With both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer out for six to seven weeks, the suddenly injury-plagued Pirates have reached out to the Athletics, Padres and Diamondbacks to express respective interest in Ben Zobrist, Clint Barmes and Cliff Pennington, reports Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Of the names in question, Zobrist is clearly the most high-profile addition. The switch-hitting 34-year-old missed a little more than a month earlier this year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, but he’s shown little in terms of ill effects at the plate. Since his activation from the DL on May 26, Zobrist is hitting a very solid .264/.358/.429 in 190 plate appearances.
In addition to a strong offensive track record, Zobrist is coveted by many clubs due to his defensive versatility. It should be noted that defensive metrics are down on his work in 2015, but we’re looking at a small sample of work there, and it’s certainly possible that the knee operation has had some lingering effects on his range at this year’s primary positions — second base and left field. (Zobrist has also made three errors in left, which is perhaps to be expected as he adjusts after serving far more time in right field during his Rays tenure.)
At $7.5MM in 2015, Zobrist’s contract is hardly prohibitive from a financial standpoint, but because of the sheer demand for his services and the affordable nature of that salary, an acquiring club would likely have to pay a relatively steep prospect price for a player that is a pure rental; Zobrist will hit free agency for the first time following the season.
Both Pennington and Barmes are strict rentals as well, though the price on either would be markedly lower than with Zobrist. Pennington has spent the past three seasons serving as a utility man for the D-Backs. He’s getting on base but showing little power this year, hitting .245/.322/.292. (Much of those on-base skills are likely attributable to the fact that 40 percent of his plate appearances have come in the eighth slot, in front of the pitcher.)
Pennington is known as a solid defensive player at shortstop, third base and second base, so he could provide the Pirates with some versatility even as their roster mends. He’s earning $3.275MM in 2015, and about $1.38MM of that sum remains.
Pirates executives, coaches, players and fans alike are all familiar with Barmes, who spent the 2012-14 seasons in a Pirates uniform. Known primarily as a defensive specialist at shortstop, Barmes is actually enjoying quite a strong season at the plate in his first year with the Padres after signing a one-year, $1.3MM contract this winter. In 144 plate appearances, he’s hitting .284/.324/.440 with three homers. Of course, he’s been allowed to see nearly half of his at-bats against left-handed pitching and slashed .317/.388/.500 in such situations, and he may not have that same platoon luxury in a return to Pittsburgh.
Should the Bucs elect to bring Barmes back to PNC Park, he’d likely play shortstop, with Jung Ho Kang remaining the club’s primary third baseman as both Harrison and Mercer heal. A return for Barmes would no doubt be well received by a large portion of the Pirates fan base, who greeted Barmes with a warm ovation in his return to PNC Park as a member of the Padres while the team honored him by playing his old walk-up music (video link).