First Pitch: Upgrading at First Base and the Value of Elias Diaz

My baseball “career” was pretty limited. I played in little league, and played briefly when I reached middle school, until the point where two things happened — I started losing interest in the game of baseball briefly due to the strike, and started playing tennis tournaments year round, resulting in dropping every other sport.

There was one moment I remember from my “playing days”. It came on the first game of the season, and I was playing first base. With a runner on first, a line drive was hit right over my head. I reactively threw my glove up, caught the ball, then jogged to first base to double off the runner. I was probably in third grade at the time, and I’m not sure if that play was advanced for the level. I followed it up with a big double in the bottom half of the inning.

Aside from my time focusing on the business side of the game — tracking trades and player movement — that’s pretty much my lone memory of my baseball career. A first baseman who made a great double play and followed up with a big hit, then gave up the sport to play tennis through high school and into college.

With the way the current winter meetings are going, now that this story is out there I’d expect a call from the Pirates at some point tomorrow, expressing interest in signing me to play first base for them next year.

Or at least that’s how it seems.

The Pirates have been connected to a lot of first base options so far, mostly in the “expressing interest” category. There was the rumor about Mitch Moreland as a trade candidate on Monday. Today there were rumors about Mark Reynolds and Mike Napoli. There was also speculation that they could go after Korean first baseman Dae Ho Lee. It seems like if you’ve ever played first base, and if you’re available this off-season, the Pirates will be taking a look.

None of the options seem that good, although this is probably by design. They’ve got Josh Bell ready to come up at some point during the 2016 season, at which point he will take over as the starter of the future. They’ve got Michael Morse as an internal option for now. So they need someone who could start for half a year, or pair with Morse for half a year, without blocking Bell in future seasons.

The best option right now looks to be Moreland, with strong defense at first and a gamble that he might be able to repeat his offensive success from last season. If the latter happened, he’d be a huge upgrade over Pedro Alvarez. But even without the offensive boost, he should be at least equal to Alvarez in value thanks to the defense. The downside is that there are indications the Rangers might be asking a lot for him, with their interest in Elias Diaz being well-publicized.

As far as a trade value, and considering the alternatives, Diaz might not be far off in value. However, in terms of what makes sense for the Pirates, Diaz has a lot more value. He’s slated to be the starter behind the plate after the 2016 season, and is the top depth option out of Triple-A in 2016. Francisco Cervelli stayed healthy in 2015, but hasn’t had the same track record in the past, making Diaz a guy who could very likely arrive at some point in 2016. And the upgrade there would be improving the first base position for half a season. The upgrade to Moreland from guys like Reynolds, Napoli, Lee, or anyone else not mentioned wouldn’t justify trading Diaz.

From the early signs of things, I would expect the Pirates to add some first base help. We’ll have to see how that plays out the rest of the meetings, and maybe even beyond the meetings. Diaz certainly isn’t untouchable, especially if the Pirates extend Cervelli (while gambling on his continued good health). But if the Pirates were to use him in a trade, it wouldn’t make sense to use him for a short-term rental who is only needed for half a season.

**Other than Monday’s minor league signings, there haven’t been any moves by the Pirates. I wouldn’t be concerned about that. For one, they’re projected for a very active off-season, and haven’t been afraid in the past to carry their moves into January. A bigger thing is that the market is just starting to pick up, with the first big offensive signings and trades taking place Tuesday evening. We’ll see tomorrow the ripple effect that those moves have on the rest of the market. For now, here are the Tuesday rumors:

**Pirates Have Shown Interest in Mike Napoli

**Tuesday Evening Rumors and Notes

**Pirates Have Interest in Kyle Kendrick

  • Very interested in Hyun-Soo Kim 1b in KBO. Why decent OPS of .979 but 11 stolen bases, 101 walks and 63 strike outs. OBP average career of .406.
    Lefty at the plate. 121 RBI’s too. Sign me up.

  • Really don’t like the process here.

    Identify a need, find the player you feel best satisfies that issue, and go get that player. Muddling through random options without even common traits is little more than finding the best “value”. The same failed process that wasted a year with Ike Davis.

    They’re absolutely right not to trade Elias Diaz for one year of a marginal platoon player, but they’ve put themselves in this position.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    December 9, 2015 10:28 am

    Last year, many (including me), thought the Nationals, Padres, and Marlins “won” the off-season and would be really strong in 2015. You can never predict injuries and sub-par performances, and you never know how team chemistry works out.
    I agree, the Cubs look like they’ve left us and the rest of the division in the dust, but things don’t always work out as expected.

  • Cool story, Tim.

  • Diaz for Profar wouldn’t be bad…. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • I had a much better career in baseball than you, Tim. I managed to sit on the bench for both my High School AND college teams!!!!!!

  • Great writing Tim, thanks!

  • Can one of you statistical guys tell me how much better the Cubs are with Zonrist over Castro? I get that he is a switch hitter and has some added flexibility, but Castro is good enough to start at 2B for the Yankees. How many wins do they pick up with that move?

