How Much Longer Does Freddy Have At 2B?

Freddy Sanchez -- Matt Bandi/MVN

Last week, Cory Humes continued our positional overviews series with a look at the organization's depth at first base. Today, I'll start off our profiling of the Pirates' second basemen by examining the major-league talent. Previous entries in the series: Catchers, First Basemen.

Any talk of second basemen for the Pittsburgh Pirates obviously begins with Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez, who was an 11th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2000, came to the Pirates by way of a trade five years ago.

Since then, he's become a fan favorite, a two-time all star, a batting champ and an all-around solid ballplayer. But at 31 years old, the same question must be asked of Mr. Sanchez: Will he be around when Che finally turns this organization into a winner?

The answer is no.

Freddy's name has been shopped around a few times. His stock right now, though, may be at an all-time low. He won the batting title, hitting .344 in 2006. His numbers, other than home runs, fell in '07, but still put together an offensive season full of production. In 2008, he hit his lowest as a Pirate, but can also attribute injuries to much of his problems. Battling nagging injuries always takes its toll on a player and Freddy was no exception.

What you'll begin to hear the most are the numbers Freddy put up in the second half of the season. Those numbers are a selling point right now for Che, as he hopes that Freddy continues that surge into a hot start to '09, making his stock rise just in time for the '09 trading deadline.

Sanchez led the majors in hitting after the all star break in 2008, finishing the second half batting .346. He will need to carry that over to prove himself worthy of at least one legit prospect. I wouldn't expect to see Freddy finishing the season with the Pirates in 2009.

That being said, who (or what) is in place to take over the reigns at 2B should Freddy be traded?

Che recently signed veteran infielder Ramon Vazquez to fulfill the super utility role that's been held by a number of different players over the past few years. If Jack or Freddy get traded, Vazquez would be in line to receive the most playing time as youngsters develop.

Vazquez is undoubtedly a step below, but that's the situation the big league club would be in. He's a decent little backup, but as a regular he would probably be exposed. It's not a situation that would look good in PNC Park. Behind him, though, not a whole lot exists.

We'll touch on prospects throughout the week, including Shelby Ford, who the organization remains very high on. Jim Negrych is also an option -- he played second base in college and began there in the minors, but has been switched all around the infield ever since.

Questions to consider:

  • What should be done with Freddy? Are you for a trade this year if he can boost his value by carrying over his 2008 finish?
  • Are you willing to watch Vazquez plug the hole left behind?
  • Just how good is Shelby Ford?
  • The Pirates really are thin at second base, too, eh?
  • To revisit a previous post by Cory, should the Pirates look to move Neil Walker into a second base/utility role? If the corners are backed up (Alvarez/LaRoche), then why not slide Walker to 2B?
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First Base is a Thin Line

Jason Delaney: Next in line? - John Setzler/Flickr.com

Today we take a closer look at the remainder of the Pirates depth at first base, including those who aren't yet but may eventually be in the Pirates' system.

Jason Delaney

Originally drafted by the Pirates in the 12th round of the 2005 draft, Delaney has split his time in the organization between first base and the corner outfield positions over the past three-plus seasons.

After a poor showing during his short stint in Williamsport, Delaney spent '06 putting up a very respectable .300/.379/.432 line at Hickory that was low on power but not excessively low for a player who wasn't really known as a heavy-hitter. He complemented that with a respectable 79:56 K:BB ratio that reflected the strong plate discipline he had shown in college.

He followed that up with a strong start to '07, posting a .340/.432/.536 line at Lynchburg in the first half of the season, but then fell off badly to the tune of .265/.370/.404 upon being promoted to Altoona. He did, however, put up the same 52:38 K:BB ration for the Curve as he did in Lynchburg in only 27 fewer AB's, a definite positive to carry forward.

He began last season repeating Altoona and appeared to have learned from his mistakes, posting a .294/.405/.425 line and a nearly 1:1 ratio while spending most of the season there, but again fell off while spending the last month of the season at AAA.

