Bucs move forward with younger team
Eight prospects added to the organization in the past week
PITTSBURGH -- While Saturday's trade with the Yankees provided the Pirates primarily with Minor League depth, Thursday's deal, in which the Pirates sent Jason Bay to Boston, has the Pittsburgh club looking at a number of shakeups to its current Major League roster.
Of the four players the Pirates received in the three-team trade with the Red Sox and Dodgers on Thursday -- outfielder Brandon Moss, third baseman Andy LaRoche, right-handed reliever Craig Hansen and right-handed starter Bryan Morris -- only Morris will go into the farm system. He will join Class A Hickory.
The other three, however, are in transit to Chicago, where they will join up with 22 new teammates as the Pirates prepare to face the Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. All three are expected to make an immediate impact.
Bixler is the only one assured of remaining with the organization. With both Duffy and Osoria, the Pirates now have 10 days to either release, trade or outright the player to the Minors. In order to outright them, however, each would have to first clear waivers, which seems doubtful in both cases.
As for the three additions to the club, Moss and LaRoche will step right into starting roles. Moss will assume Bay's spot in the outfield. The left-handed hitter has been one of the more promising young players in the Red Sox system, but he had been blocked by Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew for playing time with the Major League club.
In 34 games with the Red Sox this year, Moss hit .295 with two homers. He split time playing in left, right and at first. The 24-year-old former eighth-round pick also hit .282 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 43 games with Triple-A Pawtucket.
"We felt very strong about Moss' ability to come out and be an everyday outfielder for us," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. "You get stuck behind Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew and you're not going to get many at-bats. He continued to work hard. There's a nice, quality package there."
LaRoche came into the season rated by Baseball America as the second-best prospect in the Dodgers' system. He was hobbled by a thumb injury earlier this year, forcing him out of action. He just recently returned to the big league club, where he hit .203 with two homers and six RBIs in 27 games.
Now healthy, the former 39th-round pick has been deemed ready to step in at third for the Pirates.
The addition of LaRoche, though, complicates things at third base for the Pirates. Manager John Russell has used both Doug Mientkiewicz and Jose Bautista there all year, though with Mientkiewicz filling in for the injured Adam LaRoche at first, Bautista will be the one losing playing time to the younger of the LaRoche brothers.
Huntington said that no decision has yet to be made on how playing time will be divvied between the two players.
"[It's] something that John and I have to talk about moving forward," Huntington said. "We'll have to figure out exactly how that mix goes."
The addition of another third baseman also has the farm system now clogged with third-base prospects. In addition to the Bautsita-LaRoche jam in Pittsburgh, there's Neil Walker, the Pirates' first-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, waiting in the wings at Triple-A.
Huntington, however, suggested on Thursday that part of the intrigue of adding the younger LaRoche right now was because Walker's Major League days still seem a ways off.
"Truth of the matter is that Neil has put himself in a position this year, with some offensive struggles, that he wasn't ready to go in our minds Opening Day next year," Huntington said. "As we move forward, we're still excited about Neil Walker's growth and development."
Huntington reiterated that there are no plans for Walker to change positions again, as he'd done after making a transition from catcher to third in the Minors. In addition, the Pirates are in the process of trying to sign 2008 No. 2 overall Draft pick Pedro Alvarez, yet another third baseman. Assuming Alvarez gets signed before the Aug. 15 deadline, the Pirates may potentially be looking at logjam in a few years. It's a problem, though, that Huntington would love to have.
"We can never have enough talent," Huntington said. "When we have too many third baseman that have a bright future with this organization, then we have a challenge. We'll have to be creative with playing time, or it allows us to move Player X or Player Y for two other players from somewhere else."
As for Hansen, the 24-year-old right-hander jumps right into the middle of a Pirates bullpen among a group of relievers still trying to find roles after losing closer Matt Capps to injury and lefty Damaso Marte in a deal to the Yankees. While Hansen will begin pitching in middle relief, his breaking ball and fastball combination may suit him for a late-inning role in the future.
"Some people have told me, after rumors of the trade leaked out, that if the upside clicks, he's a closer somewhere down the road," Huntington said. "He very much has the stuff where he could pitch himself into a very meaningful role in the seventh or the eighth."
In addition to those three new faces set to join the club on Friday, the Pirates are also about to get their first look at Jeff Karstens, who was acquired over the weekend in a trade that sent Xavier Nady and Marte to New York. Karstens will start Friday's game.
As for the organization's Minor League system, this past week has infused it with some much-needed young talent. Hickory will add Morris to its rotation. Jose Tabata, who was acquired on Saturday, is expected to step into a starting spot in the outfield with Double-A Altoona in the next few days. Both Ross Ohlendorf and Dan McCutchen, also dealt to the Pirates by the Yankees, have each already made a start in Triple-A. Ohlendorf is likely to see time in Pittsburgh before the season is up.
"We continue to accumulate that depth, that talent that we need to be a sustainable championship caliber organization," Huntington said. "It's eight players. We've added eight players with solid pedigrees, solid Major League upside. It is something that we're thrilled about as an organization."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.