Giger: Pirates should not send Mercer back to AAA
Baseball isn’t always about keeping all the best players in the major leagues, and that point will be hit home emphatically if the Pirates send Jordy Mercer back to Triple-A today.
Bucs manager Clint Hurdle indicated to reporters Sunday that Mercer probably will be the odd man out when Neil Walker comes off the disabled list today. And that’s ridiculous.
Shipping out Mercer and keeping John McDonald would be foolish. Sports are supposed to be about winning, and if the Pirates are serious about winning and ending this pathetic 20-year losing streak, they owe it to their fans to have the 25 best players on the roster at all times.
Within reason, of course. There are enormous future financial concerns prohibiting calling up Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon too soon because that could cost millions down the road if they gain an extra year of arbitration eligibility.
But the Mercer situation is different.
He is far superior to McDonald offensively. And while the 38-year-old McDonald is still a reliable utility infielder, the 26-year-old Mercer is nearly just as good, plus his offense gives him a significant edge.
McDonald is 2-for-30 this year. Mercer hit two home runs Saturday alone and is 8-for-30 with three homers overall. Mercer has an .894 OPS, compared to McDonald’s abysmal .276.
McDonald probably doesn’t belong in the big leagues period, and he certainly shouldn’t be there at Mercer’s expense.
All of this is about the Pirates’ perceived notion that Mercer needs to get his daily at-bats and defensive work so he can continue to develop, and that he should do so in the minors rather than sit on the bench every day in the big leagues.
Hurdle could find a way to get Mercer three starts a week between second, third or shortstop. Give Walker, Clint Barmes and Pedro Alvarez one day off a week, and there you go. Simple.
Mercer can be a sub the other four days and still get 12-15 at-bats a week. That’s enough to help this team and plenty to help him stay sharp and continue developing.
I’m not making the case that Mercer is a star or a future star. But he’s undoubtedly good enough to be in the majors right now, and the Pirates should be far more worried about the present than the future, so they need to make sure they have the best players they can on the team.
Now. Not next year.
Why worry about Mercer continuing to develop in Triple-A when he will turn 27 in August? He’s not a green 22-year-old; he’s a minor league veteran with more than 2,000 career at-bats and more than 325 games at shortstop, his likely position of the future for the Bucs when Barmes departs.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens because he’s done an extremely good job,” Walker said when I asked him this weekend about Mercer. “He’s done everything they’ve asked him last year, and he’s done everything they’ve asked him this year.
“He just looks more confident to me,” Walker added. “He just looks more in tune.”
As opposed to McDonald, a .237 career hitter who’s never had much upside offensively and has virtually none now.
Walker was watching Saturday’s game against the Mets on TV and saw Mercer hit the two homers. Walker has been impressed that his replacement has done a solid job filling in while he’s been on the DL.
“Jordy’s an extremely good athlete, and I think he’ll be in the big leagues for a very long time,” Walker said. “But timing-wise, who knows if it’s now or it will be later.”
If the Pirates are serious about winning, it will be now. Mercer isn’t going to make or break the big league team, but this is one specific instance where the Bucs need to do the right thing and show their long-suffering fans that they can make good decisions that help get the team over the hump.
The right decision would be to designate McDonald for assignment and keep Mercer.
This is the same organization that had no idea what to do with Walker until he forced their hand by playing so well when finally given a chance in 2010.
Mercer might never be as good as Walker, but the Bucs will never know how good he is unless they keep him around and give him a legitimate shot.
Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger