Bucco Blurb: Pirates’ Roster Moves

Even though the World Series ended just a matter of weeks ago, we are still only a few months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton in February.  This is sure to be a busy offseason, and already, news and rumors are circulating regarding the Pittsburgh Pirates and their prospective roster moves.  Let’s get to the latest Pirates’ news right here on Bucco Blurbs:
Pirates Sign Rod Barajas: 
It was announced earlier today that the Pirates signed catcher Rod Barajas to a one-year contract with a club option for 2013.  Barajas will reportedly earn $4 million in 2012, while his 2013 club option is worth $3.5 million including no buyout.  Barajas is an 11-year veteran, hitting .230 with 16 homeruns and 47 RBI’s last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The 36-year old has played for six teams, hitting .238 for his career.  He joins a list of prospective starting catchers that includes Matt Pagnozzi, Michael McKenry, and Jason Jaramillo. 
This is another head-scratching move by the Pirates, similar to the club’s acquisition of Pagnozzi in the last few weeks of the 2011 season.  Are the Pirates buying time until Tony Sanchez is ready for Major League action?  That seems to be the only logical explanation.  While he has much more experience and success than Pagnozzi, at age 36, Barajas obviously isn’t the Bucs’ long-term answer as their catcher.  Regardless, it appears as though the starting catcher position is going to be a four-man race to begin the 2012 season.
Club Discourages Idea Of Harrison Starting At Shortstop:
Despite the freefall the Pirates and their fans endured the last two months of the season, one of the brighter spots was the inspired play of Josh Harrison.  He made his Major League debut in 2011, hitting .272 while scored 21 runs and playing as hard as any one of the team.  While his effort is unquestioned, general manager Neal Huntington has been upfront in saying that they expect Harrison to be no more than a utility player next season.  He filled in well in his role last year, whether it was relieving Neil Walker at second base or putting in reps at third base during Pedro Alvarez’s mess of a 2011 season. 
Speculation momentarily arose following the news that the Pirates were not going to exercise their option on Ronny Cedeno, suggesting that Harrison could take over the starting role.  Furthermore, Josh agreed to go to instructional league at the end of the Major League season to get repetition at short, but despite these factors, it appears highly unlikely he’ll be a starter for the Pirates next season.  Expect more platoon work for Harrison in 2012.  This, of course, means that the Pirates’ current starting shortstop position is vacant.
Five Bucs Sent To Triple-A:  
Though this news is a couple weeks old, the Pirates’ decision to option these players to Triple-A is worth discussing.  Brian Burress, Aaron Thompson, Kevin Hart, Brandon Wood, and Steve Pearce were optioned at the end of October, and all five players have been expected to test the free agent market.  All of these players have been ineffective in one form or another, and while there is a chance of re-signing any or all of them this offseason, but by making these moves, the Pirates clearly are looking elsewhere for contributions that they feel these players won’t be able to provide going forward. 
Pearce is by far the most frustrating and disappointing of these players, having never really given a clear shot to perform at the Major League level.  He’s certainly been injury plagued throughout his career thus far, and after a strong Spring Training and earning his spot on the 2011 Opening Day roster, appeared in only 50 games this past season.  In his five-seasons with Pittsburgh, he hit .232 in 185 games.  Wood, of course, was claimed off waivers in April, played in 99 games, hitting .220.  He was a former top prospect in the Angels’ system, and while many see the upside in a guy like Wood, he simply doesn’t seem to be in the Pirates’ interest to retain.  Burres and Thompson both achieved limited success in their stints with the big club, while Hart’s experience as a Pirate has been non-existent due to injuries. 
There shouldn’t be any major issues regarding these moves.  Wood and Pearce certainly had bright spots, but neither has proven to be consistent, while Burres and Thompson are replaceable in the bullpen.  With the dissention of five role players and relief pitchers, this only adds to the roster moves and acquisitions Pirates’ fans can expect from the team this offseason.
Bucs Decline Options On Cedeno, Maholm, Doumit, Snyder:
As had been previously expected and announced, the Pirates announced last month that they declined to exercise the 2012 club options on Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder.  All three were owed a ton of money, and their lack of production, accompanied by injury problems made these decisions to allow them to become free agents was expected and understood. 
The biggest surprise, however, centers on Ronny Cedeno, whose option was also declined.  The Bucs’ starting shortstop was due $3 million next season, which is a far lower amount when compared to the other three players.  It had become common knowledge during last season that Cedeno wasn’t exactly Clint Hurdle’s favorite player, and his mental lapses and inconsistent play, along with his apparent lack of production at the plate, no one can argue with the Pirates’ desire to seek better play elsewhere.  But without clear targets in mind to replace Cedeno externally, we all have to wonder what the future will hold at this position. 
If the Bucs end up negotiating with any of these four players later in the offseason, it would be on a contract worth less than the options that have been declined.  That being said, the Pirates will have competition.  The free-agent market is low in catching, shortstop, and pitching options, which will certainly increase the cost of those players that are available.
With the team’s signing of Rod Barajas, it appears clear that the Pirates will not seek to re-negotiate with Snyder or Doumit.
As we approach the middle of the month, there is a busy offseason ahead of us.  Other than a few concrete spots in the outfield and at second base, the Pirates’ prospective starting roster is wide open, and many questions will be answered over the coming weeks and months.
Stay tuned to Fans From The Stands for reactions to the latest Pirates’ news.
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!

Chad Carlson

Co-Editor of Fans From The Stands, Pirates' Beat Writer For Armchair Report, Sports writer for AMN, SteelTownRock And Music City Encore Editor

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