Projecting the Pirates' 2016 opening-day roster, two weeks early
LF Starling Marte (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
BRADENTON, Fla. — With two weeks remaining before opening day, it’s high time for a roster projection sure to be proven wrong. This try at the 25-man roster is a fool’s game, really, a house of cards ready to come crashing down once the Pirates swing a trade or somebody gets hurt.
But, hey, let’s do this anyway.
C Francisco Cervelli
C Chris Stewart
So far, we’re batting 1.000.
1B John Jaso
1B Michael Morse
2B Josh Harrison
3B David Freese
SS Jordy Mercer
1B/3B Jason Rogers
UTIL Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Cole Figueroa
This is madness. No time to explain now. Keep reading.
RF Gregory Polanco
CF Andrew McCutchen
LF Starling Marte
First, what are the ramifications of picking these 13 position players? Pedro Florimon is DFA’d, as he was twice last season and not claimed on waivers — but he is 7 for 24 this spring with a team-leading 10 RBIs. Jake Goebbert has an option and is sent to the minors.
And then there’s the fourth outfielder thing. The Pirates brought Matt Joyce on a minor-league deal to potentially be an extra outfielder and a left-handed bat on the bench — the bench, as it is constructed here, is Stewart, Rodriguez, Rogers (all RHH, though Rogers is good vs. RHP) and lefty Figueroa to go along with the first baseman not starting that day, either Morse (RHH) or Jaso (LHH).
But in this world, the Pirates pay Joyce the $100,000 retention bonus to start in the minors, then use a combination of Morse, Rodriguez and Figueroa as their fourth outfielder. Remember, McCutchen, Marte and Polanco don’t need many days off. Last season, they appeared in 157, 153 and 153 games, respectively.
Where this goes haywire is if, say, Morse is moved in the next month as the Pirates prepare for Jung Ho Kang’s return and Freese’s move from third to first to join Jaso in the first-base platoon. If that were to happen before opening day, Joyce is added to the 40-man roster and stays on as the fourth outfielder.
RHP Gerrit Cole
LHP Francisco Liriano
LHP Jon Niese
RHP Ryan Vogelsong
LHP Jeff Locke
When the Pirates signed Vogelsong to a one-year deal in mid-December, there I was, standing in the produce section at Wegman’s in Rochester, N.Y. Right then and there, I knew it, and you did too: the Pirates opening day-rotation was set.
Granted, given that in his most recent outing Juan Nicasio struck out 10 of the 14 Baltimore Orioles hitters that dared step into the batter’s box to oppose him, there’s still a real chance he could unseat somebody by opening day. But, for now, these still are the five.
RHP Mark Melancon
LHP Tony Watson
RHP Arquimedes Caminero
RHP Juan Nicasio
RHP Neftali Feliz
RHP Jared Hughes
LHP Kyle Lobstein
The back end of the bullpen is as strong as ever, with Melancon and Watson. Caminero and Hughes have had ugly springs but, assuming they’re healthy, they will get the benefit of the doubt. Free-agent signings Nicasio and Feliz look strong so far.
Which leaves us with one spot, and the chief candidates are left-handers, since Watson is the only other southpaw in the bullpen. If we’re looking at lefties, it’s either Lobstein, Eric O’Flaherty or Cory Luebke. O’Flaherty and Luebke signed minor-league contracts right before spring training and could contribute eventually, but considering that the rotation could have its bad days early on, my bet is the Pirates keep Lobstein as a second long reliever, rather than keep a one-inning lefty. Lobstein already is on the 40-man roster, plus, with Vance Worley gone the Pirates have been looking for a goggle guy in the ‘pen.
All that said, manager Clint Hurdle could decide he doesn’t need a second lefty in the bullpen and instead add a sixth right-hander — Rob Scahill or Trey Haley are optionable but could be added without a change in the 40-man roster.