Bob Smizik: About first base, right field and those Pirates ‘offers’

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What was more surprising in the Pirates' 11-2 win over Milwaukee last night: The clutch, go-ahead, pinch-hit home run by Josh Harrison in the seventh inning? Or the continued excellence of Edinson Volquez?

Now on to other matters:

There was discussion in the comment section yesterday about right field and first base and how cheap the Pirates were for not signing better players. Those cheap comments were countered by recounting the attempts the Pirates made to sign better players.

This is a commentary on all three of those points:

The Pirates ‘offers’

There is reason for skepticism concerning some Pirates offers to high-end talent. Often, they just don’t quite get the man they are said to want.

A couple of cases in point: In February, 2012, Ken Rosenthal tweeted the following: ''Pirates made 3-yr offer to Edwin Jackson. Also made him 1-yr offer below reported $11M Jackson received from Nationals."

At the time, Jackson was coming off two combined seasons of 22-21 with a 4.14 ERA and an approximate WHIP of 1.41. For his career, he is 78-90 with a 4.49 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. In fairness, Jackson is regarded as being better than those numbers. Still, those are his numbers.

Is there anyone who thinks the Pirates -- Bob Nutting's Pirates -- would offer such a pitcher the highest per annum contract in franchise history? Dream on!

There also is reason to believe they were not a serious suitor for first baseman James Loney and, yes, I’ve read all the quotes that they were right there in the running but would not go for the extra year.

Three reasons to substantiate why the Pirates were not as serious as reported about Loney, who re-signed with Tampa Bay.

* The Pirates rarely pay that kind of money to average players, and that’s what Loney is. His 2013 batting line was: .299/.348/.430 -- .778. The AL average for first basemen in 2013 was .257/.331/.445 -- .776. Average, in fact, might be stretching the description of Loney’s talent. This is his career line: .284/.340/.420 -- .760. To give those numbers some perspective, this is the career line for Garrett Jones: .254/.316/.455 -- .771.

* Loney wanted to play every day. The Pirates, with Gaby Sanchez one of the best first basemen in the league vs. left-handed pitching, could not offer that. The Pirates likely wouldn’t pay $7 million for a full-time first baseman of Loney’s talent. They’d be less likely to pay that to a part-timer.

* Andrew Lambo hit 32 home runs in the minors last season. Organizations like the Pirates cannot ignore those kinds of numbers from players with six years of control. They must give opportunity to such players when they are available.

First base

Justin Morneau’s career has gone steadily downhill since 2009. He has not hit 20 home runs or driven in 80 runs since that year. Considering what he showed in September and October and how his game had declined in recent years, there was no reason for the Pirates to even negotiate with Morneau, let alone give him two years at $12.5 million, which the Colorado Rockies did.

Kendrys Morales is a DH who would have cost the Pirates a first-round draft choice, to say nothing of an eight-figure salary. He has not been the same player since breaking his leg in a home-plate celebration in 2010.

Corey Hart was an intriguing possibility. The fact he’s a right-handed hitter made him less valuable to the Pirates as a first baseman. He had more value as a right fielder. But coming off two knee surgeries there were concerns about his ability to play the outfield. He’s done nothing but DH thus far for Seattle.

Right field

The Pirates were not going to pay the kind of salaries that Shin-Soo Choo (seven years, $130 million) and Carlos Beltran (three years, $45 million) received. Nor were they going to give up a first-round draft choice to sign Nelson Cruz (one year, $8 million).

But they had options they chose not to explore. This looks to be a case of the team’s unwillingness to spend. That’s a stance that is difficult to comprehend since the Pirates are a contender and an upgrade in right field and, more significantly, the middle of the lineup could be the difference between making or not making the playoffs.

The case could be made that Jose Tabata had an improved and promising season in 2013 and Travis Snider is believed to have a significant upside. But if the team wasn’t going to upgrade at first base, it needed to upgrade over those two in right field. There were options.

Marlon Byrd was not one of them. It is astonishing that some people can’t look beyond 2013 in evaluating Byrd. He had a career year at age 35 in 2013. Prior to that, he had been in steady decline since 2009. As posted yesterday, his career stats are remarkably similar to those of Gaby Sanchez, but with less power. It would have been senseless to attempt to match the money he received from Philadelphia, two years, $16 million.

David DeJesus has a career OPS of .809 against right-handed pitching. Better still, he has a career on-base percentage against right-handers of .364. His acquisition could have allowed the Pirates to move Starling Marte lower in the lineup. DeJesus signed with Tampa Bay for two years, $10.5 million. In fairness, DeJesus’ OPS against RHP was down to .772 last year. But it was .826 the year before with a .365 on-base percentage.

The best option for the Pirates was Michael Morse, a right-handed batter, who was coming off a bad season and because of that his value had plunged. But from 2010-2012, Morse had an OPS of .826, .910 and .791. He hit 31 home runs in 2011. His career line -- against all pitching: .283/.336/.475 -- .811.

What’s more, he was amenable to a one-year contract and signed one with San Francisco for $6 million. He’d look good in right field for the Pirates.

The notion the Pirates should have done nothing because Gregory Polanco is on the way is preposterous. There are no guarantees with young players. As was posted the other day, neither Dave Parker nor Barry Bonds made major impacts in their first partial seasons with the Pirates.


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