Now for my third installment of a Free Agent breakdown.
In this section, I will look at the likely 25 man roster and where there are opening that could be filled via free agents. In the first two parts of this breakdown, I have eliminated many names from the remaining free agent list whittling it down to 43 players.
Lets start with examining the 25 players who will head north out of spring training. It is almost a guarantee that the Pirates head north with 12 pitchers.
Here are the mortal locks to head north:
That is 10 of the 25 tied up, 3 of 12 pitchers and 7 of 13 position players.
Here are the near locks to head into the season and reasoning why:
Ian Snell (R) - Being the ace heading into 2008, a nice contract extension and all the tools to be a top of the rotation pitcher will outweigh a poor 2008.
Zach Duke (L) - Is like a cat, he seems to have 9 lives. He will make the rotation unless he completely collapses in spring to the point two other pitchers outshine him. Duke has the best chance of losing his spot in the rotation.
Tom Gorzelanny (L) - Coming to mini-camp in great shape only helps solidify him in the rotation. He made a huge impression on the front office with his conditioning, almost to the point of being a mortal lock.
Donald Veal (L) - Being a rule 5 pickup he has to be retained. If the Pirates are going to give up him, it won't be until they have no other moves they can make and need a roster spot. Veal was a top prospect in recent years, the Pirates like the talent and hope to corral the wildness.
Tyler Yates (R) - Yates has the inside track to being the right handed setup man for Capps, mostly due to the lack of other options.
Sean Burnett (L) - Burnett will start the year in middle relief and likely slide into the lefty setup role if/when Grabow is dealt.
Evan Meek (R) - It seems Meek has the attention of the coaches and the front office. He is a Huntington move and that won't hurt him.
Ramon Vasquez, inf - With a two year contract and good versatility, he might as well be a lock.
Nyger Morgan, of - He will head to Pittsburgh as nothing more than a space filler until McCutchen is ready.
We are now up to 19 of the 25, 10 of 12 pitchers and 9 of 13 position players.
First, lets look at the pitchers. There is one starter and one bullpen spot open. It is too early to name the fifth starter, especially considering the number of pitchers vying for the role.
The bullpen spot is much the same, a ton of arms, likely to be filled by the best option not in the starting rotation. The bullpen, as listed, shapes up as 4 right handed and 3 left handed pitchers. That totals out the 12 pitchers for the Pirates in 2009. My guess for the spots are Karstens starting and Ohlendorf coming out of the pen.
Pedro Martinez is rumored, and a good possibility. He doesn't have many interested teams outside of Pittsburgh. It seems the Mets are looking elsewhere. It looks like Pedro will have a choice, Pittsburgh at a reduced price or retirement. I'm betting he waits until after the season starts to see who might have injuries in their rotation that he could slide into the spot.
As for position players, there are 3 catchers vying for the backup spot in Jaramillo, Diaz and Lerud. This position should work itself out during camp. My bet goes on Jaramillo.
This leaves three spots for position players.
Steve Pearce (of, 1b) - He will come off the bench as a backup at first and has the ability to play right. The outfield can be juggled in the event of injury to any of the three slated to start the season in the outfield. McLouth, Morgan and Moss all capable of playing left. Morgan and McLouth can both cover center. The spare outfielder needs to be able to play right. Any injury or trade would likely have Andrew McCutchen on a flight to join the team immediately. Jose Tabata may not be far behind .
Luis Cruz ( 2b, ss ) - An additional middle infielder will be needed. With Pearce already backing up 1b and Vasquez capable to play all the positions, Cruz makes the most sense. Bixler needs more time in AAA and needs to have some time playing 2b before the Pirates can consider him a utility infielder. This is the season Bixler needs to prove he is ready for another shot at the majors. When he has his chance, he must shine. Cruz beats out Bixler because of his positional versatility.
??? ( of, inf) - The Pirates need to fill the last spot with someone capable of playing corner infield or corner outfield spots. Preferably someone who can do all the above. Sound like anyone who has ties to Pittsburgh already? Paging Doug M.
Right now the Pirates realistically have one bullpen spot and one rotation spot they could fill via free agency. They also have one opening for a utility type bench player.
Tomorrow, I will finish this up with a list of players that could fit the pitching opening and positional opening. I will also name people I think could lose their spot on the 40 man if a free agent is signed or someone like Salazar or Daniel McCutchen force their way onto the 25 man/40 man roster.