When it pertains to 2009 performance, who would you say is the most important player on the Pirates current roster as it pertains to the future look of the team?
Quite possibly, that player is Andy LaRoche.
Depending on LaRoche’s progress and his ability to establish himself as the everyday third baseman for the Pirates many players could be affected as to their future with the team.
Let us take a look at how these players futures could change if Andy LaRoche does establish himself as a Major League third baseman:
Pedro Alvarez - With LaRoche established as the Pirates third baseman, the 2008 first round selection of the Pirates could be moved to first base. Look for Alvarez to play some first base in A ball and more as he progresses through the system in 2009. The more he plays first, the more likely Andy LaRoche has established himself as the Pirates third baseman of the present and future.
Adam LaRoche - Big brother Adam, regardless of his production in April and May, will likely be traded before the trade deadline. If he does make it through to the end of 2009, he will become a free agent. I look for Huntington to move him when his value is his highest, right after he starts heating up in June.
Neil Walker - Walker, who was moved from catcher to third, should expect to move to a corner outfield spot. He is the most athletic of the Pirates third base prospects and started to show some of the power expected from him in 2008. I'd expect Walker to move to right field, as he has a strong arm and right field is the easier position for 81 games a year playing at PNC Park. Another possibility is second base.
Andrew McCutchen - Prior to McLouth establishing himself in center, McCutchen was looked at as the next Pirates center fielder. After Bay was traded, McCutchen was looked at as the Pirates next left fielder. With Walker likely tabbed for right field and Tabata likely slated for left field, McCutchen is once again the Pirates center fielder of the future. He may arrive as a left fielder until...
Nate McLouth - With long term contract talks stalled, look for McLouth to be traded at the deadline, or in the offseason, if LaRoche has established himself at third. McCutchen would then slide over from left field with Nyger Morgan moving back into left...
Jose Tabata - Morgan would likely man left field until Tabata was deemed ready for the jump. Look for Tabata to be a call up, if he is ready, at the trade deadline. Also, look for the McLouth trade to happen only when Tabata is ready.
Brandon Moss - Moss, acquired in the Bay trade, will man right field until Walker is ready and seasoned. If Moss establishes himself as an everyday player, Walker gets relegated to super sub status or forces Walker to play second base.
Freddy Sanchez - Second is the only other position that Walker could potentially play. Depending on Sanchez's health and if he regains his stroke that earned him a batting title, second may be a reach for the near term for Walker. At the same time, Sanchez could be shopped on the open market.
Nyger Morgan - Nyger will be the filler player. Until a player is ready, he will see significant playing time. He will remain as the Pirates 5th outfielder for the foreseeable future. His speed is what will keep him on the roster. His bat and poor routes to the ball on defense is what will keep him as a reserve at best.
By my count, that is nine players whose fortunes could change if Andy LaRoche establishes himself as the everyday Pirates third baseman. There are easily more scenarios that could plan out, but these are the most likely. The performance of Morgan, Moss, Walker and Sanchez will determine their roles. The timing of moves pertaining to McCutchen and Tabata depend on their development speed and when they are deemed ready. Another factor is how well Walker can adjust to yet another position, but he would still be making that move if Alvarez is kept as a third baseman.
Andy LaRoche, in 2009, is the key to the look of the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates, at least in my eyes. At the least, the view of six positions could change if Andy LaRoche is the real deal.
If Andy Fails:
If Andy LaRoche struggles and fails, the scenarios all change.
Pedro Alvarez – Still would be considered the Pirates third baseman of the future, Walker is the only one stopping him from claiming the position.
Adam LaRoche – The Pirates could look to sign a long term deal to keep Adam in the black and gold. If it does not work out, there is always …
Neil Walker – Could still be viewed as a potential candidate for third or first. His position switch could add yet another position being first base. You could effectively take outfield off the list since the outfield would already be four deep. Super-sub could once again be his destination depending on Adam LaRoche.
Steve Pearce – Yet another name thrown in the mix, he plays first and right. He could be the first baseman of the future, if he can get his bat working at the MLB level.
Brandon Moss – Depending on his performance, he could keep the right field job without much in the line of competition until Tabata is ready at which time he slides into the fourth outfielder role.
Nate McLouth – His trade scenario is significantly changed. McLouth would own an outfield spot as long as he is on the roster.
Jose Tabata – Rather than looking for a job in left, right now becomes his destination and he is likely kept in AAA a little longer to better prepare himself.
Andrew McCutchen – His roll becomes a left fielder as long as McLouth is still on the roster.
Freddy Sanchez – Could still be shopped, but the need to find a position for Walker is subsided and forcing Walker to a job at second is minimized.
Nyger Morgan – When Tabat, McCutchen and McLouth are the starting outfielders and Moss is the fourth outfielder, Morgan has little value on the team and become trade bait or an organizational player.
If you ask Neal Huntington, he would prefer to have these issues as opposed to constantly looking for players to fill out the roster. Problems that would be created by Andy LaRoche succeeding are the problems GM’s love to have.
Here’s to hoping Andy LaRoche succeeds and gives Neal Huntington headaches of a good nature in 2009 and beyond.
Something I thought of after I submitted the post. Anyone trying to project a lineup beyond 2009 needs to look no further than their outlook for Andy LaRoche. I hope I am not putting any additional pressure on Andy, so Andy please forgive me if I do. I am hoping someday a site will be called “Where Have You Gone Andy LaRoche” because you have earned a place in Pirates lore.
Sorry Pat for snagging a naming idea. I have also finally updated your link.
Over at The Buccos Forum we have a discussion going on this topic.
I will be walking in the MDA Stride and Ride locally. Please sponsor me in my Stride and Ride Walk for MDA at https://www.joinmda.org/srcoralvilleia09/dharr18. Every dollar is appreciated.