By John Perrotto
The Pirates know what they must do if they are going go from pleasant surprise to legitimate contender in a National League Central race that is wide open at the moment.
They need to score more runs. They are averaging a meager 3.69 runs a game, which ranks them 14th in the NL and 26th in the major leagues.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is on the lookout for offensive help and manager Clint Hurdle said that ownership “has presented no roadblocks” in the attempt to acquire a hitter who can make a difference.
The Pirates’ biggest problem in trying to add a bat is that there are few teams ready to give up on the season. Entering Monday’s play, just five of the 30 major-league teams were more than eight games out of a playoff spot.
Thus, the Pirates may have no choice but to look internally if they want to immediately improve the offense. There are two easy steps they can take right now to try to infuse some life into the lineup and another move they might also consider soon.
The easiest move would be to bench (process has somewhat started) first baseman Lyle Overbay and move right fielder Garrett Jones to first, his natural position. The Pirates could then plug Xavier Paul in at right field.
Signing Overbay as a free agent in the offseason wasn’t a bad idea but giving him $5 million for one year was. Executives from two other teams that had at least mild interest in Overbay said they were stunned by the money, expecting he would sign for only half that figure, at the most.
Overbay is hitting just .228 with five home runs, a .307 on-base percentage and a .353 slugging percentage in 241 at-bats. While the Pirates say they need to be patient because Overbay has a history of finishing seasons strong, their lack of offense has reached emergency levels. They need to pull the plug on Overbay now.
Furthermore, the idea that Overbay is a better second-half hitter is patently false. He has a career .810 OPS before the All-Star break and .779 after.
Paul has been getting increased playing time in the last two weeks and is an interesting player. While he was never considered a megaprospect coming up through the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system, he did have his share of believers in that organization because of his speed and gap power.
Paul has showed some flashes since being claimed off waivers from the Dodgers on April 26 as he has hit .269 in 108 at bats, though his 31/5 strikeout/walk rate is alarming.
If Paul doesn’t work out then the Pirates should finally make the move many fans have been waiting for and recall outfielder Alex Presley from Class AAA Indianapolis. Presley is hitting .332 with eight homers, a .382 OBP and a .506 slugging percentage in 271 at-bats.
When the Pirates sent Presley to their minor-league camp in spring training, they told him to work on his baserunning and defense at Indianapolis. Presley is 15-for-17 in stolen base attempts and, frankly, it doesn’t matter what kind of defense he is playing because the Pirates badly need a bat.