You know what? I'm tired of being negative about this off-season. I still don't think that things are going to play out terribly well for the Pirates this winter, but I also don't think I've done a good job of making it clear that I don't think the Pirates are breaking up the 1927 Yankees again. Ronny Cedeno and Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm and Garrett Jones (should he be non-tendered) are all replaceable. They're not All-Stars. They might be the best the Pirates can do for 2012, but doesn't just thinking that make you feel dirty? I hope the Pirates can do better. So let's sit down and think of ways Neal Huntington might be able to improve this team this winter, because otherwise, it's going to be an awful and negative off-season.
Finding a good shortstop is hard, which is why I think letting Ronny Cedeno go is awfully hard to understand. Cedeno's not necessarily a good shortstop, mind you, but he played very strong defense at short on a team that was better at getting ground balls than strikeouts. His value to the team was particularly driven home when he was hurt and Chase d'Arnaud played short. d'Arnaud was just as bad at the plate as Cedeno and worse in the field and it was noticeable.
So what happens now that the Pirates have let Cedeno walk? The internal options aren't all that great in 2012. I'm not sure what d'Arnaud will ever be capable of as a big league shortstop. His glove isn't all that great and while his bat may come around some, I don't know that it'll be enough. Jordy Mercer's glove is a bit better and he showed some pop in Double and Triple-A last year, but he's got serious OBP problems and only 250 PAs above Double-A to boot. Pedro Ciriaco probably hits worse than either of them and while he's got a decent defensive reputation, I'm not sure it's enough. If I were ranking the three right now, I'd go Mercer/d'Arnaud/Ciriaco and I'd probably let Mercer and d'Arnaud battle it out for the spot in spring training, but it'd be best if it didn't come to that. So what are the club's other options?
The free agent market is not good. If you go to Fangraphs and sort 2011's shortstops with 450+ PAs by WAR, you won't see many names below Ronny Cedeno. The names you will see below Cedeno, you'll also see on the free agent list: Alex Gonzalez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Orlando Cabrera. All three of those guys would probably play for the Pirates if the price was right. They shouldn't. But who else is there on the list? John McDonald? Jamey Carroll? Ramon Santiago? Pass, pass, pass. Rafael Furcal's play improved a bit once he was traded to the Cardinals, but there's a good chance his defense will be atrocious. Cesar Izturis might work as a cheaper Ronny Cedeno replacement as his glovework is very, very good, but his bat is just terrible. Really, there's not much to find here on the free agent market for the Pirates, because they're not signing Jose Reyes and they'd be insane to try and sign Jimmy Rollins given his demands and his declining skillset.
The best option for the Pirates might be, ulp, Nick Punto. He's a strong fielder at short according to DRS and a heck of a fielder according to UZR and while I wouldn't expect him to match his offensive output from 2011 again, he can at least take the occasional walk. I can pretty much promise you that if you're sabermetrically inclined at all that John Wehner and Bob Walk and Greg Brown's love for Punto will fill your eyes with blood and your heart with rage by the end of 2012. If the Pirates sign Nick Punto and somehow finish about .500 or get to the playoffs, he will be second behind Clint Hurdle in terms of receiving undeserved praise for the accomplishment and you will straight up want to commit a felony to make it stop. But that thing I said about decent shorstops being hard to find isn't less true just because people overavlue the short, "scrappy" guy.
Edited to add: Clint Barmes kind of fits this same role as Punto -- a guy who's glove grades really well at short in one advanced metric (DRS) and decent in another (UZR) and who can't really hit but might sort of fake his way through it a bit (actually, he's more likely to do that than Punto is). I'd forgotten the Astros moved him back to short after the Rockies had him at second in the Tulo era, but he's definitely a free agent option. Thanks to @pghiconoclast for reminding me to mention him.
