3-9-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Let’s be real fair here, it’s kinda our mantra at Inside the Bucs Basement anyway, but I could run the first part of that headline 52 weeks a year and write something under it that you’d see as a GM making curious decisions. It’s as much part of the job as any trade they make.
All that said, there are times when I get inundated with questions that boil down to WTF is he doing? This week we got one more, as the Pirates traded a player to be named later to the Rangers for Mark Mathias. Set aside for a moment your fear of what a player to be named can be, it’s not likely to be along the lines of Shane Baz again folks.
I’ve seen Mathias characterized as a super utility type player, and I guess that’s true, at least so far as he plays all over the field, really best suited for the infield and outfield corners and second base. Which, sounds like about 5 or 6 other guys the Pirates already have right?
So again, what is he doing? Can’t he see the logjam he has? Why does he refuse to see what his own prospects can do? Doesn’t he see there is little to no room in AAA for these guys?
All fair questions, all very real questions I’ve gotten from all of you, and this subject rises beyond what the weekly Hump Day Q&A is meant to deal with, so here we are.
The Pirates have a role to fill, and that role is traditionally called a Super Utility. Essentially, a guy who you can stick just about anywhere and feel reasonably good about how they’ll handle it. The existing candidates for this role are Tucupita Marcano, Rodolfo Castro, Ji-hwan Bae, and Nick Gonzales. Maybe you could make a case for Chris Owings or Drew Maggi.
If you want to understand it, you have to start with brutal honesty.
Chris Owings is a journeyman, hasn’t really been considered a starter since 2018. Name a position, short of catcher and first base, he’s played there. A very capable defender, Chris earns his keep with his glove, while you deal with his bat. At best, he’s a guy who can hit, but doesn’t get on base enough to be a factor and lacks the power to counter that issue. He broke into the league in 2013 and ten years later he’s played 3 seasons in which he appeared more than 100 times. Very likely Owings has an out clause should he not make the team out of Spring. In other words, should he not make the club the chances he’s riding the pine in AAA Indianapolis is slim.
Drew Maggi can play everywhere but center field and catcher, but he’s been playing professional baseball since 2010 and hasn’t gotten one at bat in the Bigs. 1,147 games, 4,461 plate appearances and almost 34 years old, it’d be fair to ask Drew why he hasn’t moved on to his life’s work. He’s hitting the hell out of the ball in Spring, and honestly folks, it’s the only reason we’re talking about him. There just isn’t anything he does exceptionally well to hang your hat on. Hey, I said brutally honest.
Nick Gonzales has been deemed the second baseman of the future since the day he was drafted in 2020, you know, until the team drafted the next second baseman of the future in 2022 Termarr Johnson. Injury has slowed his progression, but strike outs, and especially his in zone Whiff rate has scared some prospect prognosticators. Reality though folks, he’s not on the 40-man, so I’m being kind by even including him here. He’s played primarily second base, so considering him a utility option, well, it’s just too early to paint him into that corner. First he has to make the bat matter, then we’ll deal with where he plays.
So before we continue here, we’ve essentially started with 2 veterans or at least older players, and one true prospect. None of which should be seen as a clear winner here, if not simply long shots.
Now back to our highly critical list…
Tucupita Marcano is only 23 years old and is already entering what will likely be his 3rd season where he registers MLB at bats. I’m not declaring him the winner here, I’m simply saying he’s on the short list for in season call ups regardless because of his versatility. He’s hit better in the minors than he has in the Majors, but nothing is more stark than his K/BB ratio change. In his 177 plate appearances last year with the big club he walked 10 times and struck out 44. You can get away with that if you’re also adding 10 dingers in that workload, but when your game is speed and havoc on the base paths, well, you have to be on the base paths. He can play everywhere but center field and catcher, although to say SS is his game is a stretch, he just doesn’t have all that much experience to point to there although he probably has the arm strength. Realistically he’s a corner outfielder who can also play second base.
Ji Hwan Bae is also 23 years old and he can play second base where he has most experience, but has handled SS, corner outfield and center as well. With speed in the 90th percentile getting to balls isn’t the issue, it’s more the field awareness and arm that present issues here. He’s always hit fairly well, but not for power although recently he’s had some success there as well. His range is fine, again the arm and decision making haven’t been the best. Almost a full season in AAA and a cup of coffee last year, he’s one of the less experienced options but right in the heart of this contest. I’d also argue, he’s one of the very few prototypical leadoff hitters the Pirates have in the system. Elephant in the room time. Bae was convicted of assault charges against his former girlfriend in 2019 from an incident that took place in 2017. As a result he was fined in his home country and suspended 30 games by MiLB under the domestic abuse policy. I don’t condone his actions, but I also won’t pretend it means he’s not a baseball player and one that’s extremely likely to make this club before too long. I mention this because some don’t seem capable of fairly evaluating the player because of the incident and their personal feelings that I don’t know, I guess he should never be able to work again. It’s not my job to defend him, it’s my job to look at a player.
Rodolfo Castro is the last one I listed there and the truth is, he’s in no danger of being sent down, but what his role here is happens to be his ability to backup positions the others can’t. As it stands now, he’s easily the best option they have at 3rd beyond Hayes and at least from what we’ve seen so far, the best SS of this group not named Owings. Again, he’ll make this team, but because of the other things he can do, the Pirates Super utility or whatever we’re calling it, might not HAVE to cover the whole gambit. In other words, those guys being capable at second base, well that allows Castro to float when necessary.
And now we get to the meat of this entire thing. Why the hell do they need another option?
Mark Mathias has actually pretty decent numbers, he’s right handed, and I can honestly say you do have to dip all the way to Gonzales before you get that in a younger player, and he can play just about anywhere but SS, CF and C.
The reason I went through that exercise and did it as viciously as I could while still trying to stay fair is to illustrate what a GM might be seeing when he looks at what he’s potentially bringing north on the 26-man.
By going through that, I think it’s fair to say, nobody has a strangle hold on this spot, but the need is very clear. Even if Castro winds up being the SS backup, reality is they’ll need someone they want to play 2B when he does. Add in that he’s going to be the backup 3B too and you start to see where at least some ABs will come from. Throw in the capability to handle an OF spot and it maybe separates some from others.
At the end of the day, this is a guy who has an option, so he doesn’t have to make this team to be depth, being that he’s on the 40-man, he’ll also be very likely to get a look at some point, and one thing he brings to the table that Bae or Marcano don’t, he has genuine power. I mean, he ain’t Alex Rodriguez mind you, but he can hit it out and from the right side, well, it’s not bad to have depth.
Maybe you read all this and it still doesn’t make sense, hey, all I can do is lay out what we know, that part is up to you. Honestly, it’s not something I’m most concerned about either so I found it to be a strange pickup. It’s even weirder when I look at the depth and the number of prospects who’ll be due to be protected from the Rule 5 in 2024. At some point the Pirates do need to shift their gaze to sorting through the cards they have, cause like Kenny Rogers said best, you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. In order to know anything you also gotta see ’em. I’d do that this year, clearly Mr. Cherington for this one role at least doesn’t agree.
3 thoughts on “Make it Make Sense! Pirates Add Mark Mathias from the Rangers”
Okay, a simple question, or maybe not, if Castro becomes the super utility/ swiss army knife on the roster then who in your opinion gets the full-time 2nd base gig? Marcano, Bae or Gonzales?What about Peguro as a possible future utility IF? it sounds like you’re learning to Bae or Marcanoas eventual 2nd base unless Gonzales stays healthy finally
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Castro. Ideally Hayes and Cruz play just about every day. All I’m saying is when one needs a break, float Castro and a bench guy plays 2B.