Pirates Middle Infield, Many Options, Zero Locks

10-30-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

When I think about all the things the Pirates have to make decisions on this off season, I keep coming back to all the variables they have in the Middle Infield. It’s a different problem than they had last off season, and they purposefully made it this way by acquiring four new options at the trade deadline, all with ticking clocks.

It’s clichĂ©, but still accurate, when you have 10 guys who could fill a role, chances are you have none. Today, I’d really like to look at the picture so we can really talk about where they are and who knows, maybe even make some decisions, even if they won’t do what we think is best here.

Let’s start with a list shall we? I always feel when building a puzzle, it’s best to make sure you lay out all the pieces first.

Cole Tucker

Kevin Newman

Rodolfo Castro

Hoy Park

Michael Chavis

Diego Castillo

Tucapita Marcano

Oneil Cruz

Wilmer Difo

Thing is, when you look at this list, not a single one is a lock. Maybe you think that’s a good thing, competition brings out the best in players right? I guess, but it sure would be nice if someone had jumped out and taken charge of at least one spot.

I guess we have to start with need, if you can play short stop, it stands to reason you can play second, but not necessarily vice versa. So the short stops have an edge. That’d be Tucker, Newman, Cruz, Castro, Castillo, Difo and Marcano. Hoy Park and Chavis are really best suited at second.

You almost have to keep two guys who can play short, it’s not a position to just ask a guy to go out and do his best, experience counts.

I could easily sit here and tell you this will just be an open competition in Spring, but we need to be honest with ourselves to a degree, if the Pirates take Kevin Newman and Wilmer Difo to arbitration, they’re likely making the club. That would leave one spot for 7 players and Difo isn’t exactly the best option at short.

Everyone else has an option, it’s not like its make the club or you’re gone, but giving a 40-man spot to 6 guys at one position group who aren’t going to make the 26-man roster isn’t exactly advisable when you have so many guys to protect.

OK let’s think a little more about that list.

Diego Castillo needs added to the 40 or offered an MiLB contract. They just dealt for him knowing this, and he performed well. Well enough to be promoted to AAA where he kept performing.

Tucapita Marcano is a guy Ben Cherington has coveted since 2020 and he finally managed to get him last year in exchange for Adam Frazier, I can’t see a path where he leaves him unprotected in the rule five draft, and I equally can’t see him making the 26-man. Thing is, he hasn’t been very good since being acquired, again I just can’t see him being DFA’d to be removed from the 40-man.

Oneil Cruz is borderline for me, I think he could make the club, but I can just as easily see him starting in AAA. Hell he could even change positions, regardless this is a guy to watch here.

Kevin Newman is a gold glove finalist, and it was warranted, he’s that good. Problem is the bat leaves much to be desired. If anyone on this list is a lock, it’s Kevin. You may have seen enough, I highly doubt the Pirates have.

Cole Tucker can play defense well, but a touch below Newman. To me, he’s an iffy 40-man player enjoying the benefit of recency bias. He had a really nice finish to 2021, but he’s been in the system forever and as I sit here, I can’t see all these guys being retained. To me, if the next guy makes it, he doesn’t. In fact he might not even if the next guy doesn’t.

Wilmer Difo was a really solid bench piece leading the league in pinch hitting. He can play both positions, but short isn’t really where you want to use him and he’s a less is more guy. Reportedly his energy is wanted and needed in the clubhouse and the Pirates would have to take him to arbitration should they choose to keep him. It’s not about the money 1.1 mil is nothing even for this team, it’s about looking at this list and saying yes he’s more valuable. I can’t get there. Maybe if I thought next year they’d be in the hunt he’s a guy I’d fight for.

Michael Chavis is intriguing because he can play first base as well, and let’s not forget they’ll need a backup over there as well. He has options, he has power, but he lost the opportunity to really show the club what he could do due to injury. Poor timing for the young man because Ben Cherington had every bit of willingness to have him show he was right with the pick when he selected him while with the Red Sox. He’s also one of the few on this list who has an MLB track record, even if it is spotty.

Hoy Park is a tough one. He was just ok. Really that’s about as glowing as I can go and if the bat played a bit more perhaps I could go to bat for him. These decisions are very much so intertwined but again, I can’t see a world where Cole Tucker gets a spot and Hoy Park does too. Thing is, at his age, I’m not sure Hoy Park is worth a 40 man spot. To me it’s either you think he’s ready to be on the 26-man or you don’t think he’s worth keeping. Sounds cold, but that’s not far off I’ll bet on that.

Rodolfo Castro you could make the case showed more than most. He hit some bombs, he played some D, he also showed his youth. Struggled with some routine plays, and made some electric things look routine. I believe in his future, I’m just not sure I believe his future is now. I can’t see a world in which they protected him from the 40-man in 2021, watched what he did last year while clearly being promoted too early then go forward with a DFA (which is how you remove a guy from the 40-man) in 2022. OK, I said no locks, but to me he’s at least a lock to make the 40.

Thing is folks, I did all this without even getting into the future most of you see being an absolute lock Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales. I’ll bring them up here because while everything I just referenced is true, Peguero needs protected this year, and he has zero chance of actually playing in MLB this season. So all those variables and numbers I spewed, add another.

I know as you sit here reading this list, many of you will decide that Newman or Tucker are easy choices. Fire Difo into the sun! I still think you’d have some tough choices and more importantly, I think you’d guarantee a worse 2022 should you choose to exchange experience for youth.

I think any number of these guys could actually be good, maybe even better than what’s been here, but I also think it’s a hell of a risk.

Hey, maybe worse than 2021 is a silly thing to worry about, after all it’d be real, real hard to actually accomplish.

If I had to guess, and let’s face it, that’s what it’d be, I’d move on from Difo, Park and Tucker but I’d hover over the delete button on at least two of them. These things are good problems to have and in some cases the hardest thing is the fear of missing out. The best thing I can say to combat that is probably, missing out is ok so long as what you kept make their mark.

Hell of an off season, this is just two positions.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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