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The Pirates’ last, best hope at first base?

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SOUTH HILLS –  With the Mets indicating they’ve taken Ike Davis off the market, with  James Loney and Corey Hart and Logan Morrison definitely off the market, there are few obvious external candidates to fill one of the Pirates’ greatest needs – a left-handed hitting first baseman.

Jamey Newberg, who blogs and writes about the Rangers, thinks it’s possible the Rangers and Pirates revisit trade talks for Mitch Moreland, particularly if the Rangers come to terms with a a free agent like Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales. While it’s approaching February, there are still significant free agent dominoes to fall that could stir up the trade market.

 

“Recall when Peter Gammons said on MLB Network during the Winter Meetings that Texas and Pittsburgh were discussing a deal that would send Moreland to the Pirates for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, whose power repertoire would fit great here — especially now that Robbie Ross could be asked to audition for a rotation spot in Derek Holland’s absence.  Wilson would be under club control for the next five seasons.  Neal Cotts can be a free agent a year from now. ….

“I’ve written a couple times this winter about my guess that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who was Moreland’s batting coach when he broke into the big leagues in 2010 (putting up an .879 OPS over the season’s final month and then hitting .348/.400/.500 in 51 playoff plate appearances), is probably a Moreland fan…..

“Not that I’m sure the Pirates would make that deal.  They evidently wouldn’t in December (or perhaps it was Texas that wouldn’t sign off on the trade that Gammons thought was imminent), but the first base options are far fewer now for Pittsburgh than they were then…..

 

Moreland makes some sense. He’s a career .258/.325/.468 hitter vs. right-handed pitching with respectable .205 isolated power. But he has played his home games in a hitter’s paradise.

 

I can understand why Justin Wilson is a stumbling block. He’s a lefty who hit 100 mph last season and made the back end of the Pirates’ bullpen dynamic. I’m not sure many teams have the late-game lefty combo like Wilson and Tony Watson. It’s especially valuable when facing division foes Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Matt Carpenter, Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams in future late-game situations. And if you’re giving up Wilson, I’d call on Justin Smoak before Moreland, Smoak who has more upside and has had his value depressed in an awful hitting environment.

 

The price might be too high but Moreland might be the only bat left on the market that fits the Pirates’ needs and fits their budget.

 

MORE REASON TO BELIEVE IN LAMBO?

 

As of today, Andrew Lambo is likely the leading platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez. Hurdle believes Lambo deserves a shot at the major league level. He thinks the Pirates need to find out if the bat is real.  The power might be better thank we think — and we think it’s pretty good. Lambo’s 32 homers last year were impressive but Baseball America has an interesting report that suggests Lambo’s power was significantly affected by his minor league home ballpark.

 

•  Double-A Altoona played host to the fewest home runs per game in the Eastern League from 2010-12, a fact probably not lost on Pirates left fielder Andrew Lambo after he hit two of 14 homers there in 2013. Despite a home-park handicap, he still managed to rank fifth in the minors with 32 homers overall, a total that included 18 at Triple-A Indianapolis (eight home/10 road).

 

Oh, and it looks like the Cardinals just might have another under-the-radar Allen Craig/Carpenter type prospect moving through the system.

 

• Cardinals prospects face a dramatic shift in park effects as they venture from high Class A Palm Beach, which features the fewest homers in the Florida State League, to Double-A Springfield, home to the most longballs in the Texas League. The travails of right fielderStephen Piscotty in 2013 illustrate this point, after he hit zero of his nine homers for Palm Beach at home and then hit five of six for Springfield at home. With another year in right field under his belt combined with more favorable home parks in 2014, Piscotty could emerge on the national prospect scene.

 

Lambo is going to swing-and-miss. He’s going to hit for a low average. He’ll walk at a league average rate. But he’ll hit for power. Kind of sounds like Pedro Alvarez 2.0. And at this point, I think the Pirates would rather take a chance with Lambo than trade an asset like Wilson.

