This is the fourth in a 10-part series that will break down the storylines at each position in advance of spring training. At the plate today: shortstop.
What happened last year: After well-worn veteran Jack Wilson (74 starts) was dealt to the Seattle Mariners as part of a seven-player trade, newcomer Ronny Cedeno (42) was thrust into the starter role.
Ramon Vazquez (21 starts) and the since-departed Luis Cruz (14) and Brian Bixler (10) also had opportunities here.
In the hunt this year: Cedeno, Vazquez, Bobby Crosby and Argenis Diaz. In 46 games with the team last season, Cedeno surpassed his career numbers virtually across the board. At the same time, the 27-year-old had his usual fits of inconsistency that often frustrated fans and team management alike.
Six years ago, Crosby was the American League Rookie of Year and widely considered to be one of the bright young stars in the game. Since then, his career has been on a downhill spiral because of an assortment of injuries that ranged from a fractured spine to a broken left hand. In 2009, Crosby hit .223 with six home runs and 29 RBIs for the Oakland Athletics in 97 games. Like Cedeno, he agreed to a one-year deal in December.
In 101 games last season, Vazquez hit .230, a 60-point drop from the previous season. He split time between three infield positions. The 33-year-old is in the final year of a two-year, $4-million deal that makes him the highest-paid reserve on the 40-man roster.
Acquired in the Adam LaRoche trade with the Boston Red Sox last summer, Diaz had a .246 batting average and 32 RBIs in 119 games for a pair of Triple-A teams a year ago. The 5-foot-11, 155-pounder has displayed flashes of excellence in the field, and many scouts believe that he lacks only improved focus to become Gold Glove-caliber there. He will turn 23 next week.
The leader in the clubhouse: Cedeno. When manager John Russell writes his name on the line-up card this spring, he may want to do it with a No. 1 pencil, not a permanent marker. Cedeno is been known to be wildly erratic at times, which partly explains why he has been a regular in only one of his five seasons in the big leagues.
Player to watch: Crosby. At 30, he didn't sign with the Pirates to caddy for someone else. Rather, the Long Beach, Calif., native signed under the condition that he would be able to compete for the starter role this spring.
At PirateFest, Crosby sounded like a guy who was fully intent on resurrecting his career. Better yet, he reported a clean of health.
The big picture: If healthy - and that's a big if given his track record - Crosby gives the team its best chance to win on a given day. Based on career performance, he rates a substantial edge over Cedeno in the power and range categories. Crosby has a lot to prove at this point, but it would not be a surprise if he opened the regular season as the lead man.
Cedeno would make for a younger and more cost-effective option than Vazquez as the first infielder off the bench. He also has played second base and third base in his career. If Diaz proves that he can hit even a little bit at this level, then he may be in the team photo before long.