This past off-season General Manager Ben Cherington had a decision to make, as he had two candidates for the first base job in Josh Bell and Colin; with him operating under the assumption that the designated hitter would not be in play, which turned out to be correct.. Ultimately, he found a suitor for Bell as many of us were sitting down to Christmas Eve Dinner; the Washington Nationals.
Now, as many have argued, the return for the face of the franchise may not have been enough considering the state and rank of the Washington Nationals Farm System. However, this is clearly a debate for another day; most likely in the future, once Eddie Yean has been able to pitch in more than four games for the Bradenton Marauders, and Wil Crowe has at least a full year or two in the Pirates Organization. At this point the focus is on whether or not their is a viable replacement for a player, if and when they are traded by Pittsburgh. In the case of Bell, Moran could step into the role, and vice versa; depending on which player garnered the most attention, and received the best return for Cherington and the Pirates.
As the situation currently stands with Adam Frazier and second base, Kevin Newman has shown that defensively he could make the adjustment to the other side of the bag. In previous seasons Newman has experienced struggles with the glove both at short and second; posting a -11 OAA across 2019 and 2020, to go along with -9 DRS. However, this season he leads the team with 5 OAA, while his DRS sits a 1. Unfortunately his bat hasn’t followed, as his batting average has cratered; starting at .308 in 2019, all the way down to .207 so far this season. Nevertheless, with a -.2 WAR that would hopefully improve, you would have at least a replacement level player manning the position, in Frazier’s absence.
On the other hand, the Pirates still would have to be concerned about the depth that remains at shortstop; or second if you keep Newman where he is.
Since 2019, aside from the time he was injured, Erik Gonzalez has been the one who ends up winning the battle for who sees the most time at shortstop; besides Newman that is. However, it’s not like he’s set the world on fire, as the only requirement for this role so far has only amounted to being better than Cole Tucker; which really hasn’t been that hard up to this point.
As a member of the Pirates, Gonzalez has compiled a .231 AVG, a 57 wRC+ and a 59 OPS+ at the plate; along with 17 DRS and 6 OAA in the infield. In comparison Tucker has amassed a .191 AVG, a 38 wRC+, a 54 OPS+, 2 DRS and a -3 OAA; and no this doesn’t take the Great Cole Tucker Outfield Experiment of 2020 into consideration. So realistically, the only things Tucker has on his side are age and control, if the Pirates and Cherington want to exercise those options. Meanwhile Gonzalez only has one more year of arbitration until he is a free agent; which doesn’t really matter that much because I don’t see either one as a long term, or even a short term solution to play either middle infield position on a consistent basis.
So, what are the options beyond the current Major League roster; without bothering to bring Wilmer Difo, Ildemaro Vargas or-believe it or not-Philip Evans into the conversation? Well, at AAA-Indianapolis you have the 2021 version of Kevin Kramer-as opposed to the .311 hitting 2018 incarnation-, Ethan Paul and the recently acquired TJ Rivera, who is 32 years young and hasn’t played in MLB since 2017 with the New York Mets; when he actually wasn’t too bad, as evident by his career .304 AVG, .780 OPS and 104 wRC+ across 73 games and 231 plate appearances. He is however, hitting just .154 for the Indians since he was acquired on May 19th.
Go down a little further to AA-Altoona, and you will find Rodolfo Castro; a player that I have been hopeful would be able to provide versatility in the infield, but I am not sure if I ever envisioned him as an everyday starter. Kind of like what many thought about Adam Frazier, yet here we are talking about his trade value since becoming the Pirates everyday second baseman.
During the off-season Castro had been added to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft; mostly due to the impression he left on the Pirates Organization at the Alternate Site in Altoona. Following this he got the invite to Spring Training, was added to the Alternate Site Roster once again and even got his first cup of coffee on April 21st against the Tigers-about a month before his 22nd birthday. Yet, when the Minor League Rosters came out Castro found himself with the Curve, where he is currently batting .247 with a .720 OPS and 2 home runs; so it seems possible he did need a little more seasoning after only reaching High A for half a season in 2019. Although I definitely am still extremely interested to see how he develops.
On the other side of the bag, for now, is the 6’7” number four prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Oneil Cruz; who just hit his third jack of the season, to go along with .239 AVG, a .735 OPS and completely average 100 wRC+. As always my main concern with Cruz is the walk rate versus the swing and miss, which current sits at 6.5% to 29.9%.
Still at some point Castro and Oneil Cruz-if he sticks at shortstop-will have the tandem of Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales breathing down their necks of everything goes the way Cherington has it planned. Even though that plan has already hit a little speed bump, with both Peguero and Gonzales landing on the IL after hot starts to the season. The news for Peguero is more positive in the fact that he was reportedly close to returning from his May 15th placement on the 7-day IL for knee contusion; but that information came out 5 days ago. Gonzales on the other hand will not be participating in baseball activities until at least June 18th,and possibly not until July 2nd, with a broken pinkie. With these injuries holding them back, the timelines that many have envisioned of 2022 or 2023 may need pushed back slightly.
So, in essence Cherington and the Pirates have Adam Frazier becoming a free agent-if he is still here- after 2022, Erik Gonzalez set to walk at the same time, Kevin Newman on the books through 2024 and a whole bunch of question marks as to who will fill at least one void in 2023 and beyond, with the other position also needing to be addressed at some point; and this is taking into consideration that Newman turns himself into somewhat of a mix between the 2019 player offensively and 2021 with the glove.
As all of this information is compounded and ultimately taken into consideration, The Value In Trading Adam Frazier must also be examined, because I am sure it has changed a little bit since I last examined it in the November 12th article; but by how much. Sure he is having his best offensive season on record by batting .332 with an .846 OPS and a 138 wRC+, but he is also experiencing his worst at second base as he has posted a -2 OAA and -6 DRS, which makes it a little harder to just throw around that 2 Time Gold Glove Finalist storyline. Now I am sure they could still get something for Frazier, as Justin and Joe discussed earlier this week, but all of this talk and player/prospect projections has me contemplating an even crazier idea; extending the 29 year old for a couple of seasons beyond 2022.
This is not to say that I still wouldn’t trade him now if the right offer fell in Cherington’s lap, or down the road if a player emerged, a timeline sped up or a better offer came along; I just have a hard time making a trade by July 31st as the only option, with no real immediate answer, and only question marks on the horizon.