Pirate Notes: The Lambo Leap, McCutchen’s Protection, Didi’s Defense

P1530782Travis Ishikawa reflects on his future

Seeing Ty Wigginton’s name on the waiver wire Tuesday morning got me thinking: What if the Pirates think Wigginton is better than the team’s current options at first base?

The Bucs optioned Andrew Lambo to Triple-A on Tuesday and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old didn’t win the right to be on the 25-man roster, at least not out of camp. In past seasons, a Jeff Clement wouldn’t deserve to head north with Pittsburgh and yet there he would be, trying to learn a new position during the regular season at PNC Park.

Tuesday’s message shows that the Pirates are not willing to stand pat with a first baseman that doesn’t produce.

There’s a decent chance the club trades for Boston’s Mike Carp or plucks a Wigginton off the waiver wire.
For as good of a spring Travis Ishikawa has had, his track record suggests that it’s unlikely he fills the role of “Gaby Sanchez Platoon Partner” for more than a month or so.

While the Bucs are basically admitting they made a mistake by sending down a player they backed less than two weeks ago (click here, that willingness not to factor a decision based on public perception is invaluable going forward.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talked about the merits of Lambo earlier in March.

“As an organization, we need to look at Andrew’s power,” Hurdle said. “You can go spend $10 million, $15 million on a free agent with power, but you’re obviously better served to find your own internally.”

There will be plenty of first-base wannabees on the dashboard horizon. The names of players whose best years have already passed them by will crop up daily.

It’s not difficult to envision a revolving door at first base in 2014. It’s quite possible the guy who ends up there was just optioned to Triple-A. Once Lambo relaxes and finds his game, look for the Pirates to call him back up.

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Andrew McCutchen having such a tremendous spring might actually work against him. Since the season ended, the Pirates let major-league sticks like Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau walk. That loss of veteran depth in the lineup will allow opponents to once again pitch around the NL’s reigning MVP. Byrd and Morneau saw varying degrees of offensive success, but they both made pitchers think, putting pressure on opposing managers.

The Bucs’ replacements for since-departed free agents currently are Travis Snider and Ishikawa. That’s not to suggest either or both players can’t do well in 2014. Snider, in particular, has looked mobile and almost downright agile in Grapefruit League action after losing weight.

But there’s a difference between Byrd and Morneau as compared to Snider and Ishikawa.

McCutchen struggled after the All-Star Break in recent years as team’s pitched around him and he expanded the strike zone – swinging at the outside, out-of-the-strike zone slider with regularity. He batted .339 post All-Star Break, thanks to a better cast around him. In 2011 and 2012, McCutchen hit .216 and .289 following the All-Star game.

The Pirates could once again go out and bulk up the lineup as they did in 2013. But it might not be as easy to do at the deadline. Last year, there weren’t many major-market teams looking to improve at the deadline. The Yankees, for example, stood pat.

In 2014, there’s a good chance a guy like Byrd, who was available for weeks before coming to Pittsburgh, could sign with the Yankees or another big market team. Last year, everything broke the Bucs’ way at the deadline. Thinking that will happen again would be poor planning. Most likely, it won’t.

And unless the team acquires a first baseman before camp breaks, then whatever names are on the roster are the players who are most likely to serve at first base through June. Why? Most major league teams like to evaluate their talent and shy away from trading the first couple months of the season. Trade talk doesn’t pick up until June. That’s why Lambo will most likely get another chance by June.

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The name of Didi Gregorius, one of Arizona’s shortstops, has been kicked around in trade talk the last week or so. The Diamondbacks paid a pretty price to get him a year ago, that might be the biggest stumbling block of moving him.

He looks and moves like a Praying Mantis on the field. He hasn’t shown he can hit in the majors and his speed hasn’t translated to stealing bases. But he can field, and that’s what a team reliant on a shifting defensive strategy needs up the middle of the field.

Gregorius would be a decent-enough acquisition, but like anything, what is the cost?

The Diamondbacks want a starting pitcher and the Pirates have a plethora of relievers. Since Pittsburgh doesn’t have a gaping hole at short, there’s little reason to overpay with a pitching prospect like Nick Kingham. What makes it difficult is that Brandon Cumpton would be a good match, but he’s better (IMO than Edinson Volquez) and the rotation is too important to mess with trading for a Didi Gregorius. The staff’s health can change the dynamics of the team in a day.

Bryan Morris for Gregorius might make sense from a talent perspective, but it would be a tough sell for Towers to say that that’s all he could get for a guy he traded Trevor Bauer away for.

Gregorius would be a great defensive replacement at shortstop, but the price might just be too high.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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