Yesterday I did my weekly interview with David Todd on ESPN 970, and in the process we discussed Alen Hanson and his upside with the team. I mentioned that Hanson has the upside as a starter in the majors, and that he could potentially be a leadoff guy, or a strong bottom of the order hitter if a team has a better option as a leadoff guy. Due to the depth and the amount of options the Pirates have at second base, I noted that he isn’t guaranteed to be a starter for the Pirates, and might be an option as a trade chip.
I had two comments since then suggesting I was down on Hanson for mentioning him as a trade possibility. That was kind of surprising, since you don’t usually get accused of being down on a prospect who you just called a potential starter in the majors. But I think it was more directed toward the idea of potentially trading him. Normally you don’t suggest trading a guy you’re high on. Then again, the Pirates’ situation at second base isn’t exactly normal.
Right now, Neil Walker is the guy at second base. He’s also making $8 M this year, and will be due a raise next year in his final year of arbitration. The Pirates could stick with him for one more year, or they could move on, and a lot of that depends on several variables.
The Jung-ho Kang Variable
Jung-ho Kang is currently starting to get everyday playing time, with most of his time coming at the expense of Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Mercer has been struggling this year, and while there has been no official word that he has lost his job, all signs point to Kang taking over for now. With the way Kang has been playing, he has earned a starting role somewhere, to show whether this is legit.
If Kang remains a starter, then the Pirates have three options — shortstop, second base, or third base. Josh Harrison is the long-term guy at third, and has been playing better lately. Kang makes sense at short, unless Mercer rebounds. If that happens, then the Pirates would turn to second base for Kang.
Of course, if Mercer doesn’t bounce back, then Kang would probably stick at shortstop, removing one variable from the second base position.
The 2016 Variable
I don’t think that it’s a guarantee Neil Walker will be back in 2016, or at least not at second base. The Pirates would currently be paying Walker and Pedro Alvarez about $18 M combined through arbitration. Walker would most likely be making $10 M.
The Pirates could afford both players, but they could put their resources to better use, especially if a second base option is available. If that isn’t Kang, then Hanson would be the guy.
But it’s not a guarantee that the Pirates would go this route. After all, they value depth heavily, and don’t go with the idea of just having one guy per position. That’s how they are currently in this situation with a lot of different second base options. And eventually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hanson starting for a stretch this year, since Walker has a history of injuries and Kang is currently getting most of his time at short.
If the Pirates have no better use for their funds, then they could go with Walker for one more year. That still wouldn’t rule out Hanson starting in the long-term.
The Max Moroff Variable
This is where the Hanson situation gets complicated, and why I briefly mentioned a trade as a possibility. The Pirates are seeing Max Moroff starting to break out in Altoona this year. Ever since Moroff came into the system, scouts have loved him. He has shown some good tools in the lower levels, and now it appears that things are starting to come together for him.
There could be a scenario where the Pirates have no need for Hanson in the short-term, either due to Kang or Walker starting at second in 2016. And he might also be expendable in the long-term if they think Moroff is the real deal. That would allow them to trade Hanson for help, while still having a second baseman of the future in the minors.
They could also deal Moroff, so this isn’t just about Hanson. It’s about having two prospects in the upper levels of the minors who could be starters in the majors, and only one spot for them, with no defined date on when they would be needed. Who they might trade would just depend on who the Pirates think has the better shot of starting and realizing their upside.
This isn’t a situation like the Pirates are in with Josh Bell, where they have a future opening and one clear prospect who fits the “Player of the Future” title. We don’t know when the Pirates will need a second baseman. We don’t know whether that will be Kang, or one of the two prospects in the upper levels. And if it is one of the prospects, there’s the fact that the Pirates have two of them, which means it’s not clear on which one is the guy of the future.
A decision on this doesn’t need to be made right now. There are a lot of things that could happen this season to make this situation more clear — Mercer’s performance, whether Kang continues looking like a starter, Hanson potentially getting a shot to prove himself in the majors, and/or Moroff continuing his breakout season to name a few. For now, the Pirates have a lot of options and a lot of scenarios, which means Hanson’s role with the team in the future isn’t clear.