For the first time in over 20 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ objective in the offseason should be to position themselves for a World Series run, rather than trying to reach the .500 mark. Two main weaknesses the Pirates have are right field and first base. But with few, good, cheap options on the free agent market, could the answer already be in the organization?
The Pirates got very little from Garrett Jones in 2013; he hit for a .233/.289/.419 line with 15 home runs and had a negative fWAR. Jones has had a couple very good seasons with the Pirates, but he is going to be quite expensive if the Pirates decide to offer him arbitration, so it seems likely that he will be non-tendered.
Right field for the Pirates was temporarily fixed in August when they traded for the New York Mets‘ Marlon Byrd. Even though Byrd liked his time with the Pirates and Pirates fans liked their time with him, it is very unlikely that he will return in 2014. Byrd played well enough in 2013 in order to earn himself a decent contract next season; in 579 plate appearances in 2013, he hit for a .291/.336/.511 line with 24 home runs. The risk with Byrd is that he is in his late 30’s, and he has never had a season like he had last year. He also got busted for PEDs in 2012 and served a 50-game suspension. The risks that come with him, along with the contract he will command, make it hard to imagine him being with the Bucs next season and beyond.
So, what will the Pirates do without Byrd and Jones? One candidate to replace one of them is right fielder Andrew Lambo. Lambo had a monster 2013 season in Double-A and Triple-A in the Pirates’ farm system; between the two, Lambo hit .282/.347/.574 with 32 home runs. The problem with Lambo is that he strikes out much more than one would like and he is unproven at the major league level. In 2013, Lambo struck out in 24.3 and 26.4 percent of his at-bats in Double-A and Triple-A respectively.
The Pirates have said that Lambo will be given a shot to play right field or first base next season, and if the Bucs don’t make any free agent or trade acquisitions, it is probable that Lambo will be the starting right fielder or first baseman in 2013. If Lambo is the right fielder on Opening Day, it will only be temporary; top Pirates’ prospect Gregory Polanco will probably take over in right field by the end of June in 2014. It isn’t the ideal scenario, but Lambo is cheap. For small market teams like the Pirates, sometimes cost is the biggest factor.