The Pirates enter 2013 looking to parlay three-straight seasons of increased win totals into the club’s first .500 or better finish since the George H.W. Bush administration. It shouldn’t take much, as the club went from 63-47 on August 8 to 79-83 to finish the season. To do some rudimentary math, that’s a .308 winning percentage in the last seven or so weeks in the season.
That’s not to say it’ll be easy for the Bucs to buck the trend; Houston is now in the AL West, and the Cubs appear to have a competent rotation and are trending the right way. The Pirates made a few moves in the offseason to shore up the entire team, but today we’ll just focus on the infield.
The only big picture-altering move the Pirates made in the infield was bringing in Russell Martin on a two-year, $17mm deal. Martin has more or less settled in as a league-average hitter, which behind the plate isn’t as dubious as it sounds. It doesn’t help anyone on the fantasy side much, but Martin is still a consistent 2.0-3.0 win catcher from year-to-year. And the biggest difference for the Pirates will be that the club is moving from Rod Barajas and his throwing woes (6 for 99 last year), as Martin is a career 30% base nabber. Michael McKenry is a dandy backup catcher, providing enough pop and a pretty good walk rate. Perhaps a longer look might have been merited for the soon-to-be 28-year-old, but there’s also something to be said for guys thriving in part-time roles too. McKenry showed a slight platoon split in favor of facing lefties, last season.
At first, it looks like a platoon situation. John Perrotto of USAToday suggested Garrett Jones “may play against some lefties, but not many.” In essence, it looks like Gaby Sanchez will get lefties (career .291/.385/.484 v. southpaws) and Jones will handle righties (.279/.348/.504). This should be productive from a real-life standpoint, but it is probably a fantasy situation to avoid. The only thing that could really swing this is that Sanchez has a much narrower platoon split — Jones can’t touch lefties — and is much more adept defensively. Jones could also see time in the outfield, though it would be considerably less than the 66 games he saw in right field in 2012.
At second is Swydan extension candidate Neil Walker, who has quietly turned into one of the 10 or so best second sackers in the game and is now pretty much a three-win player year in and year out. Walker’s calling card is a pretty balanced offensive approach, as he doesn’t really stand out in any way but also isn’t a liability. He hits some line drives, some grounders, takes a fair number of walks, doesn’t strike out much, and carries a pretty good ISO due to decent double and home run numbers. At this point it looks as though Walker’s floor and ceiling are about the same, but that’s a good thing. He’s no doubt the most trustworthy fantasy-wise among Pirates infielders.
Clint Barmes looks to have the first crack at shortstop, but won’t get any looks fantasy-wise. Outside of Colorado, when it’s been good, it’s still been bad for Barmes offensively, as his best post-Coors wOBA is .309. The glove will keep him in the lineup — so will the contract — and Barmes’ likely competition to start at short is Chase D’Arnaud, who provides little other than speed. I don’t sense that the Pirates view Jordy Mercer as anything more than a long-term utility guy who can handle short. Josh Harrison looks like more like a 2B-3B type, with more of a offensive profile than defensive based on what I can gather. Nonetheless, SS is hands-off in Pittsburgh.
Pedro Alvarez will be a mercurial one this year in fantasy drafts. In strikeout leagues, he’s certainly rosterable but one who requires considerable hedging on other roster spots. Alvarez finally flashed his prodigious power with 30 home runs, but also carried a whiff rate north of 30, played poor defense, and hit too many grounders to project many more home runs in his profile. He could also possibly give way to Brandon Inge late in games. “Inge could bump Mercer off the roster if he shows pop in spring training,” Perrotto noted. Inge still can flash some power now and then, and would make an ideal late-inning defensive replacement for Alvarez. That would probably push Harrison to the main SS backup, which may not be an ideal situation. At the very least, it’s something to monitor if you’re a Bucs fan. Fantasy wise, nobody is too worried about it.
EARLY DEPTH CHART
Catcher: Russell Martin/Michael McKenry
First Base: Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez
Second Base: Neil Walker/Josh Harrison
Shortstop: Clint Barmes/Jordy Mercer/Chase D’Arnaud (minors)
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez/Brandon Inge