Bob Smizik: Snider strengthens his case

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The Pirates have some difficult roster decisions to make this week and short of someone going on the disabled list those decisions are going to be painful. Valued players will be released and/or returned to the minors.

Neil Walker (appendicitis) is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday. He played second base for the Class A Bradenton Marauders Sunday and was 1-for-4 . Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (shoulder fatigue) is eligible to come off any time. He is scheduled to throw a simulated game today. Cole is the Pirates’‍‍ projected ace. They’ll want him back as soon as he’s ready.

The question: Who goes when they return?

The decision on who will be dropped when Walker returns was discussed extensively last week. But there are some new twists in this saga. The candidates are: backup middle infielder Clint Barmes and outfielders Jose Tabata, a right-handed hitter, and Travis Snider, a left-handed hitter. None has an option remaining. Barmes is playing on a one-year, $2 million contract; Snider on a one-year, $1.2 million contract; Tabata on a contract that will pay him a total of $11.5 million this year and for the next two.

• Barmes’ value remains pretty much the same as was discussed last week. He is the team’s only experienced shortstop behind Jordy Mercer.

• Same with Tabata. He was hitless in three at-bats Saturday, his only start since Gregory Polanco joined the team.

• Snider, however, continues to drive up his value. Not only has he become an exceptional pinch-hitter, he homered and had a single in three at-bats Sunday in his only start since Polanco joined the team. Additionally, in his past two pinch-hit attempts he was robbed by superior defensive plays.

In order of their value to the team going ahead: 1. Snider; 2. Barmes; 3. Tabata.

But Tabata is owed significantly more money than the other two. They could move him to the head of the list.

I have revised my projections from last week -- considerably. At the time, I judged Snider as having a 60 percent chance of being the player who would be released. Upon further consideration, based on how well he is playing and based on how much the Pirates like his upside (he’s only 26), I think he has the best chance of staying. (Yes, that sets a new record for flip-flopping.)

If this team is serious about contending, Snider brings the most to that hope.

I now see Barmes as the player most likely to go and the Tabata contract has as much to do with that as the actual value of the two players. If Mercer is hurt and a replacement is needed for more than a game or two, the Pirates could opt to add to the roster Robert Andino, now playing at Indianapolis, who has more than 100 games as a MLB starter at shortstop.

It’s possible Barmes would clear waivers and accept a minor-league assignment.

The obvious choice to step aside for Cole was Brandon Cumpton. However, Cumpton put in a strong bid to stay on the roster with an outstanding performance Sunday in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. In seven innings, he allowed no runs, two hits and two walks.

But because he has options and a lesser pedigree than Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, in all likelihood Cumpton will head back to Indianapolis when Cole is activated. Cumpton has done everything that’s been asked of him. Except for a horrific start May 31 vs. the Dodgers -- 10 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings -- he has, at least, kept the Pirates in the games he was called upon to start.

But he’s not going to be ahead of Cole, Charlie Morton or Edinson Volquez. And as well as he has pitched, he has not pitched as well this year as Worley, who has no options, and Locke. Barring an injury, it’s hard to imagine Cumpton not returning to Indianapolis -- and staying ready for his next summons -- when Cole is activated.

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