Bubble Players, Position Battles and the Construction of the Pirates 26-Man Roster

There always seems to be a sense of finality to the final cuts in Spring Training. For some, it’s one more rejection in a career filled with them, for others the last time they’ll experience it.

Some have done nothing save playing a position the club has no need of, while few start to think MLB might not be part of their life’s work.

This is where roster construction gets really granular. Spots on the 40-man are precious this time of year and absent any further wheeling and dealing we can start to really look at where most players fall.

A great for instance is Brian Goodwin, the newly signed outfielder for the Pirates. He’s not a star, but he’s a capable and experienced defender in all three spots out there and has handled the bat well in stretches. Last season was a mitigated disaster, but man that was the case for so many players it’s hard to keep up, even Mike Trout looked human.

Point is, Goodwin isn’t on the 40-man, but he signed a 1.6 million dollar contract to play in the minors with an invite to Spring Training. The contract also has 900 K in bonuses should he earn a roster spot.

Nothing is a lock, not on a team like this, but Goodwin is just about as close as you can come.

Once the Pirates make that choice, they’ll have to add him to the 40-man and unfortunately that also will mean someone has to come off to make room.

Jared Oliva and Anthony Alford as currently constructed would battle for the 4th outfield spot, if the Pirates were deep here Goodwin never gets signed. When they make the corresponding move don’t look for Alford or Oliva to be the guy who gets bumped from the roster as the chance the team will need all five outfielders is extremely likely.

Let’s get even deeper. Alford has no options, so in order to send him down he’d have to clear waivers, meaning the Bucs could lose him, and the depth he provides. Oliva has options and they could send him down with no issue so long as he remains on the 40-man.

It’s much more likely someone like Tyler Bashlor would be the sacrificial lamb to clear room for Goodwin on the 40-man and when you really think about it, those two players will never compete for a damn thing.

Building a roster is chalk full of decisions like this and every answer creates another question.

We just talked about what happens if Goodwin makes the club but we should also keep in mind just how bad he’d have to be in Spring to not have all this play out. Oliva could flat out look like the team’s very best outfielder and still be the odd man out simply because him starting in AAA creates less loss of talent from the ballclub.

In other words, they might need Alford as depth more than they need a player like Bashlor.

OK, that’s one scenario and I’ve already discussed how many fingers one decision has, so let’s move to the backstop position. Jacob Stallings is a lock, Michael Perez is on the 40-man and has options, then you toss in the new signing Tony Wolters, an experienced starting level catcher in the league.

He too is just about a lock to win the back up job and much like the outfield the club won’t want to lose the depth that Perez provides. This too could cause a pitcher to be jettisoned, possibly a Carson Fulmer or Sean Poppen. Maybe Kyle Crick shows up and can’t hit 93 on the gun and he makes his way to the list of possible cuts.

The point is, many of these position battles regardless of who wins or loses might not even affect the position being battled over from a 40-man perspective and rarely is it reasonable to expect these decisions are made from a purely performance based mindset.

The other side of all this is the players I referenced signed willingly to minor league deals. In other words they know full well they could end up playing in MiLB this season and if that happens to be where they start, no sacrifices will be made from the 40-man. Problem is, an incredibly young team like this needs experience and veteran leadership, so if the performance of players like this even just looks professional, it would be a tough choice to keep them down.

As we get into Spring keep all these ins and outs in mind, because while they won’t necessarily come out of the GM’s mouth, trust me they’re running through his mind.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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