Bob Smizik: Is Ike the answer?

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On one issue concerning the Pirates there is near-total agreement: First base has been a glaring weakness this season.

The phrase “near-total” was used because not every person agrees. Neal Huntington, the Pirates general manager, is one of them. Here’s what he said Sunday:

"We felt less comfortable with last year's club, as silly as it sounds with the win-loss record. But we had a pretty glaring need in right field that we went out and addressed, and even at first base. … As we sit here right now, we have some internal options that if they step forward, we're going to get some quality production from them. But we'll still look to get better if there's an opportunity out there."

When the Pirates acquired Marlon Byrd on Aug. 27 of last year to fill the ''pretty glaring need in right field,’’ Jose Tabata was near the end of a month in which his batting line was: .310/.363/.488 -- .851. In terms of batting average and OPS, only Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte had a better August.

Yet, according to Huntington, the Pirates had a glaring hole in right field in 2013, but don’t at first base in 2014.

Let’s take a closer look at first base to see if there is a glaring need:

• Going into last night’s game with Los Angeles, this was the batting line of Ike Davis, the Pirates primary first baseman: .235/.349/.338 -- .687.

• This was the line for Gaby Sanchez, who plays against left-handed pitching: .235/.294/.416 -- .710.

• These were their batting lines since June 1: Davis: .170/.317/.240 -- .557; Sanchez: .194/.266/.264 -- .530.

• In 63 at bats this month, the Pirates first basemen had combined for three RBIs.

Those numbers are the very definition of a glaring need, despite what the Pirates general manager might say.

So what are they going to do about it? Probably nothing.

Huntington’s words took on a slight touch of prophecy -- ''we have some internal options that if they step forward, we're going to get some quality production . . . ’’ -- last night as Davis had three hits including a home run and drove in two in the Pirates’ 12-7 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.

Davis has a long, long, long way to go to prove himself, but this performance was a starting point. And there’s this: Davis has been a much better second-half hitter during his career. He has a .698 OPS in the first half and an .866 OPS in the second half.

Based on an article last week at MLBTR.com, the first base market is so shallow that the Pirates might have little choice but to stick with Davis and Sanchez -- as incredible as that sounds. These are the starting first baseman that might be available, according to the site:

Justin Morneau, Rockies; Allen Craig and Matt Adams, Cardinals; James Loney, Rays; Garrett Jones, Marlins; Ryan Howard, Phillies; Carlos Pena (since released), Rangers; Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison, Mariners; Yonder Alonso, Padres; Davis and Sanchez.

The possibility of the Cardinals trading a first baseman to the Pirates is highly unlikely, which makes Morneau the only player worthy of significant interest in that group. He has played very well for Colorado this season, 60 RBIs and an .846 OPS, but is currently on the disabled list and will be at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. His lacklustre performance with the Pirates in the final six weeks of the 2013 season should not be enough to cause the team to lose interest, but it is a factor. Nor is it known if the Rockies, who have him under contract for next season, are interested in moving him.

Jones got off to a good start with Miami, but has been in decline and since May 24 has a .580 OPS. Loney, who the Pirates showed some interest in the offseason has a .728 OPS.

At the moment, some of those players are better options than Davis. But they are either not available or not easily acquired.

Huntington has rarely overpaid for a player and is not likely to do so for the caliber of first baseman on the market -- at least not between now and July 31. If there was an obvious productive addition -- excluding Morneau -- Huntington might be inclined to do what he did last year to acquire Marlon Byrd and pay as much as he ever has in terms of prospects for a single player.

But with a near-barren market, at least for the weeks ahead, it looks like Davis and Sanchez will be the Pirates first basemen.


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