Pittsburgh Pirates Shouldn't Stop With Marlon Byrd; Still Need A First Baseman

By Zach Morrison
Justin Morneau
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates upgraded their roster earlier this week when they acquired Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the New York Mets in exchange for second base prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later. The player to be named later turned out to be Vic Black, a pitching prospect that has the stuff to be a closer for the Mets possibly even next season.

This seems to be an overpay from the Pirates’ perspective, giving up two of their top 20 prospects in exchange for two months of Byrd and Buck, so why not be willing to overpay a little for a first baseman?

For once, the Pirates don’t have many holes on their roster. One glaring weakness they do have is a lefty-hitting first baseman to place in a platoon with Gaby Sanchez. Ideally, a platoon situation wouldn’t be needed at first base, but it is in this case.

Sanchez isn’t good at hitting right-handed pitching, but he has a .326/.440/.539 slash line against lefties with a 17.3 percent walk rate and a 12.7 percent strikeout rate. Against right-handed pitching, current platoon partner Garrett Jones is hitting .245/.301/.429.

One obvious solution for the Pirates would be Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. Assuming Morneau would be used mostly as a platoon player, we will just look at his splits against right-handed pitching. In 2013, Morneau has a .280/.343/.481 slash line versus right-handed pitchers with a 125 wRC+. I’ve seen several people say Morneau isn’t an upgrade over Jones, but he is at this point he is. Jones’s wRC+ against right-handed pitchers is just 103, barely above league average.

Morneau isn’t just better offensively than Jones, but he’s also a much better defensive player. According to FanGraphs, Jones isn’t even better than a replacement level player with just -0.4 fWAR. The Pirates need to go all in to win the NL Central. For small market teams, the playoffs — and even winning seasons — are never guaranteed, so they need to try and win this season.

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