How will the Pittsburgh Pirates latest free agent signing impact the Opening Day roster?
Friday, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed utility man JT Riddle. In what was a bit of a surprise, Riddle’s contract is a MLB deal and not a minor league contract. As a result, Riddle now finds himself on the Pirates 40-man roster and is all but a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
So, with Riddle on board, what is next? How does this signing impact the 2020 Pirates?
First off, it gives the team two utility/backup shortstop types in Riddle and Erik Gonzalez. Both players can play the middle infield and the outfield, while Gonzalez can also play third base.
Both Riddle and Gonzalez are glove first players. Additionally, both struggle offensively. Essentially, they are the same player. So, now what?
Well, the Pirates could go a few different directions.
An Adam Frazier trade remains an option as Spring Training approaches. If Frazier is traded, odds are, Kevin Newman will slide over to second base while Cole Tucker becomes the team’s starting shortstop. This would open the door for both Riddle and Gonzalez to make the Opening Day roster.
If Frazier is not moved, then Tucker would likely start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. Not only would it make little sense for the Pirates to carry three bench players that can play the middle infield, it would also benefit Tucker more to receive daily at bats at the Triple-A level than to be starting once or twice a week at the MLB level.
There is also the possibility that Gonzalez does not make the Opening Day roster. He has minor league options remaining, and, to be honest, is also a DFA candidate. Especially with minor league signees Robbie Erlin and Derek Holland both likely to make the Opening Day bullpen, requiring spots on the 40-man roster to be opened up.
Another factor working in Riddle’s favor is that he is a left-handed hitter. Left-handed hitters off the bench are more valuable than right-handed hitters. So, if only one of Riddle or Gonzalez is going to make the Opening Day roster, odds are, it will be Riddle.