Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: Pre-Spring Training Edition


The trade of Travis Snider to the Baltimore Orioles brought up a ton of new questions for Pittsburgh Pirate fans.  Whereas the majority of the team’s followers were pretty content with their team headed into spring training only a scant week ago, this one seemingly-inconsequential move has brought up a ton of new concerns and debate over the team, from the front office down to actual on-the-field matters.

I took to social media and tried to gather a few of these questions in an attempt to give our readership here at Rum Bunter what they really want:  answers.  I promise I’ll do my best.  Here we go.

"If Jose Tabata outplays Lambo in Spring Training, does he grab the last bench spot?"

I really don’t think he does, but with a caveat, which I’ll get to later.  The Pirates have given Tabata plenty of chances, and I think they telegraphed their eventual plans for him when he was DFA’d last October.  With that being said, I just took a look at Tabata’s career numbers to refresh myself, and he has one thing going for him that could find him on a major league bench:  His strikeout rate.  He has just a 14% career strikeout rate, which is rated as somewhere between above-average and great according to Fangraphs.  Here’s another advanced-stat eye opener for you:  He has a career total WAR (wins above replacement) of 2.5!  Granted, that’s buoyed by a 1.3 in 2013, but still, that number just absolutely floored me.  So in the end, I think Tabata somehow someway gets a bad rap.  I think it’s a classic salary vs expectations scenario.  Tabata was signed to an extension early in his career and we expect him to give us a little more than what he’s given us.  Keep in mind, this guy got Rookie of the year votes in 2010 AND has a career .275/.336/.379 slashline.  Maybe we were the problem, with higher than called for expectations?

And now for the caveat.  I still believe based on the organization’s actions that they would prefer the flexibility that Andrew Lambo provides over Tabata.  However, I can fully see a scenario where one or the other gets hot and gets an extended stay on the 25-man.  For Tabata to stick, it would take one of those hot streaks.

"Nearing trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in running for NL central.. Who do we trade? What position do we look to trade for? Do we stand pat?"

This is a tough one to answer but I’ll give it a go.  First, let’s assume that everyone is reasonably healthy.  If so, I would assume we would see one of two things:  either a repeat of a type of deal the Pirates pulled off at the deadline in 2012, adding a bench bat a la Gaby Sanchez.  Second, we could see them jump back in on the starting pitcher sweepstakes.  It’s a great unknown if David Price will be available again this year or not, but there will be other, more reasonable names such as Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and *gulp* Yovani Gallardo.  One thing I do NOT see happening is a bullpen arm.  Barring injury, the front office has done a masterful job assembling a very versatile bullpen, with no glaring needs.

"How many pallets of Double Bubble or Bubble Yum will Clint Hurdle go through in 2015?"

I went over to bubblegum-reference.com and looked at Clint’s CAR (Chews above replacement) rating for 2014 and it was a whopping 9.7,  which is beyond MVP-level according to Gumgraphs.  However, I see a decline this year.  Last year, Clint was not really healthy and thus his gum tendencies were a little high as he compensated for his hip injuries.  This year I would expect to see a regression to 2013 levels, which is to say I can see him going through 5-7 pallets easily.  Of course, this assumes Pedro Alvarez is respectable at first and doesn’t cause any further heart palpitations and stress in the Pirates’ skipper.

"What constitutes numbers solid enough to justify Polanco’s hype?"

The pressure on Gregory Polanco just got a little hotter as Travis Snider is no longer an expensive safety net.  Overall, I expect a healthy progression this year.  Let’s think about what the environment was like for El Coffee last year.  Fans were clamoring for his callup, and the front office was dodging questions left and right about why he wasn’t up, when everyone knew the reason was service time.  Finally, there was the talk of Neal Huntington trying to lock up Polanco to a long term deal, and by all accounts those negotiations were stressful at best.  So when the kid finally got the call, he was likely ready to just forget everything and swing the bat.  And he did, to the tune of a .288 AVG in his first month as the majors.  It seemed to me that as he settled into an everyday role, he had time to perhaps over-think his approach and it showed as he looked absolutely lost in some at bats.

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The larger point I’m making here is that I think with a year under his belt and no distractions, he can just go out and play baseball.  To answer the question more directly, I think somewhere in the .280/.375/.425 range would be great.  I’d like to see him slug well enough to leg out some more doubles with his ridiculous gallop.  Stats aside, I would like to see him take better at-bats and  avoid any prolonged slumps like his September swoon.  I think the eye-test will tell us a lot more than his stats in his case.

"Should normal relations be restored in Cuba,what would the chances of a MLB franchise down there?"

It’s a great thought, and I fully expect it to happen at some point.  Logistically, Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida, so travel wouldn’t be too difficult.  I’m not fully qualified to answer this, but I also have read that the infrastructure in Cuba is sorely lacking compared to the United States, so it will take some time.  However, the strategies that front offices, like the Pirates’, have implemented when it comes to reaching out to Latin players and communities in the last 10 years makes it very viable.

"Will they be able to sign Gerrit Cole to a long term contract"

Tough one.  Truthfully, and I hate to say this, but I don’t see it happening.  Number one, Cole is a hard-throwing Scott Boras client.  You may have heard of his other high-profile starting pitcher clients in Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg, both of whom are going to demand high salaries, and this doesn’t even mention the hitters that employ him.  Boras is notorious for playing hardball (pardon the pun) with his pitching clients to ensure them a payday to guard against injuries.  Second, I really don’t think the Pittsburgh Pirates should do this right away until he can prove that he can shoulder the load of being “the man” for a full season and stay healthy doing it.  I’d like to see that before I commit to a long-term contract for Cole.  One thing that works in favor of an extension is that by the time he is truly a free-agent, Liriano’s salary will be off the books, conveniently opening up some funds.  In the end, I just don’t see a Scott Boras client NOT explore the free agent market.

These are my answers.  I hope they can help put your mind at ease regarding the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Stay tuned for another Q&A session once spring training starts!