Decision Day for the Pirates, who lost ugly last night to the Cincinnati Reds, figures to arrive early next week when Neil Walker is expected to come off the disabled list, which means a spot on the active roster must be opened for him. As often is the case in such matters, there’s no richly deserving or totally unneeded player to summarily dispatch.
Most certainly it will not be the player who took Walker’s roster spot -- Gregory Polanco. That leaves three leading candidates: Clint Barmes, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata.
* Barmes, 35, is a light-hitting backup middle infielder who in recent years has become one of the worst offensive players in the National League. He is batting .230 with a .571 OPS. But Barmes, signed through this year for $2 million, is the Pirates’ only experienced backup shortstop. There have been suggestions that Josh Harrison could fill that role. If the Pirates believe that to be true, then in almost all certainty Barmes will be the player to go. But Harrison has only 18 MLB starts at shortstop and is not believed to have the skills to handle that position other than on an occasional/rare basis.
Robert Andino, playing at Indianapolis, has started 116 MLB games at shortstop. Michael Martinez, also at Indianapolis, has some MLB experience at shortstop -- 16 starts. But in his brief career, he has started more at third base, second base and the outfield.
• Tabata, 25, had a highly promising finish to the 2013 season. He filled in well for Starling Marte, who missed a chunk of time beginning in August. Tabata posted an .851 OPS in August and an .844 in September in 84 and 73 at-bats, respectively. Although a .294 average might indicate some success this year, his full line -- .294/.331/.338 -- .669 -- says otherwise.
Tabata, a right-handed hitting outfielder, would be the leading candidate to go if it were not for his contract. He signed a six-year deal in August 2011 that calls for him to be paid $3 million this year, $4 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016. That means the Pirates owe Tabata more than $10 million through 2016. It seems unlikely they would eat such a contract.
• Snider, a left-handed hitting outfielder, has been a massive disappointment when given the opportunity to be the team’s regular right fielder. His career batting line, including time with Toronto, is .240/.305/.392 -- .697. Snider, 26, is signed through this year at $1.2 million. All of that would make him not only the ideal candidate to go but also an easy choice.
But in the midst of all this starting failure, Snider, 26, has emerged as a reliable and dangerous pinch-hitter. He is 9-for-29 with a double and a home run in that role this season. His batting line as a pinch-hitter is extraordinary: .310/.412/.448 -- .860. Add to that the fact he hit three pinch-hit home runs last season and Snider is a splendid part for a team that does not need a starting outfielder but does need a quality bat off the bench.
General Manager Neal Huntington famously does not like to relinquish assets and will do everything possible to forestall the day when he must give up on a player who has the ability to help the team. He no doubt is already attempting to find a trade partner for either Tabata or Snider. Failing that, the Pirates could, in the very short term, possibly go to to an 11-man pitching staff to gain a couple of days in which to make a trade.
In a nutshell:
• Tabata: He's a better fourth outfielder than Snider but a worse pinch-hitter. All that is secondary to his contract. Chances: 15 percent.
• Barmes: His total package is a distant third of the three, but just like every team needs a backup catcher, it also needs a backup shortstop. Chances: 25 percent.
• Snider: Backup outfielders are not as vital as backup shortstops. He’s owed pocket change. Chances: 60 percent.