Solve the Position: The Pirates First Base Story in 2023 Continues with Carlos Santana

11-25-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

News broke this evening that the Pittsburgh Pirates are in agreement with 36 year old switch hitting 1B/DH Carlos Santana. A one year deal worth 6.725 Million dollars and setting up a competition for playing time with Ji-man Choi who was acquired earlier from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Earlier in the off season, Ben Cherington candidly admitted first base was a position they simply had to “solve”. I found the word curious.

You know when you hear a guy always speak one way and then suddenly throw a word out there that doesn’t fit his normal modus operando, it perks up the old ears. Even so, I figured trading for Choi, and picking up recently DFA’d Lewin Diaz was probably where he’d stop. Apparently Cherington wanted to go all Vanilla Ice on the situation. There was a problem and yo, he wants to solve it.

Let’s start with Carlos Santana.

First, he’s a name fans will recognize, and for casual types, that’s 75% of the battle. For those of you who pay attention, you know there’s a whole lot more to the story.

He’s already had a really nice career, and make no mistake, this isn’t the Carlos Santana you remember playing for Cleveland for all those years. Here’s what he does do though, he gets on base and he hits homeruns and gives the Pirates another right handed power option, something they are absolutely devoid of.

Choi provides a superior glove for sure, and he’s much less inclined to hit homeruns, but both together could make for a formidable position.

Together an OPS that cracks .800 isn’t a crazy ask, and that’s just the on field stuff.

Off the field, this team badly needed veteran leadership. Both of these guys can provide that. Both have played on teams that reached the highest of highs and fell short. Both have played on small market ball clubs and know how to on board kids.

More importantly, they know that helping the kids can only help them and their performance. That’s not something a player who grew up in this system and never experienced it can say. It hits different when you’ve seen it and felt it.

They might leave this position as a platoon, they could let one win it outright and the other primary DH. The possibilities are quite literally abundant.

Last year, the Pirates paid Yoshi Tsutsugo 4 million dollars, and Michael Chavis 735K. You can add in VanMeter if you want too, but let’s just make it easy and round to 5 million on the position in 2022.

This year, they’ll enter the season with close to 11 million committed to two proven players. Even if both are fading, even if neither recapture the magic, together there is every reason to believe they’ll get competent play at first base, and above replacement level hitting.

I’m not saying that’s the hope, but I am saying that’s the worst case scenario, and folks, that’s what I call, solving the position. At least for this year.

That’s another part of this whole thing.

First base is in this spot because they sincerely don’t have anyone whey think will impact the position internally this year. Make it to MLB, maybe, but IMPACT, not bloody likely.

These are time buying moves. Meaning from that you should take, they don’t believe they have answers coming fast enough, but they also think they have answers coming.

Lots of options too. Nunez could progress, Martin could too. Hell maybe even Diaz makes it impossible to drop him after Spring. Maybe Henry Davis shows his bat is too valuable to sit and has to learn the position while Endy Rodriguez handles the lion’s share of duties behind the dish.

Having a spot for players like that is important too.

I look at the free agent board for first baseman and man it’s Mancini or Bell. That’s really it. Bell has Scott Boras as an agent, he’s either signing a Correa deal that allows him to escape after a season, or cashing in. His numbers have been ok, but he’s still an inconsistent and overall below average fielder.

Mancini had a down year, but he was still the best available option on the market in my mind. The question was, do you commit to a guy like that, not knowing if he’ll ever reach his pre illness self? Can the Pirates afford to swing and miss there?

Neither were going to sign a one or 2 year deal.

Overall I’m happy with the swing they took here. Santana’s numbers haven been down, but his wOBA of .322 shows a probability of a bit of a correction. Have to give them credit for convincing him they could find him enough at bats, and or it was time to take a reduced role, even at 36 not everyone wants to hear that.

All told, at first base the Pirates signed two players we can believe will open the season together there. Let’s see it as one player.

Switch hitting, capable fielding, 20-25 HR power with a track record, Acceptable OBA over .315, and a history of always being above .600 OPS. On a one year deal worth 11 million-ish bucs.

To me, I think they’ve done a good job here addressing a real problem and left themselves room to have a prospect surprise them, didn’t pin all their hopes on one guy, in fact, everything I banged my fist on the table for with the catching position last year.

Take a win when you see one Bucco Nation.

Tonight your baseball team did good. It doesn’t mean they won’t make more mistakes, or that they’ve ever done enough, but on this front, Vanilla Ice would be proud.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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