Delaney, who turned 26 in November, has shown ability and isn't ridiculously old, so I would still wager that there is room for him to become a useful, maybe even productive major leaguer - as long as you aren't expecting a power hitter. Judging by their numbers comparison, not unlike a poor man's Adrian Gonzalez.

Calvin Anderson

Anderson was the 12th round pick in this summer's draft, and the most glaring landmark to this young man's career is that he is an absolute behemoth. Standing at 6'7" and 240 lbs., it's hard to argue against Anderson fitting the power hitter mold. In three seasons at Southern A&M University, Anderson posted a .349/.450/.590 line and a 81:42 K:BB ratio in 330 AB's.

Those numbers make Anderson's Pirate debut - a .265/.337/.453 line at short-season State College - seem like a bust, but the power numbers and strikeout totals look a lot like a player who either wore down a bit or started pressing - some proof of which might lie in his nearly identical .293/.887 and .293/.898 numbers in June and August that sandwiched a July swoon.

Anderson may only become the next Brad Eldred if he doesn't reign in his plate discipline, but he's young enough (22 in May) that there's still reason to be hopeful. Besides, he's fricking huge!

Pedro Alvarez

Do I really need to remind you when this guy was drafted? Of course not. We are all well aware of his impressive pedigree and his power potential, but we also know he was drafted as a third baseman. There have been inklings of rumors that Alvarez's body may eventually grow into a first-baseman role, a la Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman or Mark Teixeira. There's also still the possibility that Andy LaRoche reaches the .295 AVG, .900 OPS potential he showed
throughout his minor league career, and that by the time Alvarez reaches Pittsburgh moving him across the diamond might be necessary. That's a ways away, but it's certainly not an alien-abduction level shot in the dark.

Dustin Ackley

As we all know, the Pirates once again have a top-five draft pick this season - No. 4 to be exact. Ackley is a 1B (slash future OF?) that everyone is absolutely raving about, even referred to - like Avarez - as the best pure hitter in the upcoming draft. He is now dueling with Grant Green, the SS out of USC, for the title of best collegiate hitter in the draft. The Pirates may well take a pitcher this year in the first round, but two of the three teams picking ahead of them either have a 1B in the system (Chris Marrero with the Nats) or aren't showing a glaring need for one (Adrian Gonzalez with the Pads), so the Pirates just might find themselves again having the chance to pick between a really great CIF hitter and a really great MIF hitter.

Drafting Ackley could likely hinge on whether the team is convinced of either LaRoche or Alvarez's development predicating a move, which is still very up in the air, but it's a definite option to consider. Also, even if management does think that Alvarez would need to move eventually, having two top-flight first basemen in your system is what some would refer to as a "happy problem."

Are LaRoche's Days as a Pirate Numbered?

Adam LaRoche - David Watson/Flickr.com

Last week, Alan Smodic kicked off Pirate Revolution's positional overviews series with a look at the organization's catching depth. Today, I'll start off our profiling of the Pirates' first basemen by examining the major-league talent.

In the fall of 2006, Dave Littlefield was known to have set two goals. He wanted to acquire a veteran right-handed starting pitcher to fill out a talented young rotation featuring Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Ian Snell. He accomplished this by signing Tony Armas to a one-year, $3 million contract. He also wanted to acquire a left-handed power-hitting first baseman or right fielder -- his Lefty McThump -- and did so by trading Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Jamie Romak and Adam LaRoche.

With the signing of Armas and the acquisition of LaRoche, the Pirates hoped to build on progress made in the second half of their 2006 season and play more competitive baseball. LaRoche was expected to be the middle-of-the-order power hitter he seemed to have developed into the year before in a breakout campaign with the Braves. On Opening Day, he was cleaning up, sandwiched in the lineup by Jason Bay and Ronny Paulino.

The rest, they say, is history. LaRoche hit .133/.255/.265 in March before recovering to some degree in May and June and truly thumping during July and August. It was too little too late, however, as the Pirates were eliminated from contention by the point LaRoche showed up for the season.

The process repeated itself in 2008, as evidenced by LaRoche's .764 OPS in the first half of the season (as compared to a .975 OPS in the second half). While his 123 OPS+ was the second-best mark of his career, Lefty McThump left Pirate fans dissatisfied.