 

-TS

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Comments

  1. cmat0829 says:

    Travis, thanks for the continued good content in the offseason (how many days til pitchers and catchers report??)… I’m probably more conservative than most ‘armchair GMs’, but I don’t think I’d swap Justin for Moreland. Left-handed pitchers that can throw like Justin are rare, much more rare than decent left-hand hitting 1B, despite the thin market this offseason.

    Moreland is not completely proven, especially in a transition from AL to NL, so why not give Lambo a shot and see what happens? What he needs to do is improve upon the output of Garrett Jones, and that was hardly Fielder-esque in 2013. Why not go April and May and see what happens? We can likely go out and get someone in June or July to plug the gap if Lambo falters…and if he succeeds? Well then, that’s good all around.

    Brewers signed Overbay (Overbay!!) and Reynolds to man 1B for them in 2014 (not enough strikeouts I guess for them in 2013), and they passed on trading what it would take to pry Moreland or Smoak away from their teams… I think we need to trust both GMs on this one……

    Now, if we could get Moreland for Bryan Morris + prospect, then by all means….

  2. Twan says:

    A Wilson for Moreland trade seems like a very shortsighted move. There are very few lefties in MLB with Wilson’s velocity. Players with 5 years of club control left are the ones the Pirates should be looking to acquire, not deal.

    TS – Do the Pirates consider Wilson a possible rotation candidate? If not, why? He was a very successful starter at AAA. I wonder if this is a missed opportunity.

    G.I. Jones and Morneau are looking like better options in hindsight every day.

  3. NMR says:

    -Stephen Piscotty was a supplemental first round pick and signed for $1.5m. Not exactly under the radar for prospect watchers. He’ll be a Top 100 guys this winter. He does, however, fit the Cardinal mold of polished College player. The Pirates need to find more balance between these types of players and uber-toolsy project prospects.

  4. NMR says:

    Good timing on this topic, Travis.

    We always hear “the Pirates need to be more like the Rays”, right?

    Well, the Rays just traded lefty reliever Alex Torres for utility infielder Logan Forsythe. Torres shares the same handedness, age, and service time as Justin Wilson. He also bested Wilson in strikeouts, walks, ERA, FIP, and WAR last season.

    Maybe we neeed to ask if we are overvaluing Justin Wilson.

  5. cmat0829 says:

    I probably am overvaluing Justin, but are you saying you would make the trade, Wilson for Moreland?

  6. NMR says:

    Honestly, I’m at the point where I’d probably give you a different answer one day to the next. I really don’t know what I’d do.

    It can be argued that the Pirates have a bigger hole at first base than in the bullpen. It also can be argued that the Pirates seem to be much more successful finding and developing relievers than position players. It also can be argued that Wilson’s peripheral stats point to negative regression while Moreland’s point to positive regression.

    But a lefty with a monster arm is never easy for me to give up.

  7. BostonsCommon says:

    .. and then the Rays go shell out $12M for 2 years of Balfour?

  8. BostonsCommon says:

    Garza to the Brewers… 4 years, $52M

  9. BostonsCommon says:

    Obviously this was supposed to go to your above comment.

  10. Steelkings says:

    We could send Wilson and Lambo to the National for Laroache and Storen…………Wishful thinking

  11. Travis Sawchik says:

    Perhaps he’s not under-the-radar as a first-round pick, but I don’t think he was on any top 100 lists, or midseason top 50 lists in 2013. Looks like he’ll be breaking some top 100 lists in 2014.

  12. Travis Sawchik says:

    I don’t think he’s a rotation candidate in 2014 … but I could see a CJ Wilson-like conversion down the road. Perhaps in 2015 when the Pirates will likely be losing two left-handed starting pitchers in Liriano and Rodriguez.

    There are some concerns: his k/9 and bb/9 rates weren’t great last season, his velocity dipped late in the year, and can he become less fastball dependent?

