The Pittsburgh Pirates have missed their fair share of opportunities over the years. They’ve elected not to spend on free agents, they’ve traded veterans away for little in return, and when they have had an opportunity to compete, they haven’t always done everything they can to take advantage of their opportunity.
This season, the Pirates tried. As buyers at the trade deadline, the Pirates traded for Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez, a trio of moves that didn’t exactly pan out. Of those moves, only Rodriguez was thought to be a truly impact move, as Sanchez was seen as a platoon/role player and Snider was seen as a bit of a reclamation project.
At the time, the Pirates had not yet begun their collapse, and the holes on their roster didn’t seem as vast as they did by season’s end, but there was one glaring hole that had been evident since April – Clint Barmes at shortstop.
There was no way of knowing that Marco Scutaro was going to hit .362 after leaving the Colorado Rockies given that he hit just .271 in the hitter’s paradise that is Coors Field, but even his pedestrian .684 OPS would have been a significant upgrade over Barmes’ .526 mark at the time. And that mark for Scutaro represented the lowest of of his career.
It wouldn’t have been easy to give up on Barmes after just four months with the team, especially after his signing was lauded by the baseball community and was one of the team’s only real off-season moves, but the difficulty of making a move is no reason not to do it. Barmes was only signed to a two-year contract, and at $5 million this season and $5.5 next, isn’t terribly overpriced to have sitting on their bench, or on somebody else’s.
Scutaro, on the other hand, offers significantly more than Barmes ever has in the one category the Pirates were lacking – on-base percentage. Even when he hasn’t hit well, Scutaro has gotten on base. This season, in Colorado, Scutaro’s on-base percentage was .324, almost 100 points higher than Barmes’ was over the same stretch, and higher than anybody else the Pirates had batting ahead of National League MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen.
Being able to upgrade to a .324 on-base percentage in front of their best hitter would have created significantly more runs, but with hindsight, it’s easy for us to see that the .362/.385/.473 line he’s put up with the Giants might have just been the spark the Pirates needed to avoid their fall swoon.
Luckily for the Pirates, they’ll get another shot at Scutaro this off-season. It will take an admission that the Barmes signing didn’t work, and their willingness to take on a $5.5 million bench player, but the free-agent Scutaro could end up being the type of affordable free agent the Pirates need to target.