What now?

Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were dealt away in July, and Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez are likely past their career peaks. LaRoche remains in an interesting position as a still-useful player on a developing team, not quite old enough to be considered dead meat, but not quite young enough to be intriguing trade bait or part of a future solution. The situation is complicated by the Pirates' acquisition of his little brother, Andy, who joins a prospect logjam at third base that includes Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.

There have reportedly been nibbles on LaRoche this offseason, but Huntington's price tag may be comparable to Jason Bay's last winter. LaRoche will never command what Bay did (nor should he), but he is coming off a less-than-ideal season. Management may hope that LaRoche rebounds to the extent that they can sell high on him at the trade deadline.

The tricky part is that as mentioned, LaRoche is a miserable hitter in the season's early months. Will clubs look at his presumably dismal pre-All-Star break 2009 numbers and try to buy low? Or will they see the second-half trend and value his contributions to a stretch run accordingly?

This much is certain: The Pirates will be faced with a decision soon. LaRoche is set to reach free agency after the 2009 season. The club will need to trade him, extend him or lose him to free agency by this time next year.

Steve Pearce
Drafted in the eighth round in 2005, Pearce wasn't on the Pirates' prospect radar prior to the 2007 season. It was then, as a 24-year-old, that he put up a monstrous .333/.394/.622 line with 31 HR and 113 RBI while playing with Lynchburg, Altoona and Indianapolis. He went from starting the season at High-A ball to earning a September call-up. (He hit .294/.342/.397 in 68 at-bats.)  John Sickels gave him a B+ grade and said "I think he can hit .280 at the major league level right now, with 20-25 homers in a full season. ... He should be a very good hitter."

In 2008, Pearce was forced back to Indianapolis to start the season, as his path to a starting spot in the bigs was blocked by LaRoche, Bay and Nady. While learning right field to add defensive versatility, he struggled out of the gate. In 386 at-bats with the Indians, he hit .251/.312/.417, muddying his status with the organization in the process.

After Nady was traded to the Yankees in July, Pearce received more major-league playing time. He hit .248/.294/.422 in 109 at-bats.

Pearce could be written off as a flash in the pan, but the Pirates don't have much young talent available at first base in the near term. Only Pedro Alvarez looms as a legitimate stud, and it's yet to be seen if he will be moved off third base. If LaRoche should be traded, it's likely that Pearce would receive the bulk of the playing time at first. As it stands now, he should make the Pirates' 25-man roster out of spring training as a corner outfielder and backup first baseman.

Adam Boeve, Garrett Jones
Boeve was drafted by the Pirates in the 12th round in 2003 and has served as minor-league filler at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Formerly an outfielder, he shifted to first base prior to last season in order to afford Steve Pearce playing time in right field.

Jones was signed to a minor-league contract today. He showed potential in his first appearance in Double-A in 2003 but has produced at mediocre levels ever since. In 2008 at Triple-A Rochester, he hit .279/.337/.484. Jones is a big (6'4", 245 lbs.) left-handed bat and could form an effective platoon with Boeve or Pearce.

In the coming days, we'll take a look at what exists further down the minor-league chain for the Pirates -- notably Jason Delaney and Calvin Anderson.

Questions to consider:

  • Is Adam LaRoche anything more than a good player on a bad team?  Can Huntington bank on receiving enough production from LaRoche in the first half of 2009 to deal him for the package of prospects the GM covets?
  • If LaRoche isn't traded, will the Pirates extend his contract?  At what cost?
  • Would the real Steve Pearce please stand up?
  • Can Huntington convince John Russell that a platoon of Garrett Jones with either lefty-masher (Pearce or Boeve) is a worthwhile experiment?
  • Are Delaney and Anderson anything to write home about?
  • Will Pedro Alvarez make his big-league debut as a first baseman?
  • Is Dustin Ackley a shoo-in as the Pirates' No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft?

