Garrett Jones at 1B. Neil Walker at 2B. Pedro Alvarez at 3B. Jose Tabata in LF. Andrew McCutchen in CF. Lastings Milledge in RF. Ryan Doumit at C (We can discuss his lack of defense another time). That’s a pretty good lineup, or at least has the potential to be one if the young players mature as expected. What? I left something out? Oh yeah, a shortstop.
Shortstop is a big problem for the Pirates. Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby have been inconsistent and below average. The front office knew this was a problem and tried to trade for J.J. Hardy in the off season, offering Matt Capps. Milwaukee opted for Carlos Gomez from the Twins instead. The closest options in the minors are not much better:
AAA: Argenis Diaz. Acquired from Boston in the Adam LaRoche trade. Stereotypical good glove/no bat type. Currently has an OPS of .600 after posting a .583 combined at Portland and Indianapolis last year.
Brian Bixler. Was called up in 2008 and 2009 with disastrous results. Was traded to Cleveland in the offseason for a low minors catcher. Recently reacquired for a PTBNL.
Brian Friday. Third round draft pick on 2007. 24 years old, decent prospect, hit well at Rice. Needs more seasoning though.
AA: Chase d’Arnaud. Fourth round pick in 2008. Currently OPSing .682 after going for an .852 clip last year at A and high-A combined. Best shortstop prospect in the system (#5 overall according to Buccofans.com) but obviously still needs some time.
With the internal options limited or unappealing, it time to look to other organizations for players who might be plundered. MLBTradeRumors.com recently posted a list of shortstops who could be available at the trade deadline. Alex Gonzalez and Yunel Escobar were traded for each other yesterday. Escobar projects as the kind of buy-low the Pirates should be in the market for, but I think the last thing they need is another head case player. (Jonah Keri just wrote a good article on perceived lazy players/head cases/etc. and their value.)
Here are the top outside options I see:
Stephen Drew – Hitting about league average this year which is good for a shortstop. Arizona is known to be in dealing mode but the Pirates probably don’t want to give up the prospects it would take to get him. Detroit is said to be interested.
Ryan Theriot – Having a down year and the Cubs are looking to rebuild. The Riot doesn’t have any power to speak of but can play second or short and will steal 20 bags while getting on base at a .350 rate.
Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis – Not known to be available (Izturis is currently on the DL) but they seem like redundant pieces to me. The contending Angels are unlike to trade either of them now but I think one of them could be pried away in the offseason.
Getting one of these four players (and a cather who can , you know, catch) would greatly improve the Pirates fortunes for 2011. Did I leave anyone out? Know any other shortstops that would be a fit? Am I an idiot? Tell me in the comments below or on twitter.