Jordy Mercer’s seven-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates came to a close Wednesday after MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported Mercer agreed to a deal with the Detroit Tigers.
Losing Mercer’s production wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but the Pirates are in a position where things are looking dire at shortstop.
In 31 games last year, presumed starter Kevin Newman struck out 23 times in 95 plate appearances. That’s a staggering 26 percent. You can argue it’s a small sample size and maybe he figures it out. After all, Newman did strike out just 50 times in 477 plate appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis before getting his call to the bigs, but he also wouldn’t be the first player to never figure out big-league pitchers.
Other possible starter Erik Gonzalez has never played more than 81 games in a MLB season and is a career .273/.314/.397 hitter in the minors. Neil Huntingdon has told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Gonzalez was a “very talented, blocked player,” during his tenure with the Cleveland Indians, but there’s no way to be even remotely certain that he will offer the Pirates anything offensively.
None of this inspires confidence for a team that will be in dire need of offense in 2019. Not that losing Mercer creates a major hole in the power department, but Newman and Gonzalez’s -0.3 combined WAR last season certainly doesn’t inspire a step forward.
The Pirates don’t have to stand pat here. They’ve trimmed payroll, most recently with the trade of Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox, and could re-allocate that money toward giving its bevy of strong arms some firepower to work with at the plate.
That isn’t saying the Pirates should splash cash on Manny Machado, but there are options that would conceivably fit their price range.
Jed Lowrie stands out as one after slashing .267/.353/.458 for the Oakland Athletics last season to go with career highs in home runs (23) and RBI (99). Lowrie can play multiple spots in the infield, having played second and third last season and shortstop in 2015. With Ben Ross of NBC Sports reporting Oakland could be moving on from attempting to re-sign Lowrie, the time is ripe for Pittsburgh to pounce on him as a cost-effective upgrade.
The Pirates offense will need Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell clicking on all cylinders to produce runs early in the season as Gregory Polanco works his way back from shoulder surgery. If any of those three struggle, it’s hard to see the offense providing any type of insurance for the Pirates’ pitching staff.
Huntingdon and the Pirates front office made the necessary moves last season to bolster the pitching staff and bullpen by adding Chris Archer and Keone Kela. Neglecting to address the offense’s razor-thin margin for error, especially until Polanco is healthy, is an unnecessary and worrisome risk for a team actively cutting payroll while the rest of the NL Central works to improve.