    But you gotta be intrigued with maximizing a lefty he can touch upper 90s. He’d probably sit in the low 90s as a starter

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, cmat. I agree it looks like a seller’s market at this point re: first base. Huntington showed patience in letting the market play out last year…. maybe he’s doing the same. It probably also makes some sense to see where Morales and Cruz land at this point.

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    Nice get for the Brewers. I still think they’re about seven arms short, though

  15. NMR says:

    Hard to argue much with that. Good pitcher, less than three years.

  16. Travis Sawchik says:

    I agree with all of this.

    Typically you don’t want to overvalue relievers. But typically lefty relievers don’t throw 100 mph

  17. NMR says:

    Lohse, Garza, Gallardo are a pretty darn good Top 3. If they can get decent contributions from Estrada and Peralta they could be dangerous.

    High beta team, but think about Braun, Gomez, Segura, Ramirez, and Lucroy healthy at the same time.

  18. BostonsCommon says:

    They’ve got some pieces, for sure. But I would call that trio a pretty average 1-3. They would be a great 3-5.

    Still don’t know why they got rid of Nori?

  19. LeeFoo says:

    Piscotty was St Louis’ 10th ranked prospect last year. This quote appears to be the consensus on him.

    “But if you’re counting on Piscotty to have raised his stock enough—well, the resemblance to Allen Craig and Matt Holliday is still primarily a superficial one. Piscotty was a year younger than Craig was in AA, which is good news. His OPS was somewhat lower than sleeper shortstop candidate Greg Garcia’s in AA, which is the bad news.

    Piscotty’s .295/.355/.464 mark between A+ and AA was good enough to justify the promotion, and his AFL line did nothing to slow his momentum. But none of it’s a sign that he’s ready to deliver 200 or 250 average corner-outfielder at-bats. (Matt Adams, in his own age-22 date with the Texas League, hit .300/.357/.566; Allen Craig, 23, hit .304/.373/.494.) ”

    He looks like a tweener?

  20. Leo Walter says:

    One name : Bryan LaHair . And no compensation.

  21. LeeFoo says:

    If I’m Garza, I would’ve signed with a contender.

    And the Brewers farm system is still horrid.

    They’re still trying to patch MLB holes.

  22. LeeFoo says:

    NMR….agree.

  23. LeeFoo says:

    Speaking of the Brewers:

    A tweet (from another Pirate site):

    Jason Parks ‏@ProfessorParks 17m
    Probably. RT @paul_wiberg @ProfessorParks #10 Cubs prospect > #1 Brewer prospect?

    For those that can’t read Twitter that’s asking if the Cubs 10th best prospect is better than the Brewers’ best… answer of course being probably. The Brewers fall is going very slowly and hopefully quite painfully.

  24. Leo Walter says:

    Lee and NMR : +++ !

  25. NMR says:

    If only it was June 2012.

  26. NMR says:

    The Brewers will have more homegrown starters than the Pirates.

  27. Andrew says:

    My impression is Wilson’s value is tied to his velocity and the potential, however slim, that he could start. Yes he is cost controlled but his BB rate is average and his K rate is below average for a reliever. I can already see him struggle/regress a bit and fans/writers bringing up the inning totals from this year.

    Moreland is likely to bring above average production against RHPing, but damn is Arlington friendly for
    LHHers, 103 for 2B, and 110 for HR. (PNC is 96, and 93 respectively.) Plus he is projected for $2.7 million this season, which means the Pirates could be in a Garret Jones situation again next offseason.

    I don’t have any answers.

  28. Andrew says:

    Travis good job bring up a range of topics, anymore Burnett talk and I’ll have full blown seasonal affective disorder.

  29. NMR says:

    Wierd home/road splits for Moreland, eh?

    Only 7 point difference in ISO and damn near identical HR/FB rates, yet a 40 point difference in BABIP. I’m guessing just a matter of small sample size.

  30. Andrew says:

    “bringing,” forgive my utter inability to conjugate verbs when typing.