    • I agree….plus Zobrist is 34. That signing did not impress me at all.

      • 4 years from now, it likely won’t look good at all. Maybe 3 years, or even 2. His defense isn’t too strong now. But when you have the money, what do you care.

      • People often mention that his skills have aged well, and the contract banks on that continuing. But I wouldn’t make that bet unless it was with someone else’s money.

  • If future first ballot Hall of Fame Elias Diaz is so good, why can’t you get more than just a year of Mitch Moreland for him?

    Or is this just another example of over evaluating Pirate minor leaguers? For a guy who was left unprotected in the Rule 5 not too long ago, and has a career OPS under .700, he sure got good in a hurry over the last year. Even though everything I’ve read here said he slumped early and late in the year.

    • You speak as if the deal happened. It seems the Pirates balked at the deal for the same reasons you stated.

    • Clown comment again. It is more like a case of you over evaluating your own level of understanding.

    • Tracy Painter
      December 9, 2015 9:23 am

      Giving up SIX years of good defensive catcher (that appears to be figuring it out at the plate) for one year of a PLATOON first baseman, would be a FOOLISH move.

      For those interested, here’s Diaz’s last three season’s at the plate.

      Diaz batted .279/.382/.399 in 220 plate appearances in 2013 with Bradenton, a combined .312/.366/.421 in 404 plate appearances with Altoona and Indianapolis last year and .271/.330/.382 in 363 plate appearances at Indy this season.

      • Ok. Then trade Cervelli for Moreland. Or something else.

        • Why would you want to downgrade the catcher position for a full season just to upgrade first base for half a season?

          • According to the crowd here, Elias Diaz can do the job, right?

            • Yes he can do the job. But right now Cervelli is the better catcher. If you want the trade for Moreland, you’re trying to win this year. But Cervelli for Moreland is going to downgrade the catcher position this year. I think the point most people are trying to get across to you is that if you’re going to trade Diaz or Cervelli, it needs to be for someone better than Mitch Moreland.

        • Tracy Painter
          December 9, 2015 9:55 am

          Why?

          Why give up any of our valuable catchers or catching prospects for one platoon year of a (possibly) slightly above average first baseman?

          I wouldn’t even trade Morton or Locke for Moreland.

          Why are you so desperate to obtain Moreland?

    • The point is that he’s worth more than the incremental improvement from Morse to Moreland for 3 months until Bell (presumably) gets called up. The exaggeration is yours.

  • I’d like to know what the difference in value is between Neil Walker and Jon Niese. It seems a perfect fit. The Mets are interested in Walker because they lost out on Zobrist and the Pirates need starting pitching I like Neise as a #4 starter and he’s a lefty which would help him in this division with teams like the Cubs and Cards in it that struggle against lefties. Of course he would be our #3 starter but he reasonably cheap and he’s better than 2 of the current rotation options for 2016. His $ amount is 5 million a year with an option for 2017 and 2018. He Just turned 29 years ld this would be an instant upgrade. He’s been around 3.40 -4.00 ERA guy and you gotta think he would even get better with searage

    • We already have two #4/ #5 starters. Why would we want another?

      We need to replace AJ’s 3.10 ERA, not trade for another Jeff Locke.

    • PiratesFan1975
      December 9, 2015 9:19 am

      He actually makes $9 million next year. Then $10 million option w/ $500k buyout. There’s two different figures out there for 2018 option, $11 million/ $1 million buyout and $10.5 million / $500k buyout. So he’s basically guaranteed Neil Walker money this year. Niese was a 1 war player last year with a 1 war projection this year (Steamer). Walker was a 2.5 WAR player last with with a 2.5 WAR projection this year.

      I don’t remember Searage helping anyone with a 88mph fastball. Niese really struggled to miss bats last year. I know you don’t like Locke but there’s a lot more to work with on Locke’s stuff than Niese. Every pitch in Niese’s arsenal was below average last year.

    • Niese is Jeff Locke @ 3x the salary with less upside.

  • No way in hell should diaz be moved in a trade for moreland. Makes no sense to me pirates would even consider such a move.

    • I absolutely concur. It’s funny reading the comments on the post gazette and the trib and seeing how informed a good bit of our fan base is. I posted a comment the other day that said “Get a piratesprospects.com subscription, read mlbtraderumors, and read Jeff Sullivan, Grant Brisbee, Dave Cameron, Jonah Keri, and John Sickels and get a clue. I may be missing a guy or 2 but are the 5 writers I continually go back to. I love fangraphs and I was very upset when they shut down grantland.

    • According to Evan Grant, who covers the Rangers, the Pirates wouldn’t consider trading Diaz. The Rangers wanted a starter AND either Bell or Diaz. End of conversation.

