Bob Smizik: Pirates still at least one piece short

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There was not a left-handed hitting first baseman under Neal Huntington's Christmas tree yesterday morning, which means the Pirates are still in the market for at least one final piece to their 2014 team.

The remainder of the club looks solidly set: Around the infield will be Neil Walker at second base, Jordy Mercer and a dash of Clint Barmes at shortstop and Pedro Alvarez at third base. The outfield will be Starling Marte in left field, Andrew McCutchen in center and Jose Tabata and Travis Snider in right. Russell Martin is set at catcher.

As of now, the rotation is Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez. Jeff Locke is the first option. The bullpen, starting from the back end, will be Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel. Bryan Morris is the first option.

There are two well-known chances for change: A.J. Burnett and a first baseman.

It’s easy to maintain, as the Pirates have, the door is open for Burnett, who is still said to be deciding about his future. Whether the money is available to pay Burnett the going rate for a pitcher of his talent, upwards of $10 million, is another matter.

The first basemen still available in free agency are not likely to interest the Pirates. If the team plans to acquire a platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez it will likely be through a trade.

The most prominent names mentioned have been Ike Davis of the Mets, Adam Lind of Toronto, Justin Smoak of Seattle and Mitch Moreland of Texas. That doesn’t mean those players will be easily available.

Moreland, for example, is pencilled in as the Rangers starting DH against right-handed pitching. Since the team just spent $130 million to add Shin-Soo Choo, it is not likely to be dabbling any further in free agency to find a replacement for Moreland. Smoak is in a similar situation but one that is more fluid. He’s listed as the Mariners’ starting first basemen, but the team is reported to be a possible destination for Nelson Cruz. If that happens, Logan Morrison probably would move frin right field to first base and Smoak would figure to come available.

A deal for Lind, although possible, is not likely since the Blue Jays reportedly wanted Neil Walker in return.

Davis, however, is very much available. The Mets currently have two left-handed hitting first basemen with similar credentials -- Davis and Lucas Duda. Davis is said to be the player the Mets would prefer to deal. Whether that’s because his salary will be much higher than Duda’s in 2014 -- about $3.5 million to about $1.8 million -- or because they believe Davis will fetch more is undetermined. It might be a combination of both.

SaberBucs.com had a couple of favorable reviews of Davis last week.

In any case, the chances of anything happening in the immediate future are unlikely. This scenario may not fully play out until the approach of spring training or during it.

Huntington has said the Pirates might be willing to go with Sanchez as their full-time first baseman. No one took that comment too seriously, but it is probably something the Pirates once seriously considered.

At one time in his career, Sanchez was an adequate full-time first baseman. He had 572 at bats both in 2010 and 2011 with the Marlins. He hit 19 home runs both seasons and drove in 85 and 79 runs. His OPS, against all pitching, was .789 and .779. The average OPS for National League first basemen last year was .768.

The problem with those numbers is that Sanchez has not maintained his ability to hit right-handed pitching. In 2012, he had 203 ABs (Marlins and Pirates) vs. RHP and a .566 OPS. Last season, in 162 ABS he had a .619 OPS.

Clearly, the recent Sanchez is not satisfactory.

That same might also apply of Andrew Lambo, an outfielder/first baseman whose stock soared last season when he hit 32 minor-league home runs and had a .922 OPS in a season split between Class AA and AAA. But playing this offseason in the Venezuelan, Lambo had no homers and a .645 OPS in 92 at bats. Of note, his OPS vs. RHP in 59 ABs in Venezuela was .494.

The fact the Pirates decided to bring back Travis Snider, also a left-handed hitting outfielder, was an indication they don't have big plans for Lambo in 2014.

The Pirates' in-organization options at first base are extremely limited. A contender needs something approaching an established power bat at first base. And for the Pirates that almost certainly means a trade.


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