With Thanksgiving past us, it's hard to believe that we sit one week away from the start of the Winter Meetings. This year's location -- Indianapolis -- may not have the glitz and glam that Las Vegas did last year, but the intrigue will nevertheless be the same.
As we look ahead to next week's Meetings, let's first address some of your questions in this week's Inbox.
Do any of the starting pitchers on the 40-man roster have options left, particularly Kevin Hart and Phil Dumatrait? I don't think either is likely to win a spot in the Major League rotation, but losing either now would be a shame.
-- Dave H., Menifee, Calif.
Hart does have one option left. Dumatrait does not. Personally, I think Dumatrait is the more expendable of the two, and so it's certainly much more advantageous for Hart to be the one with the flexibility. Dumatrait took a year to recover from shoulder surgery and really struggled when he finally did come back last August. While the Pirates may build him up as a starter in Spring Training, you shouldn't expect the left-hander to have a chance at cracking the rotation. The best bet for Dumatrait would be a bullpen role. But again, he needs to show marked improvement before even that can be considered.
Hart, on the other hand, is a legitimate rotation candidate. As things stand now, it would seem that he and Daniel McCutchen will compete for that fifth rotation spot next spring. Since both have options left, the Pirates can send either to Triple-A to start the season without consequence. Having that type of flexibility, especially with pitchers, is something that general manager Neal Huntington covets when making acquisitions.
Why can't we look at moving Ryan Doumit back to right field to fill our offensive needs rather than trade him? The Pirates are looking for a right fielder and are willing to trade Doumit. I know the comments about being a catcher with value, but his bat and above average-arm put him above some of the players we have recruited in the past. He would be less prone to injuries in right field, and the Pirates have already admitted that they are willing to go with Jason Jaramillo behind the plate.
-- Bob, Fombell, Pa.
That would seem to be a viable possibility, but not one the Pirates have shown interest in really exploring further for whatever reason. I think you hit on part of the reason when you mentioned Doumit's value being higher as a catcher, especially since he hits from both sides of the plate. Also, the Pirates consider Doumit's play calling and ability to work with the pitching staff a plus, so they see him as an asset as a catcher.
When I asked Huntington about the possibility of Doumit playing right field, he said the organization sees it as a possibility right now only on days when Doumit is off behind the plate. As a result, don't be surprised if you do see Doumit make a handful of spot starts in right when he isn't catching, in order to keep his bat in the lineup. You'll remember Doumit did just that one time last September.
Keep in mind, too, that the Pirates' right fielder is likely to soon be Jose Tabata. So, if the Pirates do pursue a corner outfielder this winter, it would likely be for a short-term fit. It might not be the best option to move Doumit to right knowing that he wouldn't be able to stay there but for a few months.
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How do you see manager John Russell integrating the abundance of left-handed hitters, especially Delwyn Young, Jeff Clement, Pedro Alvarez and Akinori Iwamura?
-- Jeff E., Portland, Maine
The question might be a bit premature, simply because only one of those four players listed above is actually scribbled in the projected Opening Day lineup. Young will be on the bench. So, for now, he's not a concern in the starting lineup. And -- even though I know none of you want to hear this -- Alvarez is likely to start the 2010 season in Triple-A, so he's really out of the immediate mix, too.
For argument's sake, let's say that Clement wins the job as the starting first baseman. If he does, that would likely give the Pirates three left-handed hitters (Iwamura, Garrett Jones and Clement), four right-handed hitters (Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Andy LaRoche, Ronny Cedeno) and one switch-hitter (Doumit) in the lineup. That would give Russell plenty of flexibility.
In fact, the Pirates had four left-handed hitters, plus Doumit, in last year's Opening Day lineup, and Russell said at the time that he saw no issues with that type of unusual balance.
Where does Milledge fit into next year's lineup? I think he played a pretty strong second half this past year, and showed some improvements in his game. Is he an outfielder of the future, along with Andrew McCutchen?
-- Jake C., Kent, Ohio
If the Pirates' starting lineup is made up of players currently within the organization (meaning no additional offseason adds), I could very well see Milledge slotting into the fifth spot in the batting order, behind Doumit. Milledge finished the season by hitting .311 in his final 44 games, and there's no reason to believe he can't sustain offensive numbers like that for a longer period of time. Also, both Milledge and the Pirates' staff expect him to show more power in 2010 now that his right hand has returned to full strength after an early-season injury.
I do think you can mention Milledge as one of the club's potential outfielders of the future. He was not brought in as a placeholder. In fact, at this time next year, I'd expect we'll be talking about a pretty intriguing outfield trio of Milledge, McCutchen and Tabata.
Where is pitcher Eliecer Navarro? Is he still in the farm system? He pitched for Panama in the World Baseball Classic and seemed to throw hard and had a lot of strikeouts.
-- Tim S., Oil City, Pa.
Yes, Navarro is still with the organization and spent the 2009 season pitching with the Gulf Coast League Pirates after spending his first two professional seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League. Navarro fared well in the step up and finished 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA in 10 appearances (three starts). He walked six and struck out 23 in 31 innings.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.