Last night, Neil Huntington picked up the phone and made some calls. He may have fielded a few from fellow General Managers as well. Clearly, there weren’t enough serious calls though to lead to the trading of Pedro Alvarez. So Huntington had to pick up the phone and make one more call.
To Pedro Alvarez. A 1st Round draft pick. A slugger with the potential to drop bombs on the Allegheny like the Russian and French fighter jets currently raining hell on northeastern Syria. A guy who, despite all the conjecture about his work ethic or perceived personality, was one of the hardest working, most respected guys in a clubhouse full of guys who have, for the most part, come up together.
A guy who Mike Matheny pitched around in late September like he was Barry Bonds in his prime will not be a Pirate next year. He will go somewhere else and hit mammoth home runs. The kind of dingers that could put holes in walls as well as go over them they were hit so hard sometimes.
The kind of home runs no one else in the Pirates organization can hit.
If he’s allowed to put on a glove and go field, he will undoubtedly make errors. Errors catching the ball, as well as errors throwing the ball. Ultimately, yes, this is still a game where you have to be able to throw the ball and catch the ball, as well as hit the ball. And while Pedro was very good at hitting it very far sometimes – despite a hole in his swing the size of Jobu when it came to curveballs – he was not very good at catching it or throwing it. In an organization that now cuddles every percentage point of WAR like it’s a warm blanket on a cold winter night, you simply can’t give away runs. You can’t have a guy at first base every night who has a giant hole in his glove.
A year ago at this time, the Pittsburgh Pirates had already made a handful of moves to fill holes on the roster that had been left after a disappointing exit in the wildcard game of October 2014 and the subsequent departure of Russell Martin. Francisco Cervelli had been added, A.J. Burnett had been added, other small pieces such as Sean Rodriguez and Rob Scahill had been added, and the Pirates for the most part had fleshed out not just their everyday lineup, but what much of their bench and the bulk of their rotation would look like as well.
Well, here we sit on the eve of the winter meetings of 2015, and we are left wondering not ‘Who might start at shortstop?’ or ‘Who might be the fourth starter in the rotation?’ or ‘Who might be the fourth outfielder?’, but instead ‘Who's going to be the third starter in the rotation?’ And ‘Who on earth is going to start at first base every day?’ ‘Who’s going to provide 25-30 HR power in the lineup behind Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte?’
The Pittsburgh Pirates of early last December had a few question marks. The Pittsburgh Pirates of this early December have a whole lot more than question marks, they've got holes. Big holes. Big holes that need to be filled for a team being considered the Best Organization in Baseball and looking to contend for a World Championship. This is a team that can't bank on Josh Bell being a starting first baseman come mid-season. This is a team that can't bank on Tyler Glasnow being a mid-rotation level Major League starter by midseason. This is a team that's going to have to win 95 games to have a shot at the National League Central Division title. And again, as has been the oft uttered refrain since last February; the goal should be to win the division.
Right now though, this doesn't look like a division winning team. How do you win the division without a solid middle of the rotation starter? How do you win the division without a power bat at first base and/or in the middle of the lineup protecting your free-swinging superstars? Especially in the NL Central, where the Cubs could bang out 100 wins this year without breaking a sweat, and the Cardinals can do 90 wins in their sleep, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to fortify for 2016. Neil Huntington needs to get back on the phone TODAY and start filling big holes. And that means making big calls on big moves that can have a big impact on a team that’s still looking for its first division title since 1992.
And that’s an even bigger big hole than the one in Pedro’s swing, the one in his glove, or the one his absence will leave in the middle of the lineup.