Bob Smizik: Barmes signing no-confidence vote for Mercer

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Random thoughts on the Pirates:

Here’s a question for you, Pirates fans:

When was the last time a contending team signed a player whose primary function would be to serve as a defensive alternative to its starting shortstop?

Generally speaking, teams in legitimate search of a title have shortstops and center fielders and usually second basemen who don’t need to be replaced defensively. If they do, their contender’s credential are in doubt.

The signing of Barmes means the Pirates do not have complete faith in the defensive ability of Jordy Mercer. There’s no other explanation. There's no other role Barmes, at this stage of his career, could remotely fill on a championship-caliber team. The Pirates already have one light-hitting backup infielder in Josh Harrison. Now they have a second.

There’s no disputing Barmes lack of offensive credentials.

Of the 134 National League players who had more than 300 at bats last season, Barmes was 129 in batting average; 133 in on-base percentage; 127 in slugging percentage and 132 in OPS. The year before, of 137 players he was 125 in batting, 137 in on-base, 132 in slugging and 134 in OPS.

They don’t come much worse than that.

The signing of Barmes means he’ll be sharing the Pirates bench with, among others, Harrison and catcher Chris Stewart. That’s a vast wasteland of offense and speaks, once again, to general manager Neal Huntington’s inability to build a strong bench.

He had the right idea, but the wrong player, when he brought aboard Brandon Inge last season. Inge looked like the perfect bench player for the Pirates -- a power bat and a right-handed hitter who could, on occasion, platoon with Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker. Unfortunately, although he had a reasonably productive season in 2012, Inge’s offensive abilities had vanished by 2013.

The Pirates need an Inge-type player on their roster. Neither Harrison nor Barmes is an adequate replacement offensively for Alvarez -- although both have been better against left-handers than Walker has.

•••

The signing of first baseman James Loney by Tampa Bay, his 2013 team, was an example of proper refrain by Huntington. Loney certainly wasn’t worth the $27 million to $30 million he wanted for three years and he’s not likely worth the $21 million Tampa Bay will pay him.

Loney had a bad year in 2011: 12 home runs, 65 RBIs in 531 at bats with a .755 OPS

He had a worse year in 2012: six home runs, 41 RBIs in 434 at bats with a .629 OPS

He had a good first half in 2013: Nine home runs, 43 RBIs in 324 at bats with a .832 OPS.

He had a poor second half in 2013: Four homers, 32 RBIs in 225 ABs with a .700 OPS.

One good half out of six should not warrant the contract Loney received, even in these inflated times.

Facing right-handed pitching over the past three seasons, Loney had a .793 OPS. Over that same span, Garrett Jones had an .826 OPS.

None of this, of course, does anything to solve the Pirates need for a left-handed hitting first baseman. The free-agent market is pretty dry. There are players probably available by trade, such as Ike Davis, Adam Lind, Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland. But that would require Huntington parting with a top prospect or more and he has been slow to make such deals.

•••

ESPN.com MLB insider Keith Law, a former MLB scout and player personnel executive, was a guest with David Todd on 970 ESPN yesterday. Law absolutely trashed the Pirates signing of right-handed starter Edinson Volquez to a one-year $5 million deal.

He said all Volquez should have been offered was a minor-league contract with incentives or, at best, a $1 million with incentives.

One thing overlooked in the signing of Volquez: It goes against Huntington’s word that he would not pay even market value for free agents. Whether you like the Volquez signing or not, it’s hard to argue that $5 million is not over market value for a pitcher of his resume.


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