Over and over your hear it, or read it: it’s all about Pedro. If Pedro turns it around, the Buccos have a chance. Without him, well, just forget about the season right now.
I would love to see Pedro succeed. He has only one full year under his belt, he has shown signs, his potential is obvious, and he wants to be a well-paid young man for a very long time. So the incentive is there, the talent is there, and he may end up justifying his enormous signing bonus. We’d all love to see it and it would make a huge difference for the Pirates this year, and well into the future.
However, I do not agree with the oft-expressed view that “for the Pirates to succeed, Pedro must succeed.” I don’t think it’s true, and I don’t think the Pirates’ management thinks so either. In fact, I think they are planning around the possibility that he is NOT a significant part of their present - or their future.
Why do I say that? Do I have “inside info?” Nope. I do believe, though, that actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the front office, in particular during the off-season, speak volumes to me.
First, Neal and company didn’t seem particularly torqued out that Pedro refused to play winter ball. I found that very, very interesting. It could be interpreted a number of ways. After all, the Bucs didn’t really have any leverage to make him go. But it could be that to some extent, the FO has given up on him, are hoping for the best, and are already working on a Plan B.
Second, they brought in Casey McGeehee. THIRD BASEMAN Casey McGeehee. Sure, the line is that he’ll platoon with Jones at first. Well, that’s weird. His batting average last year against lefties a measly .169 - WORSE than it was against right-handed pitchers. Further, the guy has played almost NO 1B in his life. So I doubt he’s a serious “platoon” candidate. Rather, I expect that Pedro will be given every opportunity to succeed, but if it’s not working out, we’ll soon see Casey McGeehee as our everyday 3B.
Third, Bucco management does not seem as worked up about the situation at 1B as many of us, including myself, were this offseason. There are potential options that could work out: Jones finds his swing again, Nick Evans steps up, and my favorite: Matt Hague wins a spot on the team and moves into the 1B role within a few weeks.
Again, look at the actions: the attempts to fill the 1B hole this off-season appear anemic at best (I don’t claim to know, but it sure didn’t seem like they were going great guns for a Pena or even a Kotchman). The only option they seemed to pursue was Derrick Lee, but luckily that didn’t come through (Just what we need: an overpaid old guy that doesn’t want to be here).
Further, look at what they did NOT do: address the team’s power deficit. They tell us that the power potential is better because of the Barmes and Barajas acquisitions and yes, they may add a few dingers, but no one seriously believse that the power issue is resolved. Rather, the team has clearly made a decision to a) build around speed, and b) hope the youngsters like Walker and Tabata can add some oomph to their game.
It is interesting that the Pirates, as far as I can recall, were not linked to a SINGLE major hitter this offseason. This was not the case with respect to pitching, where they were prepared to spend some big dollars. So it’s not a money issue - a conclusion clearly bolstered by the laudatory commitment to McCutchen. It's rather a case where they have apparently concluded that with or without Pedro, they can take it to the next level.
And if Pedro DOES come through? Bonus!
So what this tells me is that:
1. The Pirates already brought in their Plan B and he is named McGeehee, and while he may be called an option at 1b, I believe he is being “groomed” to take over at 3B.
2. The Bucs really do see some solution emerging at 1B that does NOT necessarily involve McGeehee, meaning they feel they have the 3B situation worked out: Pedro, if he can find his swing; McGeehee if he doesn’t. And if neither of them find their swing again, well, maybe Matt Hague, who is getting 3B playing time in ST, can step in.
So, advice to Pedro: don’t take anything for granted. You’re not as essential to this team’s success as some might suggest. But…maybe that’s a good thing. Take the pressure off yourself, go out there, and have fun. That might be the best route to success anyway.
And if success remains elusive? Well, Pedro won’t be the first highly paid bench player in the history of baseball. Write it down: there’s a real possibility that we’ll be seeing Matt Hague and Casey McGeehee as our starting corner infielders by mid-June, early July at the latest. And with Pedro, Jones, and Nick Evans on the bench (and oh yes, Nate), well, that ain’t all that bad.