All said, the Pittsburgh Pirates were fairly quiet in the free agent market during the offseason, especially at shortstop. Granted, it wasn’t a priority as the Pirates had a few options that they could consider with in-house talent. One offseason move they did make was to re-sign veteran shortstop Clint Barmes to a one-year deal for $2 million (a hefty discount to the $5 million he was making in previous years) presumably to half-mentor/half-compete for the starting gig. Perhaps the lack of blockbuster activity will finally afford Jordy Mercer a legitimate shot of becoming the club’s full-time shortstop. There are obviously a few questions that must be answered, but at least the Pirates have a couple options going into Spring Training. It should become fairly evident who Hurdle plans to use for the job before the team breaks camp in March, but until then, here is the likely depth chart.
Starter – Jordy Mercer
Mercer appeared in 103 games for the Pirates in 2013, which included starts at shortstop (63) and second base (26). Over these games, Mercer compiled a triple slash of .285/.336/.435 with right home runs in 333 at-bats. Mercer is the type of guy who has the capability to hit 10-15 home runs each season at the big league level, and he’s not going to strike out an inordinate amount of times as he further matures.
Defensively he will need some work as he can’t touch Clint Barmes, and he will probably never contend for the NL Gold Glove award. If you look at his career stats through the minors, you will find an average fielding percentage of .969 and a 4.37 RF/G, so he’s been on par with his career averages during his tenure in the majors to date.
Backup – Clint Barmes
Barmes, a true veteran and defensive specialist, is back for what will be his third year with the Pirates after being re-signed during the offseason.
In 2013, Barmes posted a triple slash of .211/.249/.309 with five homers in 304 at-bats. If you plot his batting average over the last six seasons you can construct a fairly straight, downward trend line, so expecting him to rebound back to the offensive player he was with the Colorado Rockies in 2008 or 2009 is highly unlikely. A dim glimmer of hope is that Barmes has amassed double-digit home run totals in four seasons.
Defensively, although highly regarded by Clint Hurdle as a defensive weapon, he’s average (at best) by league standards at that position. Granted, he’s a better shortstop than Mercer statistically with respect to fielding percentage, but the younger Mercer has the edge on overall range.
Utility Backup – Josh Harrison
Josh Harrison is also listed on the depth chart as a backup to Neil Walker at second base and the primary backup to Pedro Alvarez at third base. Harrison has been covered ad nauseam on previous depth chart articles for second base and third base, so it would be overkill to regurgitate all of that here again.
One Injury Away – Robert Andino
Truly, one injury to Walker, Mercer, Alvarez or Harrison and there’s a good chance Andino is going to get a call. Recently signed by the Pirates in January, Andino is set to begin the season at AAA Indianapolis. It’s not a terrible acquisition by the Pirates as Andino has the capability to play second base, shortstop and third base, and he has some experience doing so at the big league level, most recently with Seattle.
Offensively, he’s going to be up against the Mendoza Line, or at least history would have you believe that. At any rate, you can’t expect much offensive production from him at the MLB level given his career triple slash is .232/.294/.318.
Hurdle can sit back and watch things unfold for a bit in Bradenton before making his decision. On paper, Mercer has a greater offensive upside by comparison to Barmes — okay, so it’s a huge advantage realistically — but Barmes is stronger defensively. In a team that can be starved for offensive production, you have to give the nod to Mercer as the team’s everyday guy.
For Barmes to return as the team’s starter, he’s going to need to shine brighter than Mercer at the dish during Spring Training to hang on to the starting job.
I think it plays out as it’s been written here, though we will have a better idea a month from now.
Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for Rant Sports. You can interact with him on Twitter @VinnyGala.