  31. Dave DeAngelo says:

    Any thouhgt about moving Pedro to 1B and then going after Chase Headley in a trade possibility?

  32. Steelkings says:

    I was just kidding. Sure is fun to yank a few chains. Although I think Storen would be a nice addition. I cant stand adam La gross though

  33. Andrew says:

    I am never sure how to utilize home and away splits, I know the rule is players generally hit better at home, and the wRC+ stats show a 5-8% gap league wide but I never know how to translate that to an individual hitter. 800 PAs isn’t exactly small, but the fact that Moreland is a 99 wRC+ hitter home away while maintaining a 37 point gap in OPS and 18 point in wOBA, shows how hitter friendly Arlington plays.

    League average 1B had a .333wOBA last year; trading 60-70 innings of relief for 400-450 PAs of .338 vs RHP wOBA makes sense, if you can easily replace those innings.

  34. Scott says:

    Justin was the signing thAt should have happened, would have cost us no players and was reasonable much better option than what we now have. But the frugal owner still shows his true colors when it comes to spending money , profits before team mentality. Nutting is making boat loads of money and wait till he sells the team and reaps the rewards. So if u like a team that will never get over the hump to win a championship, but the owner gets wealthier, than the Pirates are your team.

  35. brendan says:

    On that subject and relating to the previous discussion regarding the Brewers decline. Keith Law mentioned in his chat today that not only have the Brewers done a poor job drafting pitchers they’ve also not excelled at developing them. As a result they’ve had to sign mid-rotation to back of the starters like Randy Wolf, and Garza, and Kyle Lohse to market rate contracts (and in the case of Lohse forfeit draft picks).

    The Garza contract isn’t necessarily unreasonable (although his recent injury history would give me some pause). But I don’t know that makes sense for Milwaukee. The Brewers are in something of a difficult position though. As long as you have Ryan Braun signed to a long term deal and in his prime (assuming he returns to his pre-suspension level of play) it’s hard to rebuild.

    But it seems like Brewers currently positioned to tread water winning between 75 to 85 games over the next few years. What happens as Braun, Gallardo, etc age and decline? As Lee noted above their minor league system is pretty bereft of impact talent.

  36. Definitely value Justin Wilson as a reliever and possibly again as a starter more than Mitch Moreland. With Boston signing Grady Sizemore to a guaranteed deal, Mike Carp sounds like a new hat to throw into the first base ring.

  37. The Gunner says:

    What a great PR move it would be to bring Adam LaRoche back to the Bucs.

    Surely you jest, Steelkings

  38. Foo says:

    NMR….and that proves what?

    Maholm, Jimmy Anderson, Zach Duke, Ian Snell (need I go on?) were ALL homegrown starters.

    Homegrown ain’t always the best (as any pot smoker will attest :) )

  39. Foo says:

    Conjugate…ks that what our rivers do?

    :). :)

  40. Foo says:

    Is…not ks…stoopid ipad.

  41. Foo says:

    You were serious…don’t try to weasel out of it.

  42. Foo says:

    Carp? If only Kevin Bass was still playing. They’d go well with Mike Trout.

  43. PetroSteel says:

    I like Carp! I’ve heard that name connected to the pirates a couple months ago.

  44. The Gunner says:

    Glad to see you came to your senses about LaRoche. I really think the BMTIB will regret not signing either Morneau or Jones.

  45. JuniorKrz says:

    If Wilson and a lower-level prospect could net us Smoak and Nick Franklin, I would probably pull the trigger.

  46. Steelkings says:

    Perhaps we will get the most out of Adam will be if we take andy as well.

  47. Steelkings says:

    Thats not what the Pirates do. Never has

  48. Ghost says:

    True enough.

    But this just made me think of a potentially cool scenario for next season. There could be days when we we have a starting eight such as this:

    Lambo 1B
    Walker 2B
    Alvarez 3B
    Mercer SS
    Marte LF
    McCutchen CF
    Polanco RF
    Martin C

    All but Martin would be home grown. And if Sanchez is giving Martin a blow and Cole happens to be pitching…
    We could have a very rare thing going for an MLB club in this era.

