You want drama? You want position battles? You want lots of starting jobs and rotation spots up in the air? Don’t look to Bradenton, Fla.
This morning, I decided to come up with the probable 25-man roster for the April 3 season opener against the Red Sox. It required a lot less time and head-scratching than I expected:
Starting lineup (in no particular order): C Francisco Cervelli, 1B Josh Bell, 2B Josh Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer, 3B Jung Ho Kang, LF Andrew McCutchen, CF Starling Marte, RF Gregory Polanco
No surprises here, although there is a bit of intrigue regarding McCutchen and Kang. For our purposes, let’s suspend #CutchWatch and assume he’s not traded before opening day. The question then becomes whether he’s stationed in front of the Green Monster or in center field when the Pirates play the Red Sox on April 3. McCutchen could put up a case during spring training that he deserves to stay in center, but don’t forget he’ll be out of camp for a while to play for Team USA in the WBC. That could help his cause (if the Pirates don’t want to tinker with their alignment while their outfielders are out of camp) or hurt it (if management figures there’ll be less turbulence if the change is made while Cutch is not in camp to protest it). Kang’s status is a murky in the wake of his DUI arrest last month. He could be suspended and/or he could miss time while participating in an alcohol-abuse rehab program.
Bench: Chris Stewart, David Freese, Alen Hanson, Adam Frazier, John Jaso
Freese will start at third if Kang is absent. Stewie and Jaso also are gimme picks. Hanson is a multi-position guy and (more importantly) is out of minor league options. Frazier clearly has been groomed to replace Super U Sean Rodriguez.
Starting rotation: RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Chad Kuhl, RHP Drew Hutchison
Barring a late acquisition — Jose Contreras? Jake Ordorizzi? Jason Hammel? Jorge De La Rosa? Henderson Alvarez? (OK, that last one might be a bit of a stretch.) — the No. 5 rotation spot should be the biggest question mark at the outset of camp. I gave the nod to Hutchison because of his big league experience. Also, the front office would like to see some return on an investment that will cost the Pirates $2.3 million this year, along with a former opening day starter (Frankie Liriano), a former first-rounder (Reese McGuire) and some outfield depth (Harold Ramirez). Also in the mix: Steven Brault (who would be the lone lefty in the rotation), Tyler Glasnow and Trevor Williams. Nick Kingham, who seems fit again after Tommy John surgery, also could claim this job at some point this season.
Bullpen: LHP Tyler Webb RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Jared Hughes, LHP Antonio Bastardo, LHP Felipe Rivero, LHP Daniel Hudson, LHP Tony Watson (L)
There are a lotta lefties here. Too many, probably. And this doesn’t even include Wade LeBlanc, a late-season pickup last year. His $750,000 contract is non-guaranteed, which means the Pirates are on the hook for only a fraction of his salary if he’s cut during spring camp. Bastardo will make $6.5 million, but about half of that is being picked up by the Mets. Hudson has reinvented himself after having two TJ surgeries and likely will be the closer if/when Watson is moved. Webb is a Rule 5 pickup who’s got some good life in his four-seamer.
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There you have it. This bunch is significantly different from the 2016 opening day roster, but still has the same core — McCutchen, Marte, Cervelli, Kang, Mercer, Harrison, Polanco, Cole, Watson. Regardless of who gets the fifth starter gig, the rotation figures to be better than it was last year. The bench loses SeanRod’s pop and gains Hanson’s speed. The bullpen could be a work in progress all summer — if Watty is not dealt this spring, he’ll still most likely be traded at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Spring training will feature fewer moving parts than we’ve seen the past few years, but that’s usually not a bad thing. The roster is (more or less) settled; now all the 2017 Pirates have to do is find a way to make up for the 25 games they finished behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central last season.
– Rob Biertempfel