There are always many ways for 105-loss teams to improve and last year's Pittsburgh Pirates are no exception. GM Neal Huntington has signed starting pitchers (Kevin Correia, Scott Olsen) and a pair of bats (Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz), but he’s also working to improve the Pirates' bench.
The team has cut ties with Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young, Akinori Iwamura and Bobby Crosby, a group that was well below average in 2010. WAR, a stat which measures a player’s overall on-field contribution, suggests those four players combined to produce two wins less than replacement players would have mustered. The Pirates may have had more pressing needs this offseason, but their bench had to be revamped.
Last week, the team made two acquisitions that will give manager Clint Hurdle more options in Spring Training. Garrett Atkins, a player who’s familiar with Hurdle from their days in Colorado, and former A’s farmhand Corey Wimberly are now members of the Pirates organization.
“We traded for Wimberly because his defensive versatility and speed makes him a quality role player with some upside for more,” Huntington told MLBTR.
Wimberly should be able to handle a number of roles. The 27-year-old switch hitter played ten or more games as a center fielder, left fielder, shortstop, second baseman and third baseman at Triple-A last year. In the process, he batted .284/.373/.354, led the Pacific Coast League in stolen bases (56 SB) and walked (58 BB) nearly as much as he struck out (64 K).
But Wimberly and Atkins will have competition this Spring. Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez is about as versatile as Wimberly. The former Indians prospect played all three outfield positions and every infield position but first base in the upper minors last year, batting .297/.378/.484.
Pedro Ciriaco, a product of the deal that brought Chris Snyder to Pittsburgh, could also win a big league job. The 25-year-old middle infielder hasn’t showed the same offensive promise as Wimberly or Rodriguez (.265/.281/.387 Triple-A line last year), but he did appear in eight big league games in 2010.
Like Atkins, who has a .294/.379/.467 line against lefties in his career, Steve Pearce can handle southpaws. The powerful first baseman/right fielder has a .304/.372/.557 line against left-handed pitching as a major leaguer. He’ll likely compete with Atkins to make the team as a corner infielder who can spell Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez, two starters who bat from the left side.
Andy Marte and Josh Fields both have extensive big league experience at third base and could contribute off the bench in 2011. Neither player hit much last year, but the two former top prospects have played first base as well as at the hot corner.
These seemingly minor acquisitions are important ones for a team that could have used considerably more production off the bench in 2010. There are no guarantees for Atkins, who struggled mightily in 2010 or the others, who have not had extended big league success. But these additions could transform the Pirates' bench from significantly below average to respectable.