Today we get started on returning some injured players and making decisions. Ka’ai Tom returned to the lineup yesterday as the 27th man for the double header, but the club will want to keep the rule five pick on the roster, which obviously means someone else has to go. Ildemaro Vargas was Designated for Assignment today to make room.
Chad Kuhl likely returns to the mound after his stint on the IL and rehab starts, the Pirates could have gone in a few directions here, but the easiest might have been to option Nick Mears back to AAA to make room. There are also Chase De Jong sightings in town, so it seems the Pirates at least were hedging their bet that Kuhl was ready a bit. Either one will probably create the same move for now, but if they go with De Jong, he has no options so you’d think they’d want it to be a bit more long term. This could lead to a bit of a surprise like Wil Crowe being optioned back to Indianapolis.
It should also be noted De Jong was possibly the Pirates strongest starter in Spring and he’s carried that into his AAA time. If you believe in letting guys earn a promotion regardless of roster construction, he deserves a shot. We’ll see about this before the first pitch today.
The next three returning Pirates will of course have to come with moves too. First up will be Ke’Bryan Hayes, as it sounds like the Pirates want to send Phillip Evans and Colin Moran to Indianapolis for rehab stints. Seems like everything is on track for Hayes on June 3rd, but you never know until you know.
This means 3 players have to come off the roster. The easiest path probably sees Cole Tucker optioned back to Indy for Hayes, and Will Craig either optioned or DFA’d depending on where they are with the 40-man for Evans or Moran, whichever is back first. I of course could be wrong on Craig, he’s hit the ball fairly well since being selected, but as we keep talking through the other decisions that need made, I think it’s pretty clear he’d end up on the cutting room floor at some point regardless.
The last one is the trickiest. They’re probably going to have to choose between Wilmer Difo, Ben Gamel, Ka’ai Tom, or Phil Evans himself. No matter how you look at the options, this choice comes from that group barring another injury.
If you think back, all the way to when Hayes went down, the corresponding move was to select the contract of Wilmer Difo, and he’s played just about everywhere on the field, including the mound since then. He’s provided a decent stick off the bench but keep in mind when everyone is healthy, Phillip Evans is a bench piece too. There might not be room for both. They could also see Evans as the best option for one of the corner outfield spots, in which case they’d either have to say goodbye to Tom or Gamel.
Gamel has started to hit recently, and his history says he’ll contribute a little at least. Tom has been patient at the plate since he was acquired and he’s popped two home runs to add to what could wind up being a really solid OBA tool.
I’m not anxious to continue to shuffle the outfield parts. None of what they’ve tried has really fully grasped the position by the short hairs but Evans’ bat was falling off after a hot start too so this isn’t as cut and dried as many would have assumed when he went on the IL.
Gamel isn’t a typical waiver claim, he has actual MLB experience, and still has a year of arbitration available. As he sits in the wheelhouse of the types of veterans the Pirates should be looking for this offseason, it might make sense to just find a way to keep him around.
Another way to look at it of course is to just say who cares. As we’ve discussed countless times most of these guys won’t be part of the future. That’s true of course, but they still have to field a team on the way to better times and if they had a typical AAA filled with hungry youngsters chalk full of options, this isn’t a big deal.
Instead they’ve filled the coffers with other team’s failed projects like Dustin Fowler or Anthony Alford, a few of their own like Will Craig, Kevin Kramer, James Marvel and the like. That makes movement and trial periods far less simple to make. It creates a sense of finality to every little roster transaction, and honestly it’s not ideal in any way.
Especially when we look around and realize we haven’t even seen all the players that are working their way through injury return. Jose Soriano, the Pirates rule five pick recovering form TJ surgery will need a spot, Steven Brault will return, Austin Davis is on a rehab assignment. The reality is the Pirates will be forced to cuts several players loose very soon, and to be blunt, they need to in order to make room for promotions from AA anyway.
This is part of the process, but really highlights just how poorly constructed this system was to help the big club, because this is after Cherington added almost 15 players to the Pirates top 30 prospect list.
JT Brubaker was added to the bereavement list, this can be anywhere from 3-7 days and makes temporary room for Chase De Jong who was selected to start today. Chad Kuhl has been announced as the starter tomorrow in KC and another move will be needed, back to what I said, Mears most likely.