Links: December 22, 2008

Ian Snell - JoeM21/Flickr.com

Ryan Doumit could be a Pirate through 2013. I was unhappy with early news that had the catcher receiving a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth season, but I'm pleased with the contract as it's now reportedly constructed. The upside in deals like these is in buying out free agency years relatively cheaply. One option didn't excite me. Two are better, though I still think Doumit should be traded.


Study of Sports looks at Jack Wilson's recent outburst in the media. "Would it be nice to see the [the Pirates] sign a couple of guys under the guise of competing? Of course it would. Could the right pieces and solid performances from the rotation combine to form a .500 team? Well, it's not impossible. But ultimately they won't compete with the Cubs, or even the Cardinals or any wild card threats in the NL East with a team like that."

At FanGraphs, David Golebiewski breaks down Ian Snell's sluggish 2008 season by the numbers.  His colleague, R.J. Anderson, finds Adam Dunn's value to be $11.25 million per season -- R.J. would offer Big Donkey a four-year, $45 million contract. My five-year, $65 million proposal would be enough of an overpay to get Dunn to Pittsburgh, I think.

On Twitter, Tiffany Berryman pointed out that Dock Ellis could have been the original Manny Ramirez. I'm sure you've read Ellis' Pittsburgh-based memorials, but Steve Lombardi of Baseball-Reference's Stat of the Day blog recognizes his contributions to one of the New York Yankees' best rotations.  Remember to follow PirateRev on Twitter, too.

Earlier at Pirate Revolution:
Podcast No. 3: Sign, Trade Doumit? Play Diaz, Jaramillo? What to Make of Lerud?

Podcast No. 3: Sign, Trade Doumit? Play Diaz, Jaramillo? What to Make of Lerud?

In the third episode of Pirate Revolution's podcast, hosts Cory Humes and Nicolas Lewis wrap up the blog's week-long focus on the team's catching depth by answering questions posed by Alan Smodic in his positional overview.

Will Ryan Doumit be around when this team is a winner? The CHONE projections for 2009 expect Doumit to take only 384 at-bats this season. Is his upside as a power-hitting catcher worth the risk of missed time due to injury, or should he be shopped to a contender who can capitalize on his skills in the short term? He might fit well with John Henry's Red Sox.

Is it too early to tell what kind of future Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo will have with the team? Their prospect status is dim, but they are young and cost-controlled for several seasons.

On the farm, only Steve Lerud and Andrew Walker seem likely to reach the major leagues some day. Was Lerud really deserving of a 40-man roster spot? The guys discuss Wilbur Miller's prospect profile and wonder what the future will hold for this pair.

Finally, the long-term free agent market is explored. Perhaps the catcher on the next division-winning Pirates team will have been signed as Pudge Rodriguez was by the 2004 Detroit Tigers.

Bridging the (Roster) Gaps: Sign Dunn, Garland, Abreu; Trade LaRoche, McLouth

Adam Dunn - DavidMyersPhotos/Flickr.com

Yesterday, Nick talked about several young free agents the Pirates could consider signing in an effort to supplement the core of their current roster. Today, I'll look at a few of the more expensive options Neal Huntington could pursue.

These free agent signings aren't at all likely. If baseball were played in a spreadsheet, though, the Pirates would be better off with these players than without them.

Adam Dunn
In my opinion, to court a player in Dunn's mold, the Pirates would first need to clear a position for him. The 2009 outfield features plenty of names to sort through already: Start with Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss, and squeeze in playing time for Steve Pearce and Nyjer Morgan. For now, let's leave that group intact.

We've heard earlier in the hot stove league that inquiries have been made regarding Adam LaRoche's availability. For the sake of this post, let's assume that Mark Teixeira signs in Boston or Washington and that the Los Angeles Angels are in need of a first baseman. Huntington trades LaRoche to L.A. in exchange for Mark Trumbo and a lower-level starting pitcher. It's not the huge return which Che is known to expect.

With first base open, Huntington then signs Adam Dunn to a five-year, $65 million contract. Dunn, 29, sports a career .247/.381/.518 batting line with a .984 fielding percentage in 127 games played at first base. I'll stay away from my Lefty McThump soapbox, only stepping up long enough to say that Dunn's power and the close proximity of Clemente's Wall to home plate at PNC Park would be a welcome combination.

