I am not in the business of faulting or shaming anyone for trying to piece together the reason(s) behind any transaction the Pirates make. It is something I do myself on a weekly and even daily basis as a blogger and podcaster, so it would be highly hypocritical judge anyone. No matter how minor the story, opinions are quickly formed concerning how it will impact the future of the ball club. Among them are the diamonds in the rough, high end prospects, perceived faces of the organization for years to come and veteran leaders who will ultimately be flipped for the next collection of hopefuls; or simply a group of players to be picked apart by the credible teams within Major League Baseball if your are being completely cynical. These impassioned exercises of prognostication occur on an near constant basis, almost without exception. In fact, just a couple of days ago an extremely minor agreement led to discussions concerning the impact on present and potentially future members of Pittsburgh Pirates. The acquisition in question was the signing of Todd Frazier to a Minor League Contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and a potential to earn $1.5 million if he makes the Opening Day roster.
Don’t get me wrong, I see absolutely nothing wrong with this signing. I even see the potential benefits of the decision to bring Frazier to Bradenton, allowing him to the opportunity to earn a spot on the team and ultimately making the choice to bring him north to PNC at the beginning of the season. However, I am not going to look at is as anything beyond the obvious implications of such a move; which are extremely limited.
Prior to Frazier joining the Pirates, Colin Moran’s only competition at first base consisted of a 26 year-old prospect with four Major League at bats, who was designated for assignment back in December and a player with 13 innings at the position in 45 career games; and in all honesty Frazier has only started 99 games at the position with only a quarter of them coming in the last five years. At his age, five and half years younger than me, this is most logical transition. It also makes the most sense, if he would make the roster, to be a platoon mate for Moran; which many have already mentioned. Against left handed pitchers over the past two years Frazier has slashed .293/.366/.511 with 10 homers and a 131 OPS+, which could potentially be beneficial. However, if you take a look at the NL Central starting rotations each staff has only one left hander, with the Cubs possibly being without one. So, it doesn’t equate to the equal share platoon, or even close to it, as some have implied.
On the defensive side of the equation I have seen people punctuate the difficulties Colin Moran has experienced in his career, as well as the upgrade that Frazier could provide in comparison to Josh Bell. Once again, we have to take the differences in position as both Frazier and Moran are both Third Baseman by trade, while Bell came up through the Pirates Organization as an outfielder. However, it only makes sense to compare their performances at the most likely position of First Base.
Over the last two years Frazier has earned a 0 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) at 1st, with a lifetime production of -4, Moran is a 0 across the board in 222 innings and Bell had the best year of his career by putting up a -1 in 2020. As far as OAA (Outs Above Average) Bell was a 0 last year, while both Moran and Frazier came in at -1. Now this is not to say that Frazier shouldn’t be an upgrade over Bell, it just might not be to the degree that many might expect.
The next piece of reasoning I have seen concerning how this move could be a clear positive for the Pirates is the ability to flip Frazier at the deadline, which could happen and could be some of the thinking behind this move. As a 35 year old veteran the original options could be limited, but the proposition of being traded to a competitor for a playoff run could be fairly enticing, however, the return for such a player could a little bit unpredictable; except for the fact that it just took place last year.
On August 31st of the shortened season Frazier was traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Mets for the always popular Player To Be Named Later. In the end this turned out to be relief pitcher Ryder Ryan, who is unsurprisingly not a top 30 prospect in the system. This is not to say he will never be a productive Major Leaguer at some point, it just is not the level of return that many may be expecting.
The final explanation I have seen to show how this move is better than most others to the masses is the immeasurable veteran presence and overall experience he can bestow on such a young team, Ke’Bryan Hayes included. Sure The Toddfather could show or set an example as to how a professional conducts himself both on and off the field, but please don’t try to tell me he can teach a 3 time MiLB Gold Glove third baseman how to play the position. If I am being honest, I am positive Hayes will be ok without much input.
After considering all of this information and looking at a decent amount of statistics I figured out why Pirates Fans considered this Minor League Contract better than others. Eventually it comes down to name recognition. For arguments sake let’s consider the Pirates signed Ehire Adrianza or Yangervis Solarte to a similar deal. If this were the case I couldn’t see Pirates Fans being nearly as optimistic, even though the upside might be equal looking back on it three, five or ten years from now.
At this point some of you may be thinking I am downplaying the magnitude of this move, although I already said I could see the benefits for the Pirates and their individual players; well actually, you are about 95% correct. The other 5% could be spent considering the unknown or the fact that Cherington, and maybe Shelton, are not as confident in their bench options as we may have thought.