Bob Smizik: No news not good news for Pirates

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It’s early and a lot can change. But the Pirates offseason thus far has been a disappointment.

No new right fielder (of note)

No new first baseman

No A.J. Burnett

* Judging from the comments of general manager Neal Huntington, the right field situation is not going to change. The Pirates will pick their right fielder from this group of four: Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, Jaff Decker, Andrew Lambo.

Those players have a combined 2,660 MLB at bats and 56 home runs. That’s a homer every 47 at bats. For a team that currently does not have a power bat in left field or first base, that’s a risky choice. Unless something extraordinary happens in spring training, the Pirates will open with Tabata and Snider, although not necessarily in a straight platoon. Both are out options. Decker and Lambo are not.

Yeah, I know, Gregory Polanco is on the way.

But this is no longer 2009 when Andrew McCutchen was on the way. It was not a problem thrusting the rookie McCutchen into the starting lineup of a losing team. Nor is it 2012 when Starling Marte came up in July and posted a .737 OPS the rest of the way, as the Pirates collapsed.

It’s something entirely different to ask Polanco to arrive this summer, with less than 300 Class AAA at bats, and be a force in what, hopefully, will be a pennant race.

* Not having a left-handed hitting first baseman on the roster did not seem to greatly bother Huntington, but he acknowledged that Gaby Sanchez being the full-time guy at the position might not be glad tidings to some. "I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with Gaby as our answer; we’re not.’’

Uncomfortable would be an understatement. Such a move might be the precursor of a storming of PNC Park. Sanchez is a more-than-competent platoon first baseman. He had this batting line against lefties last season: .333/.448/.539 -- .987. His OPS was 10th best in the National League. It was higher than, among others, Paul Goldschmidt, Hunter Pence and Marlon Byrd.

Facing right-handers is another matter. His career line against righties is: .242/.313/.387 -- .700.

A variety of names have been advanced as a platoon partner for Sanchez. They include (via trade) Adam Lind of Toronto, Mitch Moreland of Texas, Logan Morrison of Miami and Ike Davis of the Mets and free agent James Loney.

The Pirates have both the prospects to fetch a first baseman and the money to buy one. That doesn’t mean it will happen.

* The problems at first base and right field will diminish considerably if Burnett decides to pitch in 2014 for the Pirates. He has indicated he might retire. It was assumed since there has been no word from him the team might have moved on. It has not.

Huntington said, "If we get to a point where it may now block us from doing something we want to do and we’re about to make a decision, there may come a decision point. As of now, it hasn’t blocked us or stopped us from doing anything we want to do. How much longer does that go on? That’s a great question, and one I don’t really have an answer to. The market will dictate that."

Put Burnett in a rotation that includes Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez and the Pirates offensive shortcomings are less significant. They, of course, will still exist but pitching covers a lot of weaknesses.

Burnett has all kinds of options. He can retire. He can sign with the Pirates. He can declare himself open to the highest bidder. He can retire until mid-summer and return to a frenzy of competitive bidding for his services among pitching-desperate contenders.

As stated, it’s early. St. Louis has added shortstop Jhonny Peralta and outfielder Peter Bourjos, but it has lost outfielder Carlos Beltran and third baseman David Freese. Cincinnati has lost center fielder Shin-Soo Choo and seems ready to replace him with uninspired internal options.

The Pirates remain a viable contender in the NL Central.


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