  49. tedwins says:

    My comments, because I realize all of you are on pins and needles awaiting them, sorry for the delay :) :) :) 1) I would keep Wilson and pass on the potential first remaining first baseman options. 2) im not sure why I am so not into garza, pretty darn good pedigree but I dont think he will be dependable

  50. joel says:

    I would not trade Justin Wilson for anyone. I still think he is projected to be a starter in waiting. A top of the rotation of Cole, Wilson, and Taillion sounds good to me for next year.

  51. tedwins says:

    Sure you could find someone that you would trade Wilson for :)

  52. Torres was mostly smoke and mirrors last year. Hitters had a .221 BABIP, he stranded 80% of his baserunners and had a HR/FB rate of 2%. The Rays know that none of the above is sustainable. I am not suggesting that I would not trade Wilson for the right return. He is probably somewhat overvalued – the lack of even average secondary pitches will probably keep him in the bullpen.

  53. Gregg Bosak says:

    Low to no-risk signing. Don’t even think of putting him in the box against a lefty. I would support such a signing.

  54. NMR says:

    How do you interpret that difference in BABIP, if you don’t mind me picking your brain? Seems like that is the major difference between his home and road performance. Is BABIP something that fluctuates with park factors?

  55. NMR says:

    Hey Travis, I just realized I burried the lede…the supplemental first first pick used to select Piscotty? Received by the Cardinals as compensation for losing one Albert Pujols.

    Wacha and Piscotty have to be the best haul any team has ever received for free agent comp picks, right?

  56. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Brewers’ system is painfully thin, no doubt. That’s not good if you’re in a division with three top 10 systems (Cards/Cubs/Pirates)

  57. Travis Sawchik says:

    If it’s not the best, I’d love to see what is. Incredible haul.

  58. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, Andrew

    It sounds like Frank Coonelly is ready to close the door as well

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10339908/pittsburgh-pirates-moving-aj-burnett-take-back-wants-pitch-again

    “We’d love to have A.J. back, but right now we’ve turned the page and we’re heading to Bradenton (Fla.) thinking he’s not going to be with us,” Coonelly said. “But if he surprises us and calls up tomorrow and says he wants to pitch again, we’d love to have him.”

  59. Travis Sawchik says:

    Dave, The Pirates, and Clint Hurdle specifically, want to keep Pedro at 3B … but I think it’s plausible he eventually moves across the diamond. But that move will most likely come with his next team.

    The Pirates had interest in Headley a couple years back but I think that $10 million arbitration number ends that possibility.

  60. NMR says:

    Wilson had a .229 BABIP against and 85% LOB, Smoke and mirrors may apply there as well.

  61. Matthew says:

    I for one am really excited to see Lambo being given the opportunity to play 1B. 33 jacks is no joke. Wether that power is sustainable we will find out, baring unforseen circumstances. Any other season we would be drooling about a prospect like this, but are currently blessed with outstanding prospects that hide what he has accomplished. To pass this possibility up and see them lose another Joey-bats with cost control future would be terrible to see.

  62. Travis Sawchik says:

    Likely unsustainable, but I think relievers tend to have lower BABIPs … better velo combined with no second looks from lineup = weaker and lesser contact

  63. Jim S. says:

    Wilson for Moreland? 2 words: No way!

    We don’t even know for sure that Moreland is better than Andrew Lambo. We do know that Wilson has a lot of value as a LHR.

  64. Jim S. says:

    I don’t know about him still being a starter in waiting. I have been thinking that, but I have not heard NH say anything about it. And, we are entering another year with Wilson slated as a reliever. The longer he doesn’t start, the more likely he will stick as a reliever. But, that’s ok. He’s still very valuable as a reliever.

  65. Jim S. says:

    I think their achiles heel is the bullpen, NMR. But, I agree that the Brewers have talent.

 
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