The shortstop position is one position where the Pittsburgh Pirates can gain an advantage this offseason. The Bucs don’t seem to want to bite into the sizeable dollars required to sign an impact first baseman, right fielder, or starting pitcher.
So the hot talk around the Pittsburgh Pirates today is they are/were in hot pursuit of an upgrade at short. Twitter was buzzing today regarding a possible deal between the Pirates and Twins. It was said to be ‘close’ on Thursday night. Of course the Pirates target was Minnesota shortstop JJ Hardy.
Is it just us or are the Pirates having a difficult time closing deals?
Why wouldn’t the Pirates throw some cash at an organizations top shortstop? It’s not like the Bucs don’t have it. With starting pitchers flying into new towns like Aaron Harang last night, where are the Pirates going to invest those payroll dollars?
The only possible answer is they won’t go heavy, or they will sign current players to extensions; but remember it takes two to tango, or they will put it towards offense.
One could speculate that Clint Hurdle took a look at the Bucs 40-man roster and didn’t like what he saw. The idea of hanging on to players who haven’t produced, like Milledge and others, didn’t get Hurdle very excited. So are the Bucs moving full on into a back up plan of loading up on offense if the Hardy/Bartlett deals are truly dead?
Hell, what choice do they have?
Jason Bartlett is an interesting player. We think that a Barlett deal makes more sense for the standard operating procedure of the Bucs front office. Low pay. Recent success. Possible upside?
So after reading Joe Sheehans’ take on the SS position tonight, the Pirates options with players who have MLB experience are running low. (Sheehan has an excellent newsletter you should subscribe to by clicking here for information.) Sheehan had the following to say on the two shortstops:
J.J. Hardy, Twins (tendered). After the Twins won the rights to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, I just assumed they would non-tender Hardy. Since hitting 50 homers across his age-24 and age-25 seasons, Hardy’s power has disappeared, just 17 homers and a .374 SLG in the two years since then. He’s thrown in frequent injuries and a .310 OBP to boot. The Twins, with no history with Hardy, nearing the outer bounds of their payroll and wanting to sign Nishioka, didn’t seem likely to risk arbitration with Hardy. In this case, though, Hardy’s poor 2009-10 performance actually works in their favor. He made $5.1 million last year and played poorly; he’s unlikely to make much more than that in ’11. Hardy is just 28, so he has some upside, and even were they to sign Nishioka, the Twins would be better off playing the new guy at second base, so Hardy still fits. This was a strong decision by the Twins, assuming some risk while retaining a player who, despite his poor recent performance, is likely a top-20 MLB shortstop heading into next year.
Jason Bartlett, Rays (tendered). Similar to Hardy, Bartlett presented a cost risk for a team sweating the money a bit, while coming off a down year. Bartlett brings a better glove than does Hardy and a more recent history of offensive success, with a .320 batting average in 2009. He won’t break the bank in arbitration, not with his weak triple-crown stats and just 11 steals in his platform year. The Rays, who a year ago seemed to have a lot of shortstop options, can’t be that excited having seen Ben Zobrist’s power disappear, and Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac post OBPs a tick above .300. Tendering Bartlett retains a trade chit as well as a good player unlikely to be very expensive.
The bottom line is the Pirates need to make a move. The suite holders are restless. The fanbase needs something to celebrate. The team needs upgrades all over the diamond. And as fans watch player after player being signed by other clubs, the patience is running thin. A team coming off a 105 loss season needs some quality talent. Quickly. And were not talking about Rule 5 picks.
Follow us on Twitter and we promise to let you know when the Bucs make a move.
Neal, put the coffee down…coffee…is for closers.