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Do the Pirates have their shortstop of the future? And thoughts on expanded rosters and AJ Burnett


PNC PARK – I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest Billy Hamilton’s slide home last night was the most heart-breaking such action for the city of Pittsburgh since Sid slid back in October of 1992.




The speedy Hamilton scored from second on an infield single in the ninth, allowing the Reds to complete a three-run comeback despite having trailed 5-2 in the  ninth and been down to their final out.


As I wrote in the game story from last night, Pirates’ defense has played a significant part in their 2013 success. But if the Pirates fail to advance to the postseason, even if they fall a game short of a division title or home-field advantage in a wild-card play-in game, it will not be the radical shifts and aggressive approach to run prevention that will be remembered. It will be Jordy Mercer‘s error that began a chain of events that led to the epic, one-game collapse.


Clint Hurdle was ejected in the 8th but he said he would not have inserted Clint Barmes, a superior defender, into the game in the ninth. He said Mercer has closed out plenty of games this season.


Mercer said he’s made that play 100 times before and Mark Melancon said Mercer makes that play 99 times out of 100 chances.


(And credit Mercer and Melancon for talking to reporters in a mostly empty clubhouse after a soul-crushing defeat. Mercer took responsibility. Mercer has accounted for himself well on-the-field and off as a rookie in the middle of a pennant chase.)


Yes, you can question whether Barmes should have replaced him late in innings, but many wanted Mercer to become the everyday shortstop. And Mercer has improved his defense. Hurdle has said his defensive tools are similar to Barmes’. He said neither player has elite quickness and lateral range which means like Barmes, Mercer must become a master of angles. And he has become better.


Mercer has a future as a Pirate. He’s young. He’s relatively cheap. He can crush left-handed pitching and play a number of infield positions. I think he could become a super-sub type of player, like a Ben Zobrist with fewer walks.


But should he be an everyday shortstop?


Raising such a question is NOT a slight. Very few humans have skills to be an above-average MLB shortstop. Barmes has proven a player without elite physical tools can become above-average defensively. And I’m not raising the question because of one error, I’ve raised it before. The Pirates cannot do much more to improve their defensive play. They’ve almost maxed out shifts and groundball rates. The only way to improve their defense is to add more elite defenders. The best way to improve a defense is to find elite up-the-middle defenders. They have two in Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin. But there is no elite shortstop in the system.


Keep in mind, Barmes is a free agent after the season. So should finding a shortstop become a free agency or draft priority going forward? Can Mercer grow into the role? Can Alen Hanson improve?





And Hamilton is only fueling Hurdle’s disgust of expanded rosters


Hamilton has all of 10 plate appearances as a September call-up. He has 10 steals, scored two game-winning runs and scored one game-tying run.


How about that for September impact?


The September call-up rule is an antiquated one. Imagine if the NFL expanded to 100 players in December? It doesn’t make sense to change the nature of roster composition in the season’s most important month.


But I have to believe the Reds would have added a weapon like Hamilton even if they only had the benefit of a 25-man roster. His speed is an impact weapon like we have’t seen since Rickey Henderson. It’s fun (if not painful for NL Central opponents) to watch.




AJ Burnett told our Karen Price that he’s 50-50 on treturning or retiring after the season, he indicated if he returns it would be as a Pirate, though some team might be willing to make a lucrative, multi-year offer.


I can’t seen the Pirates making Burnett a multi-year offer. But I think it makes sense to make a qualifying offer to Burnett, which would be one-year and about $14 million. If Burnett signs elsewhere the Pirates would receive draft pick compensation. If he retires he retires,  and if he signs the one-year offer the Pirates add starting pitching depth which they need with questions hovering over Jeff Locke and Wandy Rodriguez 


If Burnett retires the rotation would shape up like this on opening day:


1. Liriano


2. Cole


3. Morton


4. Rodriguez?


5. Locke/Gomez/Cumpton/Pimentel/Free Agent TBA?


Taillon will be up by June. And I have to think if Burnett retires the Pirates will pursue another FA option.


– TS



  1. JimBibbySweat says:

    What are your thoughts on why Justin Wilson has made only 6 appearances & 6 innings since Aug. 21? Thx

  2. Travis Sawchik says:

    I asked Clint Hurdle about this on Thursday. Hurdle said Wilson is not injured. Hurdle said the plan has been to reduce his workload after throwing 71 innings in his first year as a reliever. Wilson should be available today.

  3. leefoo says:

    I like Mercer, even with that error last night.
    Marte made an error in St Louis that cost a game.
    I’ll keep both of them, thank you.

  4. leefoo says:

    Travis…JW threw from 116-142 IP his last 4 years in the minors. Are 71 relief innings more stressful than those starting innings?
    I don’t ‘get’ the need to cut him back.