  • Tim … Whole-Heartedly agree. We’re looking for a backup first baseman. No reason to trade a future starter for that. And the Pirates love catching depth. Since Stallings wasn’t protected, we may eliminate our AAA back ups.
    I also believe we might want a 2-year 1B as a contingency for 2017 when Morse leaves and if Bell struggles or still can’t hit lefties

  • If they sign Lee to modest contract and flip Neil for CJ Wilson plus cash they would be ahead. To be an upgrade defensively Lee only has to be better than historically bad. He may not have range but he apparently does not regularly drop throws and have yips.

    • Derek Lee would be awesome ; )

    • Wilson is someone I haven’t thought about but he might work if the Angels make up the difference in salaries. I always give a little preference to LHP.

  • You know Tim I was at that game and I told my wife that, that kid was going to go places. Then we saw you at the Dairy Queen later and I said see I told you.

    • william aigner
      December 9, 2015 7:39 am

      Dairy Queen??!! Meadows frozen custard is superior. And that’s where our coaches took us 🙂

      • You must have lived in Hollidaysburg, because anyone in Altoona went to DQ after their LL games.

        • william aigner
          December 9, 2015 6:52 pm

          I seem to remember Tim mentioning that he used to live in Hburg as a youth (Is that true, Tim?)

  • If they would extend Cervelli I would have no problem including Diaz in a trade if the return was right, I’m not sure 1 year of Moreland, maybe half a season if Bell develops as hoped, would be right. A decent starter would be a different situation.

    Diaz offers defense probably on par with Cervelli with a ++ arm, Cervelli’s one downfall behind the plate. At the plate I think Cervelli is the clear winner, not much power from either with Cervelli being a much better contact hitter. That leaves the cost savings that Diaz would provide over a well paid Cervelli at least for approximately 5 years but if I’m focused on winning 2016 thru 2018 Cervelli is probably the surer thing even if he is slightly below average in throwing out runners.

    • Great post, but I’m not sure about the idea that Cervelli is clearly a better contact hitter. Is that just your feeling? Because Diaz has bested Cervelli’s strikeout rate at each level thus far. Kid can hit.

      • Baseball-Reference projects Diaz as .260 BA .322 OBP .741 OPS hitter

        Cervelli has career numbers of .284 BA .357 OBP .746 OPS

  • Michael Sanders
    December 9, 2015 3:36 am

    Maybe the A’s would be willing to part with Lambo?

  • Morneau! He’s a free agent. No need to give up players. One year deal 5-8 million. Great glove and consistent 300 hitter.

    • Consistent .300 hitter? Maybe in Colorado, in 13 yrs he has hit .300 or better 5 times 2 of which were CO. The 3 years before he signed there he hit .259, 267, .227 not exactly noteworthy numbers especially when you factor in that in 3 of the last 5 years he was only able to play in 81 games or less

      • I say it’s a good gamble to rent Morneau until Bell comes up. Maybe he gets hot with the bat for part of that, maybe he just plays solid defense and is still an upgrade over what we had there.

        • Morneau played less than 50 games last year, one of his 5 seasons over .300 by the way. He has all but lost his power, 17 Hrs in 2014 playing in Colorada does to scream home run power and would be lucky to hit 10-12 playing half his games in PNC. The entire scenario sounds a lot like a certain first baseman we hoped could overcome an injury plagued career and rebound last year, how did that work out?

  • piraterican21
    December 9, 2015 2:53 am

    The Cubs and D’backs are well on their way to winning the off season in the NL. Makes it a little hard to be a patient Pirate fan.

    • Winning the “off” season… Not the real season. Last year the Padres won the off season- that worked well.

      • Good point, but the Padres were a blank sheet of paper with little or no direction after 2014; the Cubs won 97 games in 2015, and the D’Backs finished around .500 with a very good offensive team, but with very spotty pitching. These folks have the money and it talks . . . . . .

        • BTW, with the additions made to the D’Back Rotation, who will be the pitchers available? They had 6 SP’s in 2015. And, unless I am mistaken, they may be talking to the Pirates about MM. I like Patrick Corbin, but they may offer Chase Anderson and Archie Bradley is still struggling, but made 8 starts for them in 2015.

          • Corbin would be a great pickup. Probably not going to happen tho. did he have TJ a couple of years ago?

            • Corbin most certainly is not available.

            • Yeah the D-Backs are trying to create a strong rotation. Corbin was their best starter last year He will be their #3 starter. People also forget they have Ruby DeLaRosa who is a high upside starter with a big arm

    • Like San Diego won the offseason last year?

    • To get the return that the Braves got, what do you think their starting position was for the negotiations? “Sure we’ll give you Shelby Miller, if you’ll send us the ’27 Yankees and a PlayStation 4.”

      Kinda frustrating- Bucs had to rebuild the hard way – Braves have one losing season, find one crazy trade partner, and wham they’ll be back in contention before you know it.

    • I’d say the Braves won the off-season. That haul for Miller was ridiculous. So was the haul for Simmons.

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