olli Maatta for the Calder Trophy campaign after his last game against Toronto. Maatta has played far above his 19 years of age, showing maturity beyond his years, but the season is still just 35 games young. Let’s give the Calder talk some time to percolate.
Based on his solid play and necessity, Maatta has seen his ice time sky rocket. For the year, he’s averaging just over 17 minutes of ice (17:01 TOI). In the last 15 games, he’s exceeded that number 14 times. The one time he was under — 14:57 TOI against Toronto on Nov. 27 — he came back to record his highest ice time (24:17) the next time the two teams played.
Maatta even has four points (1G, 3A) in his last eight games. His gap spacing on opposing star forwards like Phil Kessel has been tremendous and he continues to win puck battles in his own end.
But he is just a rookie. Can he maintain his stamina all throughout the season? Eighty-two games is a long time, and that’s after an intensive training camp in which he had to prove himself and before a playoff run that the team hopes to be extensive. So far he’s answered every question.
The last hurdle for Maatta to clear is the 39-game point. If the Finn sticks on Pittsburgh’s roster past the 39th game of the season then he accrues his first year to unrestricted free agency. That doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem.
A good first baseman is hard to find. Never has that proven to be more evident than in the Pirates’ current offseason. We’re down to slim pickings in the free agency market, with guys like Lance Berkman or Mark Reynolds. We live in a world where picked over first basemen like Justin Smoak and Ike Davis suddenly become candidates in a cupboard barren of quality players. Everything currently on the market or rumored to be on the market has warts. There’s no way to get around that fact.
As baseball writer extraordinaire, John Perrotto, tweeted above, the New York Mets are apparently looking for a big pitching arm in exchange for Davis. If the Mets just want a big arm, perhaps the Bucs should send ’em John Van Benschoten — he’s got a big arm, it might not work, but it’s definitely a big arm.
Kidding aside, Mr. Perrotto tweeted that New York may be targeting right-handed pitcher, Nick Kingham. If that’s the cost of doing business, the Pirates might do well to pass on Davis. Kingham split 2013 between High-A and Double-A, compiling a 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 143.1 innings. The 6-foot-5 righty also posted an impressive 144:44 K:BB ratio. Knowing how much GM Neal Huntington values starting pitching, it would be highly surprising to see the Bucs trade Kingham for Davis.
Adam Lambo is reportedly playing first base in winter ball. At this point, given the options, the Bucs might try a combo of Lambo and Gaby Sanchez to begin 2014. Long range, however, something better with more upside and promise is necessary.
Whether that means getting creative and trading for a player who plays at another position and gets move to first — see OF Domonic Brown — or the team trades a prospect pitcher for a first-base prospect, something needs to happen.
One of the first base prospects I’ve noted in the minor leagues is Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar is blocked in Cleveland’s system. Click here to see Aguilar’s numbers.
I tweeted former scout, Bernie Pleskoff, who knows the Cleveland Indians’ farm system about Aguilar. This is what he had to say about Aguilar.
Trading prospects for prospects might be the best way to acquire a long-term first baseman.