The exhibition schedule is moving toward the halfway point, the season opener is 20 days away and the Pirates unsettled first-base situation has not begun to sort itself out. All that’s known is Gaby Sanchez will get the at bats against left-handed pitching. Who faces right-handers, which figures to be about twice as many at bats, remains unknown.
The job is rookie Andrew Lambo’s for the taking, but he has not even done a pale imitation of seizing it with two hits, both singles, in 21 at bats (.095). Players who came to camp without a hope of winning the job could move into the discussion if Lambo doesn’t show something. Waiting, in case no one steps up, is Sanchez, who’d love to handle full-time duties.
And this: Trade possibilities are dim.
Three players were prominently mentioned in the offseason as possible trade candidates -- Mitch Moreland of Texas, Justin Smoak of Seattle and Ike Davis of the Mets. Moreland and Smoak remain important players for their respective teams, both of which consider themselves contenders. A trade of either player is unlikely. Davis, who was on the market all winter, has been out for a week with a strained calf and was last seen in a walking boot. He has only six at bats this spring. One of the New York dailies yesterday referred to Davis, quite understandably, as injury-prone.
A name mentioned recently was Mike Carp, a left-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder with the Red Sox. But Carp, who started 33 games in left and right field combined for Boston last season, and Grady Sizemore are the only left-handed hitting corner outfielders on the Red Sox 40-man roster and Sizemore hasn’t played since 2011. Carp, making only $1.4 million, doesn’t sound like a player Boston would casually move.
Which leaves the Pirates with Lambo, Sanchez, Chris McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa. All except Sanchez are left-handed hitters.
Handicapping the field:
• Lambo remains the leading candidate to win the job, despite his unimpressive spring numbers. It’s hard to overlook the 32 minor-league home runs he hit in 2013 and the way he mashed right-handed pitching while doing so. A downside is this: In 30 at bats (one homer) with the Pirates last season, he posted this line: .233/.303/.400 -- .703. And this: Last season was the first since 2008 he hit more than 11 home runs in a minor-league season. And this: In the Venezuelan Winter League, he batted .228 without a home run in 92 ABs.
• McGuiness has the best spring training numbers (6-for-19) of the left-handed hitting candidates and could seize the role is he continues to play well and Lambo doesn’t. It is worth noting, though, that McGuiness has not exactly been a minor-league basher. In 362 at bats in Class AAA last season, he hit 11 home runs and had a .792 OPS. He did, however, have a .949 OPS vs. right-handed pitching in 94 at bats. His only MLB experience was with Texas last season. He was 6-for-34 with one extra-base hit, a double, and no walks and 13 strikeouts.
• Ishikawa is not on the 40-man roster, but if the Pirates want, it would not take much serious juggling to find him a spot. However, that does not figure to be a likely scenario. In 684 career MLB at bats vs. right-handed pitching, this is Ishikawa’s line: .262/.329/.408 -- .737.
• Sanchez, who is 5-for-11 with three doubles this spring, has not handled right-handed pitching well since joining the Pirates. But general manager Neal Huntington continues to point out that while with the Florida Marlins, Sanchez was adequate against righties. But that was three seasons ago. His career OPS against right-handed pitching is .700 in 1,260 at bats. That, along with his lack of home-run power, should rule him out.
It’s not a promising picture. With a trade not likely, the Pirates best option -- perhaps only option -- is to go with Lambo and see if he can handle the job.