After months of hard work and toil, the 2017 MLB season is officially over. For the Pittsburgh Pirates it was a season to forget and they will gladly work towards 2018. Before any team can start signing free agents and trading players they have to take a hard look at their roster. Today, we take a look at Pittsburgh’s infield.
*Position stats are based off how the team did at that position in 2017, not the listed players.
CATCHER: Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz
2017 position stats: 28th in WAR, .229/.300/.323, 66 wRC+ (25th)
The 2017 catcher spot was a revolving door with Elias and Chris Stewart getting plenty of playing time due to injuries to Cervelli. Francisco played in exactly half of last year’s games and he struggled at the plate as he tried to muscle through his injuries. Ever since signing his contract extension, Cervelli has been injured multiple times a year. Luckily, the Pirates will have Elias Diaz from the very beginning of 2018. Stewart got the job done, but has never been the best hitter or defender. While Diaz may be lacking at the plate he makes up for it with great defense. Overall, catcher was a sore spot this year but it’s bound to improve now that Cervelli is another year removed from his wrist surgery and the improved quality of the backup.
Catcher is an extremely thin position and the only real upgrade that could be available is Miami Marlins C JT Realmuto. A trade for Realmuto would be extremely unlikely due to his age and the Pirates Front Office seems to be pretty set with allowing Cervelli to play out his last season and allow Diaz to take center stage.
FIRST BASE: Josh Bell
2017 position stats: 27th in WAR, .239/.319/.442, 98 wRC+ (24th)
For the first time in nine years the Pittsburgh Pirates have a legitimate first baseman. The 2018 season opener will be the first time since 2009, that the starting first baseman is the same as the year before. Josh Bell was very good at the plate and could’ve had a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year if Cody Bellinger didn’t exist. However, more impressive was the defensive advancement of Bell. He started 2017 with major questions about his defensive skills. By the end of the season he was no longer being replaced defensively. Pittsburgh could definitely say they didn’t have a first baseman problem this year.
Josh Bell will go into 2018 as a non-rookie and looks to be a stalwart at first base for a few years. The Pirates aren’t gonna need to upgrade here as he continues to develop as a player.
SECOND BASE: Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier
2017 position stats: 9th in WAR, .256/.328/.386, 90 wRC+ (T-18th)
Josh Harrison was the sole Pirate all-star in 2017, making his second appearance. He bounced back from a couple bad years, having the best offensive season since his breakout in 2014. Harrison smashed 16 home runs, a career high, but was injured in September and sat the rest of the season out. Harrison’s versatility came in handy during 2017 and it may be important for 2018. There are a couple of questions that need to be answered at third base and Josh can provide the flexibility that allows the front office to get the best deal.
Behind Harrison, was the surprise rookie Adam Frazier. He wasn’t supposed to play in 121 games but he earned his spot in the starting lineup. He was able to provide the Pirates with a legitimate leadoff guy and got better as the season wore on. Just like Harrison, Frazier has versatility that allows him to play in the outfield and every spot in the infield. Frazier is likely the future of second base when Harrison leaves.
Second base wasn’t really an issue spot for the Pirates in 2017 and is likely to remain a strength. That doesn’t mean the Pirates couldn’t use an upgrade. However, the free agent market for second baseman is bare thereby forcing Pittsburgh to trade for a second baseman. The Marlins have already announced that Dee Gordon is available. A trade for Gordon would but the Pirates on the hook for a ~$13 million/yr contract through 2021. Pittsburgh doesn’t usually take on that kind of money, making a trade unlikely.
SHORTSTOP: Jordy Mercer
2017 position stats: 17th in WAR, .244/.321/.391, 85 wRC+ (17th)
Jordy gets the job done. He’s not the best hitter or defender at shortstop but he’s consistent. He was a better hitter this season and hit a career high in homers. Mercer is locked into the Pirates lineup basically until his contract is up. The Pirates have shortstop prospects but their development continues to be slowed by injuries. The closest is Kevin Newman, who was only promoted to AAA halfway through the season. The Pirates tend to let their prospects marinate in AAA, making it unlikely that Newman sees any major league time next year barring an injury to Mercer.
Pittsburgh would love to upgrade at shortstop but it’s not necessarily a major need. On top of that is the only shortstop on the market who would be an upgrade is Zack Cozart. Cozart is coming off an all-star appearance, his best season in years, and is looking to cash in. The Pirates have plenty of young shortstops coming up and should avoid lengthy veteran contracts at short. Trading for a shortstop upgrade will be hard this offseason and will be more feasible next July.
THIRD BASE: David Freese, Jung Ho Kang, and Josh Harrison
2017 position stats: 7th in WAR, .268/.353/.404, 102 wRC+ (T-16th)
The 2017 statistics are surprising given the craziness that was third base last year. First, expected starter Jung Ho Kang got into legal trouble in South Korea and was unable to attain a visa to the United States. David Freese did an admirable job filling in but playing every day slowed him down. Josh Harrison ended up making 48 appearances at third base. Third base isn’t any clearer for the Pirates in 2018. Kang is currently playing ball in the Dominican leagues but the visa issue has still not been cleared up. It’s obvious that Freese no longer has what it takes to play third for an entire season. However, Harrison can play third fairly well and last year’s emergence of Adam Frazier means that Harrison can play third and be fairly well replaced by Frazier.
If the Pirates don’t want to fix third internally, or wait on Kang, the free agent market is a legitimate option. Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, and Zack Cozart are all available. Pittsburgh is sure to be outbid on a couple of these players, namely Moustakas. Nunez would be a solid addition and wouldn’t be too expensive. The only danger in acquiring a free agent is that payroll would be squeezed if Kang was able to obtain a visa.
With young talents coming up in a couple years at the problem positions it’s hard to see the Pirates making a lot of moves regarding the infield. The position most easily fixed by making moves is also the one with the biggest questions marks. When Jung Ho Kang was playing he was a very good third baseman and the Pirates wouldn’t need to upgrade the position. For now, Kang’s availability will probably keep Pittsburgh from making a move until much later in the offseason. Next week we’ll take a look at the more stable parts of the team the outfield and bench.