Opportunity cost: Bucs face roster crunch

August 7th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- The Pirates have cut two members of their Opening Day lineup in a span of 24 hours, but in order to get there, they had to make some tough decisions among their winnowing base of established yet scuffling players.

Pittsburgh selected the contract of outfielder to help shore up the team’s outfield depth with left fielder on the injured list. To clear space on the active roster, the club optioned utility man to Triple-A Indianapolis and designated infielder for assignment.

Demoting two guys who were also on the Opening Day roster and, though dealing with some injuries, have remained on the 40-man roster until now highlights the roster crunch the Pirates will face as they try to give new acquisitions and callups opportunities at the Major League level.

González was one of the Pirates’ most versatile options early in the season, with the ability to bounce across the infield and play the outfield if necessary. However, after being one of the driving forces in the offense in the early going, he’s produced a .526 OPS in 47 games since the start of May while dealing with an oblique injury for the past few weeks.

“That was a challenging one,” manager Derek Shelton said of the move, “especially with the kind of person Erik is. I think one of the things is, we’ve acquired some people recently who we’re going to give opportunities to currently and then moving forward. Because of that, Erik wound up being the roster casualty.”

On the flip side, Shelton also acknowledged that Alford really pushed the needle with his hot hitting at Triple-A. With Gamel placed on the injured list on Friday, the Pirates had an outfield spot for the taking, and Alford’s 1.013 OPS with 14 homers in 56 games with the Indians spoke to marked improvements from his sub-.100 average in April.

“He deserves to be back up here,” Shelton said of Alford. “When you send guys out and you give them challenges and they perform, you end up getting an opportunity to come back. He deserves that with the changes and adjustments he’s made.”

Even if Alford rakes like he did at Triple-A, the corner-outfield situation will likely be in flux in the short term, as the Pirates decided to carry first baseman -- another hitter who went on a hot streak early in his Pittsburgh tenure, but who has hit .132 in the past 15 games -- after first baseman Colin Moran was activated from the injured list on Friday.

Shelton mentioned the possibility of Nogowski switching to the corner outfield -- where the rookie has been taking fly balls -- to continue getting consistent time in the Pirates’ lineup while Gamel is out of action.

“If I’m out there playing, I ain’t going to complain,” Nogowski told MLB.com. “I think the big thing is just getting at-bats and being productive. I played out there in the Minors, in the Fall League and in winter ball. I played out there in college a bunch. Not too much different out there.”

The Pirates’ premium placed on versatility will certainly help them find some playing time for everyone they want to get regular MLB reps. But it’s only a matter of time before more decisions will have to be made. Gamel, outfielder Ka’ai Tom and left-hander Sam Howard are progressing from their injuries, among others. First baseman/outfielder Michael Chavis, who was acquired from the Red Sox at the Deadline, or shortstop Cole Tucker could warrant looks with the Pirates before the season ends.

No matter how it shakes out, it figures to be a busy final two months for the Pirates in terms of roster management.

Minor transactions

Another member of the Pirates’ outfield on Opening Day was cut on Friday.

Triple-A Indianapolis announced that Dustin Fowler, who played 18 games with the Pirates before being designated for assignment, had been released. Fowler played only 36 games this season across the Majors and Minors, dealing with injuries and never quite finding his groove.

The Indians also announced Friday that infielder T.J. Rivera, who was signed to a Minors deal on May 19, was traded to the Phillies. The 32-year-old had a .682 OPS in 57 games at Triple-A this season.