How does Inge impact the backup infield competition?

With the full squad practicing at Pirate City in preparation for the upcoming season, the club has a few decisions to make in terms of filling out the roster.

One particular area of competition is for the backup infield job(s). This spot heated up recently, as the Bucs signed veteran infielder Brandon Inge on Tuesday night.

The Pirates have enjoyed keeping two versatile infielders on the team recently. With Gaby Sanchez platooning at first, Michael McKenry backing up Russell Martin, and a backup outfielder to be determined, it’s assumed they’ll follow the same template this year. Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison seemed to have an edge entering spring training, but the addition of Inge makes things interesting. Inge is on the downside of his career and not too productive; however, all three options have their flaws.

One thing that Inge brings to the table is plenty of experience. Remember when Neil Walker said this back in October?

“I think experience is probably the biggest thing. When you’ve got an organization that’s as successful as the Cardinals and you have guys like Wainwright, Carpenter and Beltran … when you get into these (playoff) situations, the younger guys are looking at the older guys and seeing how they react to things. It’s a testament to the veteran leadership more than the performance of the younger guys.”
Neil Walker Pirates 2B

Harrison and Mercer, at ages 25 and 26 respectively, have little experience but possess an important responsibility by producing off the bench. Inge, on the hand, has 1482 games under his belt, including 77 postseason at-bats. An old-school guy like Clint Hurdle may appreciate a veteran leader coming off the bench.

There’s some upside to him defensively, as he can play all around the diamond. He’s mostly a third baseman, meaning he could rest Pedro Alvarez from time to time. He has also played all three outfield positions, as well as a bit of action at second base. Inge entered the league as a catcher, so he could be useful as an emergency backstop.

The main problem with Inge is his steady decline in offensive numbers. He has the ability to show off some power, but hasn’t posted a respectable OPS in years and has never hit for much average.

Another issue is that he’s coming off a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery in September. At age 35, there’s reason to question his ability to stay healthy.

Strong cases can be made for Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer; for all we know, they could still have the best shot at making the team and Inge is just depth. Regardless, this is an intriguing competition to watch as spring unfolds. The Pirates will play their first exhibition game in a little over a week.

Here’s Inge hitting a walk-off grand slam for the A’s in May:

Photo: lakelandlocal/Creative Commons

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