The Pirates Opening Day roster had a bench that consisted of backup catcher Chris Stewart, utilityman Sean Rodriguez, infielder Jung Ho Kang and first basemen/outfielders Corey Hart and Andrew Lambo. (Lambo's spot opened up because GM Neal Huntington traded Travis Snider to the Orioles for two minor-league lefthanders in late January, a move that was questioned by many, including me. It looks like a great deal now as Snider just signed a minor-league deal with the team after being DFA'd by Baltimore.) On paper the bench looked to be an offensive upgrade even with Kang being a complete unknown and Hart being a lottery ticket.
Stewart and Rodriguez have been with the team the entire season. Stewart has again proved very capable in his role, even though it has proven very difficult for him to hit a baseball really, really hard. SRod has been....I'm not sure a singular adjective describes Rodriguez's performance this season. With the bat he's been horrific, posting a .577 OPS in 198 PAs. And of course last night he had his first three hit game of the season. With the glove he's been tremendous, playing five different positions and being a reliable defense replacement, particularly at first. And of course two nights ago he made his first error and almost cost the Pirates the game. As the 25th man, Rodriguez has a role.
Kang has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations and is in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. Injuries have ensured his everyday spot in the lineup and I don't expect that to change as players return. Lambo and Hart disappointed early, got injured and haven't been seen since. In their stead a parade of players, Jose Tabata, Steve Lombardozzi, Gorkys Hernandez, Brent Morel, Jaff Decker, Pedro Florimon, Travis Ishikawa and Michael Morse have filled the three vacant roles.
With the addition of an additional bullpen arm for last night's game and the DFA'ing of the previous night's hero Pedro Florimon, the Pirates bench currently consists of Stewart, Rodriguez, Ishikawa and Morse. The rehab assignments of both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will end shortly and both will be activated. Barring any unforeseen injuries, the extra pitcher, Josh Wall, will be sent down when Harrison returns and Ishikawa will be DFA'd when Mercer returns. At that point, no matter how Clint Hurdle chooses to mix and match his lineup, he will have, by far, the strongest bench he's had during his Pirates tenure.
That brings us to September 1 and roster expansion. Baseball is an odd game. The season is played under one set of rules for five months and 130 games and then a different set of rules for the last month of games.
The Pirates will look to add depth across the board, but every player added to the September roster must be on the 40-man roster. Currently some of the obvious choices aren't, so space needs to be created and that is going to leave Neal Huntington with some interesting decisions. (Note: the Pirates 40-man currently has one open spot.)
Here is a list of all the players I view as candidates to be called-up and their current 40-man status. Those in red I think will get the call:
Position Players on the 40-man:
C Elias Diaz
C Tony Sanchez
INF Alen Hanson
OF Jaff Decker
Position Players not on the 40-man:
INF/OF Corey Hart (60-day DL)
INF/OF Andrew Lambo (60-day DL)
INF/OF Travis Ishikawa (assuming DFA'd & re-signed)
INF Pedro Florimon (if clears waivers & outrighted)
OF Travis Snider
Pitchers on the 40-man:
A.J. Burnett (currently 15-day DL)
Rob Scahill (currently 15-day DL)
Josh Wall (will be sent down this week)
Pirates not on the 40-man:
So who gets the nod and what are the corresponding moves? Let's start with the pitchers this time. Guys on the 15-day DL don't require any corresponding moves, so Burnett and Scahill are locks if they are healthy. I also expect LaFromboise, lefty, and Wall to be recalled as insurance arms. Injuries have made this a lost season for Holdzkom.
Radhames Liz has been fantastic since moving into a starting role in AAA, he will be added. So that uses up the one open 40-man spot. I also think Worley will be added. To make room I'm assuming the Pirates will DFA Deolis Guerra or move him to the 60-day DL.
The position players are much more difficult to predict, with catcher is the most interesting position. The Pirates will definitely add a third catcher in September. Elias Diaz is likely to be recalled because he is a much better defensive catcher than Sanchez and the Pirates don't need to be concerned with service time as he is likely to start 2016 in AAA. Sanchez could be called up as a bench bat, there is no chance he will catch, but I also think there is a chance he could by DFA'd if a roster spot is needed because he won't be in the organization next year. For now I'm leaving him off, but, if no spot is needed, he could be recalled as a parting gift from the organization.
I think Alen Hanson will make his ML debut in September even if he only serves as a pinch-runner. The Bucs don't needed to be worried about his service-time clock starting. Jaff Decker is in exactly the same spot as Sanchez. He could be added, but he is the loser in the Travis Snider signing and he is just as likely to be DFA'd if a spot is needed.
Snider is certain to be added. That creates the need for a another spot. If both Ishikawa and Florimon are in the organization, I could see them possibly being added as well, but things are too unclear at this point so I will leave them off. I don't think Hart or Lambo will make it back from injury.
Who is DFA'd to create the roster spot for Snider? Here is the list. Decker, Sanchez or someone else?