Inbox: Will Ford replace Sanchez?

Inbox: Will Ford replace Sanchez?

PITTSBURGH -- As I was sifting through my Inbox, I noticed a plethora of Minor League-related questions sitting there, so this edition will have some Minor League flavor to it. There are still questions dealing with the big league club as well, but going through your questions reminded me how much Pirates fans keep an eye on what's going on in the Minors.

Maybe it's because everyone has been told to get excited about the prospects that are coming. Or maybe it's because it's been a while since it's been fun to follow the Major League club from April through September. I'm thinking it's a combination of both.

Regardless, I'll continue to bring you Minor League updates in Inboxes and other content on the site since I know it's something on your minds. And yes, after watching some of the organization's prospects this spring, there is reason to anticipate certain pending arrivals.

If Freddy Sanchez starts hitting like he certainly is capable of, why not keep him? He can hit for a torrid average, and he has the potential to be a presence in the lineup.
-- Cullen H., Lewisburg, West Va.

It's not a foregone conclusion that Sanchez is playing his last season in Pittsburgh. And if you ask him, he genuinely seems to hope that that isn't the case. But ultimately, the financial side is going to weigh heavily in Sanchez's future here. Sanchez has a club option that would pay him $8 million if picked up for 2010. There is a $600,000 buyout.

However, Sanchez does have some ability to control his immediate future. That option is automatically vested if he reaches 635 plate appearances or 600 plate appearances and an All-Star Game appearance this season. Those are within reach if Sanchez stays healthy. He made 653 plate appearances in 2007 and 632 in '06.

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That obviously doesn't mean that the Pirates still can't trade the second baseman, which is something they could consider doing as early as this summer if he is not in their long-term plans and the team is out of contention by midseason.

Shelby Ford had a great Spring Training. How will management deal with him and Sanchez? Ford is a great prospect, but he's up against a former batting champion.
-- John W., Charleston, West Va.

I figured this would be an appropriate question to piggy-back the previous one. There's no question the Pirates see Ford as a potential everyday Major League player. But first, Ford has to show that he can stay healthy for a full season. He played just 94 games in 2007 and 81 in '08 because of various injuries. And he missed the first few games with Triple-A Indianapolis this season because of a nagging wrist injury.

If Ford can continue to build off the defensive improvements he made this spring and stay healthy in Indianapolis all year, it's not out of the question that he could be an option to supplant Sanchez next year if management does not bring Sanchez back. And Ford's progress could play a role in management's decision on Sanchez's future with the team.

Now that the Pirates have locked up Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth and Paul Maholm, who are they targeting next? I would also like to see the club pick up a veteran or two at the Trade Deadline that may help them at least get to .500 for the season. Do you see that as a possibility this year?
-- David P., Spring Lake, N.C.

To my knowledge, there is no one that the Pirates are eyeing right now in terms of a long-term deal. General manager Neal Huntington has said, too, that he prefers to avoid in-season negotiations if possible, so the likelihood of anything being done in the next six months is slim.

That said, if the Pirates do go through the season and don't extend long-term offers to Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson, don't expect either back next year. The club will not pick up Wilson's $8.4 million option for 2010, which would make him a free agent. And Pittsburgh would not likely be able to offer LaRoche enough to keep him when he enters free agency.

As for whether or not this team will make any midseason additions, that will depend on where its record come July. The Pirates won't make any acquisitions simply to get to .500. That's never been the intention. But management has said that if Pittsburgh's still in contention, that it won't hesitate to spend some money and go get a missing piece or two to make a late push -- that would be a playoff push, not a push for .500.

Last year, the San Francisco Giants went to a six-man rotation to protect their young arms. If the Pirates are out of contention this year, is there any thought of them doing something similar?
-- Shane G., Imperial, Pa.

There hasn't been talk of that, nor do I expect there to be. For one, it's not really accurate to characterize these Pirates arms as "young" anymore. Yes, Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf are both looking to finish their first full big league season, but Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Ian Snell are well past the point of needing to limit their innings. Each has already surpassed 200 innings in a Major League season, and there's no reason why Pittsburgh wouldn't want them to be pitching every fifth day.

Why didn't Chris Bootcheck make the bullpen for the start of the season? I watched Spring Training pretty closely, and I noticed that Bootcheck started out being one of our best relievers. Why didn't he make it over Jesse Chavez or one of the other pitchers in our bullpen?
-- Timmy L., Kittanning, Pa.

Bootcheck did have a decent spring, and you're right, he started off quite strong. The fact that he is not on the team's 40-man roster certainly worked against Bootcheck (and anyone else in his situation) as it does every spring. If Bootcheck had made the club, the Pirates would have had to clear a spot on the 40-man roster by taking someone off. In the cases of the last four relievers who did make it -- Craig Hansen, Sean Burnett, Donnie Veal and Chavez -- all were already on the 40-man roster, so no additional move was necessary.

Bootcheck is pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A and would be an option to join the big league club later this season if needed. But if/when the Pirates do, they are going to have a binding roster decision to make simultaneously.

When do you believe that Brad Lincoln will be on the mound at PNC Park?
-- Lou Z., Youngstown, Ohio

Like Ford, Lincoln has to first stay healthy. He did so last year, with modest on-field results, and he needs to do so again this year and have those results improve. If Lincoln stays healthy and makes the necessary strides, it's certainly possible that he could make his debut at PNC Park in 2010. I think it's still premature to predict an appearance by him in the big leagues this season.

What happened to Yoslan Herrera? Is he seen as a legitimate rotation candidate in the next couple of years?
-- Zach J. Pittsburgh

To say that Herrera's stock has dropped since he signed a Major League deal during the Dave Littlefield-era would be an understatement. He is making $400,000 this year in what is his final year of the three-year deal, but is no longer pitching as a starter.

Herrera is pitching out of the bullpen in Double-A right now. He made a brief move up to Triple-A when Indianapolis needed some pitching help one week into the season, but Herrera has since rejoined the Curve. When the Pirates talk about the Minor League pitchers who management expects to have a Major League impact, Herrera is not among those mentioned.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.