Dunn's similar batters through age 28 include Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, Harmon Killebrew, Rocky Colavito and Reggie Jackson. At age 33, all save Colavito were still producing above league-average levels. (In fact, Killebrew's age 33 season was the best of his Hall of Fame career.) It's a dirty estimate, but you could probably expect Dunn to produce throughout the length of the above-market contract that it would take to get him to come to Pittsburgh.

Jon Garland
On July 31, 2003, Jeff Suppan was traded by the Pirates to the Boston Red Sox for Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez.

To that point in his career -- 2003 was his age 28 season -- Suppan had pitched only one half of a year in the National League. He had made 194 appearances (mostly starts) with the Red Sox and Kansas City Royals and had the reputation of being an average, durable starting pitcher.

He reached free agency at an inopportune time, though; the 2002-2003 offseason was the winter of collusion. With ownership allegedly conspiring against players, Suppan found only a one-year contract with a $4 million option for the next season on the table. He signed with the Pirates and went 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 21 starts before being dealt away at the deadline.

Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez went on to have solid careers with the Pirates. Half a year of Suppan was spun into 3.5 years of lights-out left-handed relief, two years (and counting) of strong first base play and four years (and counting) of a .300-hitting infielder.

What does that have to do with Jon Garland?

Through his age 28 season, Garland has a 4.47 ERA in 1625 innings spent as an average, durable starter in the American League. His next pitch in the National League will be his first. He's also a free agent in a bad economy, and his high-dollar offers are likely few and far between.

Huntington signs Garland to a one-year, $15 million contract with an option for 2010. Garland provides the stabilizing veteran presence in the rotation that the Pirates have interest in acquiring. He's only here for April, May, June and July, though. After fooling National League batters for half a season, he's traded at the deadline to a contender in need of a hired gun, and in return the Pirates receive more minor-league depth.

Let's say that for the sake of symmetry the Red Sox are the team that comes calling on July 31, and Garland is traded straight-up for Ryan Westmoreland.

Bobby Abreu
Unlike Dunn and Garland, Abreu isn't still in the peak of his career. At 34, he's likely looking for one more big contract. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely that he'll find that this winter.

As was the case with Dunn, to sign a player like Bobby Abreu, Huntington would first need to clear a spot in the starting lineup. As much as I like Nate McLouth, it seems as if he may be difficult to extend -- and there's still the question of whether his 2008 was a fluke or not.

Huntington returns Frank Wren's phone call, and McLouth is sent south to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for a three-prospect package centered around Cole Rohrbough or Jeff Locke. The trade would be a bargain, but the Pirates would be looking to cash in later in the year.

With right field now open -- McCutchen plays center, with Moss in left -- Abreu signs a one-year, $20 million contract. Huntington has the option of trading him at the deadline or offering arbitration at season's end and earning draft picks as compensation for losing a Type A free agent. (Abreu would be expected to decline arbitration as he would be in search of one last multi-year deal -- the one he would've received this off-season in a better economy.)

Conclusion
In trading LaRoche and McLouth -- and ideally, Ryan Doumit, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and John Grabow, but that's another post -- Huntington clears enough payroll to make taking on big contracts manageable in the short term. (In 2010, payroll would drop substantially, as only Dunn would still be on the books.)

He exploits the market, as Ian Leyda of Zelienople has suggested.

The ledger would look like:

OUT: Adam LaRoche, Nate McLouth, $50 million or so in 2009
IN: Adam Dunn, Mark Trumbo, Ryan Westmoreland, Cole Rohrbough, three risk-reward low-level prospects, two extra 2010 draft picks

The lineup for 2009:

1. McCutchen, CF
2. Abreu, RF
3. Sanchez, 2B
4. Dunn, 1B
5. Doumit, C
6. LaRoche, 3B
7. Moss, LF
8. Wilson, SS
9. Pitcher

With a starting rotation of:

1. Garland, R
2. Maholm, L
3. Snell, R
4. Gorzelanny, L
5. Ohlendorf, R (and many others)

And a restocked minor-league system, too.

 
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