Pirates Set 40-Man Roster

Nov 20, 2011 by

Pirates Set 40-Man Roster

There has been almost one year’s worth of speculation about who the Pirates would protect from this year’s Rule 5 draft, but as I suggested here, it should have been easy for the organization to emerge unscathed, and protect their real prospects. I say should, because the Pirates managed to snag defeat from the jaws of victory by virtue of some bizarre roster mismanagement at the last possible moment.

By signing free agent catcher Rod Barajas, as well as picking up Jeremy Hefner and Brian Jeroloman off waivers, the Pirates added three players to the roster right before the deadline. But, at the same time, they waived Xavier Paul and Matt Pagnozzi, as predicted, as well as Eric Fryer – no harm, no foul, six roster spots still open, with six obvious players to fill them – Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Justin Wilson, Matt Hague, Rudy Owens and Andrew Lambo. Sure it would have been nice to protect guys like Colla, Crotta and Moreno, but, frankly, the eligible players remaining projected mostly as organization depth.

So, end of story, right? Wrong. For some inexplicable reason, the Pirates decided to protect relief pitcher Duke Welker, and leave OF Andrew Lambo unprotected. Welker is a big, hard-throwing guy who has been kicking around the system since being selected in the second round of Dave Littlefield’s infamous 2007 draft. Supposedly, he made strides with his command and control this year, although a BB% of 4.41 in A+ at age 25 would seem to belie that opinion. Lambo, of course, was ranked in the top 50 prospects in baseball two years ago, and while he has disappointed since coming to the Pirates in the Octavio Dotel trade, he will play in 2012 at age 23.

For some reason, Pirates’ fans – and apparently the Pirates themselves – view Lambo as some over-the-hill failed prospect, a Brandon Wood type. This is, of course, absurd. Lambo got off to a really bad start in AAA last year, but his .184/.257/.292 line was partially a result of a .228 BABIP. When he was sent back to Altoona, a more age-relative level, he put up a .274/.345/.437 line, and finished with an OPS of .900 in the month of August. If Lambo was not so hyped coming up, and if his career had proceeded in a linear fashion up to this point, Pirates’ fans would be thrilled by his progress. Instead, they seem content to relegate him to the scrap heap.

Teams get themselves in trouble with the Rule 5 when they get greedy, and take a quantity over quality approach. This manifests itself in an attempt at prognostication – instead of playing it safe and protecting their best players, they try to predict which of their players are more likely to be drafted, and protect those instead. 75% of the players selected in the Rule 5 are pitchers, which is clearly a function of modern roster management, rather than talent. With most teams keeping 7-8 relievers on their rosters, they can hide Rule 5 pitchers in the back of their bullpens, much like the Royals did with Nate Adcock last year.

With this in mind, it is clear that Neal Huntington believes Welker is more likely to be taken than Lambo, who obviously needs at least one full year in AAA. Lambo is also limited to a corner OF/1B spot, meaning he can’t serve as a versatile defensive replacement, and therefor would waste a valuable roster spot. The problem with this thinking is that the point of the Rule 5 is not to be correct about which of your players gets taken, at any risk – it is to protect your best prospects. Simply put, who cares if we lose Welker? Pitchers like Adcock and Welker are a dime a dozen – if everything breaks right for Welker, he will turn out to be an older Jared Hughes. For this, we are willing to play Russian Roulette with a 23 year- old who not too long ago was considered to be one of the best prospects in the sport.

The odds may be in our favor – Lambo may slip through undrafted. But for an organization still smarting from the Jose Bautista debacle, this is a foolhardy risk. It only takes one GM to view the situation differently, and gamble a roster spot on Lambo’s potential. If so, this could turn out to be one of Neal Huntington’s worst blunders.

photo courtesy Joel Dinda

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