Where shorstop is different from starting pitching or catching, though, is that the Pirates don't have a whole heck of a lot in the way of minor league talent at the position and so a trade might be worth pursuing. Beyond the Box Score had a good look at the position just a couple of weeks ago, which I'm using for a starting point here. Jed Lowrie always comes up because he's squeezed between Marco Scutaro, who the Red Sox are bringing back in 2012, and Jose Iglesias (actually, he might be a trade target himself since he can't hit but has a great glove). There's not really any guarantee Lowrie can hit, though, because he's 27 and he hasn't really done it in the big leagues over an extended period yet. He's also quite injury prone. Still, if the Red Sox lose Papelbon, maybe the Pirates could swing a Hanrahan for Lowrie trade (I'm spitballing here, Ben Cherington is a smart guy by all accounts, which means he probably won't overvalue closers or undervalue shortstops) or something along those lines.
Another place to possibly look for shortstops would be Cleveland. SHOCKING NEWS, I know. But there's not a whole ton of room for Luis Valbuena there and over parts of five seasons in Triple-A he's hit .304/.387/.468 and though his big league performance record is spotty, he's only got 806 PAs in four partial seasons at the big league level and he won't be 26 until the end of the month, which means that there's some room for improvement. It looks like he was primarily a second baseman in the minors, so I'm not sure how good his defense is and I'm not sure I'd give up a whole ton in a trade for him, but then he might not be as expensive in a trade as someone with a better reputation (like Lowrie) or a legitimate shortstop (like Iglesias). There is a decent chance he'd be an upgrade over what the Pirates have on the team and in the system, though, and that makes him worth considering.
At the end of the day, though, I'm guessing the Pirates want to take one more year to evaluate Mercer and d'Arnaud and Brock Holt before giving up on them entirely, which makes a trade less likely and John Perrotto's guess from yesterday, that the Pirates will sign a short-term stopgap and go from there, more likely. Then again, if that's what they wanted to do, why wouldn't they just keep Cedeno?
Prediction: The Pirates will give Josh Harrison first crack at winning the shortstop job, even if his defense at the position is a question mark . Don't be surprised if they ask him to play shortstop in winter ball and then see how he does in spring training. If nothing else, he would hold the job for a year until they see what they have in Chase d'Arnaud, Pedro Ciriaco and Jordy Mercer. The problem with that strategy is that only one of those three can play regularly at AAA Indianpolis.
Also, as absurd as it may sound, don't be shocked if the Pirates sign 38-year-old Jamey Carroll (free agent from the Dodgers) as a stopgap utility infielder and safety net at shortstop. The Expos drafted Carroll way back in 1996 -- when Neil Huntington was starting out in the Montreal organization. As goofy as it sounds, it would be a typically Huntingtonian move.
Without delving into the six year free agent list, shortstop seems quite a desert of talent freely available. I think, given the staff makeup, the Pirates should find a glove guy and given the growing infatuation with Rockies, Barmes seems to be a likely candidate for a short-term contract with assurances he would be the everyday SS.
I've heard the Rangers might have Feliz start next year and will need pen help after moving Adams to closer, do you think they could swing a deal for Moreland and Profar somehow involving Hanrahan? They have Andrus already who is a young guy and Profar could be on the same path as Cole and Taillon if not sooner than that. Just wondering, Hanrahan and someone else who isn' t in the long term plans for those 2 would be a good deal for them and the Rangers, just depends how much they value Profar.
Um, no. Jurickson Profar is one of the best prospects in the minors. Jon Daniels is a smart guy. Hanrahan alone isn't worth Profar, so what else do the Pirates add to acquire him? Hmmm, maybe a Tallion or one of the bonus baby arms or several perhaps. That's not an attractive deal for Texas at all. Plus, closers are rather fungible and I bet the Rangers know that fact and will either look internally or to the free agent market rather than trading a top flight prospect for a closer, irrespective of the performance.
That said, could Texas trade for Hanrahan - sure. Just don't expect much in return.
Liking the series so far Pat. The pitchers post brought up some names I hadn't heard, and this one reminded me of Barmes and Punto. Really not sure what the plan is here though, given that they didn't just keep Cedeno.