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December 6, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Fixing a Hole

by Daniel Rathman

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Pirates prefer James Loney among available first basemen
If general manager Neal Huntington could have his pick of the first-base litter at a reasonable cost, rival clubs believe they know who he would choose. ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted on Wednesday that teams that have been in contact with the Pirates have come away thinking that Loney, who spent the 2013 season with the Rays, is the apple of Huntington’s eye.

The 29-year-old Loney compiled a .299/.348/.430 triple-slash line for Joe Maddon’s squad in 2013, good for a .281 TAv, his best in any full major-league season. That might seem uninspiring for an everyday player at a premium offensive position, but the National League average was .260, and even the Pirates’ bundle of Garrett Jones, Justin Morneau, and Gaby Sanchez outperformed it.

Jones received his walking papers on Monday, when the Pirates opted against tendering him a contract after getting replacement-level work for $4.5 million last season. Morneau, who was acquired from the Twins at the end of August, signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Rockies on Tuesday.

And then there was one.

Sanchez, who is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter, exceeded the Pirates’ expectations in 2013 by compiling a .290 TAv over 320 plate appearances. He is a middling defender and struggles versus right-handed pitching, but offers enough punch from the right side to be a useful short-end platoon player and bench bat on a contender. The Pirates are seeking a slick-fielding, left-handed first baseman—a player that Sanchez could effectively complement.

That’s where Loney comes in. The longtime Dodger was not as strong with the glove last season as he was a couple of years ago, when he ranked second in the majors with 11 runs saved, but he would provide the Buccos with a significant improvement over Jones, who has never been an asset in the field. With a ground-ball-oriented pitching staff, the Pirates could reap considerable benefit from a rangier first baseman than the ones they employed in 2013.

Loney won’t come cheap, though. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, he is looking for a three-year pact worth $27-30 million, just a season removed from sub-replacement-level performance and on the heels of a $2 million paycheck from the Rays.

Teams that believe in Loney’s 1.5-win rebound with Tampa Bay might find that price tag reasonable—but John Perrotto of USA Today heard that the Pirates are likely to top out around $16 million over two years. If Loney deems that insufficient, Stark’s sources suggested that they could look to the trade market, where Adam Lind and Mitch Moreland are among the lefty-swinging options.

Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury replacement? Jackie Bradley and a platoon partner
With Jacoby Ellsbury heading to the Bronx on a seven-year, $153 million contract signed earlier this week, the Red Sox have a void to fill in the middle of their outfield. Top prospect Jackie Bradley, a .275/.374/.469 hitter at Triple-A Pawtucket during the past season and a plus defender, is likely to be the primary solution, but general manager Ben Cherington is hoping to give the 23-year-old some help.

A left-handed hitter, Bradley scuffled in a cup of coffee at the major-league level in 2013, going 18-for-95 (.189/.280/.337) with 31 strikeouts in 37 games of action. The Red Sox believe that the extra year of high-minors seasoning has prepared the University of South Carolina product for a significant role, but with the AL East looking even more competitive than it was last season, they would be wise to hedge that bet.

Scott Lauber, who covers the team for the Boston Herald, reported on Thursday that Cherington is looking for a “right-handed hitting outfielder to complement Bradley,” not an everyday player like Curtis Granderson. Lauber went on to suggest former Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez as a logical fit for the job.

Gutierrez, who turns 31 in February, has weathered a laundry list of injuries over the past few seasons, and he missed more than 100 games in 2013 while nursing a serious hamstring strain. The previous year, a pectoral strain landed him on the shelf for 63 games. The year before that, he missed a month with a pulled oblique muscle.

Notwithstanding those ailments, when Gutierrez is able to stay on the field, he offers intriguing pop from the right side and a strong defensive profile in center, the two attributes Cherington is said to be seeking. Gutierrez homered 10 times in 151 plate appearances during the 2013 season, and he owns an .818 career OPS versus left-handed pitching.

One other option for the gig, Chris Young, already inked a one-year, $7.25 million hitch with the Mets. The Red Sox could also consider Reed Johnson, or use Shane Victorino as an outfield rover who moves to center against tough lefties, and sign or trade for a right fielder.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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