  5. kekkil says:

    Hey, even if we were to bow out in the playoffs, these guys n the fans can have something to gloat about this season, the end of the modern day losing streak. Go bucs

  6. NorthPirateFan says:

    Any fan who focuses in on one play, or one move, are doing a disservice to the player and themselves. Sure the play hurt and it’s sucks that it contributed to the loss but if we’re going to play the what if game we could ask ourselves, if Barmes is in the whole game and we remove Merecer’s 2-3, run and rbi do the Pirates even find themselves in the lead in the first place? Also the suggestion that Barmes is the better defender at this point and definitely would have made the play is pretty hard to defend given that he and Mercer have a similar number of errors, fielding percentage and Mercer has a better DP rate and range factor in similar playing time.

    If we want to speculate about what might have been, here’s one that is much more compelling … were it not for Clint Barmes’ horrific offensive “contributions” thus far this year (and this applies to last year as well) maybe the Pirates wouldn’t be in the position of having to scratch a claw for wild card spot the last week and half of the season in the first place and last night’s game is just one of those things that happens during a long season and nobody remembers for more than that.

    Even if you’re still of a mind that Barmes is a good defender, there’s no amount of defense he could provide that would make up for the damage he does at the plate over the course of a season. Sub .600 OPSs simply can not be made up for with a glove.

    Honestly, this season is exactly like the last two in that the Pirates should have had the division sewn up by now and the offense is the ONLY reason it isn’t, not an error or a pitching change that was or wasn’t made.

  7. tim m says:

    wilsons last appearance saw him in the 91 gun range way down from his high of 100 and his usual 97 etc. maybe they say something there that raised the flag of concern so to speak

  8. Chuck H says:

    Sorry, but the error by Mercer wouldn’t have happened if Melancon was the pitcher he used to be. His velocity is down from 95 to 92 and his slider is hittable to the opposite field.
    He needed a strikeout to end the game with one on base in the ninth. And why was he even needed in the game anyhow? Liriano was doing fine and deserved to finish the game,
    because he had only thrown 94 pitches. What does Pirate management have against
    complete games by a pitcher? The ending of that game was a disgrace for both the team
    and the fans who are supporting the team’s efforts to be in the playoffs. The ending was almost laughable, but disgusting. If we don’t win the next two games, it’s all over, baby!

  9. Average Dave says:

    It wasn’t JM’s error that precipitated that “chain of events.” It was Dusty Baker’s ordering Cutch to be hit. It worked. The Pirates were psyched out. Wouldn’t you have loved to see Hurdle come out of the dugout, walk past the ump, and confront Baker face-to face?

  10. carey Pahel says:

    The error is one thing, but I have to believe that Liriano could have easily finished up the game. This is the third blown save in the last 10 games where I think the decision should have been to let the starter finish the game.

  11. Chuck H says:

    To Ave.Dave: I say it was the umps fault for not ejecting their pitcher and Baker, if he had protested. The umps are letting this practice get out of control. Someone is going to be seriously hurt or worse if this isn’t stopped immediately. We’ll see what happens tonight. If
    the Pirates retaliate, the pitcher should be ejected, and or, fined. C’mon Bucs, we have to win out to be sure of both home field and division winner.

  12. MajorMajors says:

    Russell Martin is an elite defender? Yes his caught stealing rate is elite, but have you noticed how poor he has been in the second half of the season at blocking balls in the dirt? He’s much too casual about it. You can’t afford to have guys who strike-out chase balls in the dirt end up on first base.

    And please don’t give me the “best-pitch-framer-ever” myth. I just don’t see it. He catches some close pitches so casually that he hurts the chances of them being called strikes.

    When you look at the whole picture, Russell is good, but his approach to blocking pitches keeps him from being elite in my book.

  13. JimBibbySweat says:

    Thx for the reply Travis. Sorry to bomb your article with a question unrelated to your content. Good to see JW back in there Saturday, hitting 97 mph.

  14. leefoo says:

    Errors cost the Reds last night, just not in the 9th. They happen.


  15. Thundercrack says:

    I’ve been saying the same thing Travis said about Mercer: super-sub.

    I hope he has been practicing taking flyballs in the outfield.

  16. NorthPirateFan says:

    Pirate fans are funny. Jordy Mercer commits an error and immediately questions like “shortstop of the future” are being asked. The following two games Clint Barmes starts and proceeds to boot multiple routine balls in both games AND goes 1 for 7 at the plate (3-19 in the last 10 games, .156 BA .200/.316/.516 as the team is stumbling across the finish line) and we can hear the chirping crickets.

    Maybe there’s a case to be made Jordy Mercer isn’t a long term solution at the position, but one thing is abundantly clear at this point; Clint Barmes sure as heck isn’t a solution and he probably doesn’t even belong on a major league roster, let alone a possible post-season roster, at this point.

  17. NMR says:

    Neal Walker’s replacement.

  18. NMR says:

    “Shortstop of the future” has become cliched, IMO. Obviously every team WANTS one, but similar to ace pitchers, few actually have them. If Jordy can give the team average offense and average defense at the positon for a few years at or around league minimum, that will be a plus. Take it, enjoy it, then move on.
    One thing should be painfully obvious, though. The Pirates will NEVER acquire a player who fits the “shortstop of the future” mold through free agency. Just forget it now.
    The last thing they should do is force Mercer into a utility role while wasting $10m on a veteran shortstop like Stephen Drew, who has been considered a free agent success.

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