To no surprise, it hasn’t been a great offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With pitchers and catchers set to report in three weeks, the only players the Bucs have added who are certain to make the Opening Day roster are catcher Russell Martin who hit .211 last season and reliever Mark Melancon, who posted a 6.20 ERA in 2012. They did also re-sign pitchers Jason Grilli and Jeff Karstens, but traded a two-time All-Star closer in Joel Hanrahan.
It is very difficult to say that the Pirates are a better team today than they were last season when they had a losing record for the 20th consecutive season.
A big reason for that is the Pirates depth, most notably their bench, which is one of the worst in baseball.
To no surprise, Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington and the rest of his staff, have once again to this point failed to address a big hole on this team.
Last season the Pirates were the fourth worst pinch hitting team in all of baseball, as their bench players combined to hit only .176 (40-for-227).
Only the Texas Rangers (.173), Baltimore Orioles (.169) and Atlanta Braves (.158) were worse. Coincidently all three of those teams made the playoffs but Texas and Baltimore are American League teams who didn’t use their bench much. In addition, all three of those teams have legitimate major league talent at almost every position on the diamond, something that the Pirates do not have.
That makes addressing the bench even more important for a team such as the Pirates, especially since manager Clint Hurdle likes to go deep into the bench on almost game-by-game basis.
Assuming that Martin is the opening day catcher and either Garrett Jones or Gaby Sanchez starts at first base, that leaves Neil Walker at second, Clint Barmes at short, Pedro Alvarez at third and an outfield that likely features Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Travis Snider.
That leaves Michael McKenry as the backup catcher and either Jones or Sanchez on the bench, which is fine. But the rest of the bench projects to be Josh Harrison, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley. If Hurdle decides to go with 11 pitchers instead of 12 out of the gate, that opens up the door for someone like Jordy Mercer, Jerry Sands or Brad Hawpe.
To be kind, that’s simply not good enough.
The Pirates are at a disadvantage when opposing teams get into their bench.
Harrison and Presley are below average major league players, who probably would make only three or four teams in the league and even that is a stretch. And no matter how many times Harrison fails off the bench, Hurdle always runs him up there in big situations.
Maybe he wouldn’t have to if Hurdle had an actual bench to work with.
It’s been a problem for quite some time and Huntington has tried the band-aid fixes with numerous waiver claims and guys on minor-league deals, but that just doesn’t cut it and is unacceptable for a team claiming to want to win.
For the Pirates and most other teams for that matter, you have to win with a full complement of 25 major league players.
Hurdle doesn’t have that, which means his team is behind the eight ball from the time the season begins.
In order for the Pirates to eventually compete they must address all their issues and the bench is a big hole right now.
Until they decide to go out and fill those holes, it is sad to say that the Bucs won’t be trying to win in 2013. They will be going through the motions and hoping to win.
There is a big difference and that is something this front office must learn soon.