The AP reports that the Pirates have been a bit wiser managing their roster this year.
Players added to 40-man roster:
Brad Eldred, 1b
Nathan McLouth, of
Chris Duffy, of
Rajai Davis, of
Jeff Miller, rp
Matt Peterson, sp
Leo Nunez, sp
Players dropped from 40-man roster:
J.J. Davis, of
Tony Alvarez, of
Carlos Rivera, 1b
Abraham Nunez, ut
Most intriguing players left unprotected
Javier Guzman, ss
Ray Sadler, of
Rich Thompson, of
Taber Lee, ss
Least intriguing players left protected
Tike Redman, of
Daryle Ward, 1b
Ryan Vogelsong, p
Humberto Cota, c
I don't see any good reason to believe that Chris Duffy, Rajai Davis or Tike Redman have greater chances to succeed than J.J. Davis or Tony Alvarez. Considering age and performance, J.J. Davis and Alvarez have by far the best minor-league profiles of the five. J.J. Davis certainly has the best tools of the group, also, and Alvarez probably has the second best. I've never seen a halfway decent defense of the Pirates' decisions to bury J.J. and Alvarez - all such arguments tend to stem from assumptions about the extremely tiny sample sizes of those players' performances at the major league level, or vague questions about "attitude." I'm sure attitude problems don't help teams, but players without people skills may have skills in other areas - just ask Albert Belle. (Actually, don't ask Belle anything - he might throw a baseball at you. But you get the idea.) Also, most of the evidence of these players' attitude problems comes from quotes by the Pirates' management that may well be self-serving.
Meanwhile, Rajai Davis, Duffy and Redman don't seem likely to succeed at the major-league level. Redman will already be 28 next season and doesn't seem likely to ever return to anywhere near the heights of his freakish half-season with the Bucs in 2003. He has no plate discipline at all and is very hard to watch in the outfield. Hopefully, he'll be at Indianapolis or on the bench this year; if not, look for more one-pitch outs, as well as terrible routes and throws.
Duffy is supposed to be better with the glove, and he has shown good speed and on-base skills in the minors, but he will be 25 next year and has not developed much power. Given that he's likely to peak soon, I don't see him helping much in the future. Like Duffy, Rajai Davis has shown good speed and decent on-base skills in the minors, but he has even less power than Duffy, will be 24 next year and still hasn't played above Class A.
Still, it's hard to get too upset over this; the Pirates had already made the mistake of trying to ruin J.J. Davis' career in particular, and Alvarez will be 26 next year. So even if the other three don't do much, there's at least a solid chance J.J. and Alvarez won't, either. Both will almost certainly be claimed, however; if I were Allard Baird of the Royals, I'd claim J.J. Davis immediately.
The only other player the Pirates didn't protect that I'm at all concerned about is Javier Guzman, a very young shortstop who played at Class A Hickory this year. He has shown the ability to make contact, but he hasn't yet learned to take a walk and has been prone to mistakes on defense. A team might claim him because of his youth and prospect status. It's difficult to imagine him sticking with a major league team the entire season, but even a few months stuck on a bench could hinder his development.
Other than that, the Pirates made reasonably good decisions today. Eldred, McLouth, and Peterson were, or should have been, no-brainers. Miller has had a great season in the Arizona Fall League and could be a very productive member of the Pirates' bullpen this year. Leo Nunez is a young flame-thrower with excellent upside. And there's no reason to worry about the losses of Abraham Nunez or Carlos Rivera. Abraham Nunez would have been about the tenth best infield option the Pirates had next year, and Rivera supposedly has a good glove at first but probably doesn't have the bat to stick in the majors.
These decisions still aren't ideal, and it's quite an indictment of a team when the best you can say about them in three months is that their Rule 5 draft is unlikely to be a complete debacle again, but there you go. This is such a relief that I almost want to make a T-shirt out of it: "PIRATES ROSTER DECISIONS: NOT COMPLETELY TERRIBLE IN '04."