First Pitch: Pirates First Base Depth Could Lead to an Interesting Off-Season

In my previews of the Pirates’ off-season, I’ve noted that there are just two specific needs for the team heading into 2017. The biggest need is a starting pitching upgrade. They could also use an additional late inning reliever. But the lineup is pretty much set, the bench has a lot of options, and they have a lot of young pitchers to fill out the bullpen, with the expected minor moves set to take place to add depth to the bench and bullpen.

Despite the lack of needs on the team, there are some scenarios that could make the off-season an interesting one. I’ve written about one of those scenarios, with the potential for the Pirates to trade Andrew McCutchen. If that happens, then all bets are off as to what could go down this off-season, as a McCutchen trade would open the door to a lot of possibilities. There would be the return, which would almost certainly include young players ready to step into the majors, plus the freed up salary to add additional free agents.

On a smaller scale, I think the first base/bench situation is one to watch. Right now, the Pirates have Josh Bell, David Freese, and John Jaso as their first base options. They all got plenty of starting time at the end of the year, but that was due to injuries. With everyone healthy, the Pirates have very little playing time for Freese, and no playing time for Jaso, who finished the season with some hot hitting in the final two months. Jaso is working at third base this off-season, but it still would be difficult to get him playing time. Consider the following scenario:

**Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Andrew McCutchen each get one day off a week. That leaves three outfield starts open.

**Josh Bell gets one day off a week, and splits between first base and right field.

**Jung Ho Kang gets one day off a week, giving David Freese a start at third.

If Bell takes two of the outfield starts, that gives Freese two additional starts at first base. And that playing time split would be fine for those players. But this leaves maybe one start a week for Jaso, with super utility guys like Adam Frazier also factoring in the mix. Right now, the playing time looks tight when you consider the first base options.

There are a lot of possibilities here for a solution, some within the Pirates’ control, and some out of their control. Here is the rundown of those scenarios.

1. Nothing Happens

Scenario number one involves just going with the depth they have. This isn’t really a problem. No team will ever complain about having too much depth. And an injury will happen at some point, meaning that Jaso will eventually get playing time, Freese will eventually be a full-time starter, and other guys on the bench or in Triple-A to start the year might get a start or two. Again, this isn’t a problem.

2. They Trade Jaso

I wouldn’t say that John Jaso’s spot on the team is set in stone. I think there will be a lot of calls from the fans to just trade Jaso, thinking that this solves a problem that doesn’t really exist. The fact that the Pirates have Jaso working at other positions this off-season suggests that they might not be set on dealing him, and I don’t think that’s the worst idea. He finished the season strong, and as we saw with Sean Rodriguez this year, it can be worth it to see if that strong finish carries over to the following year. Also, if one of the following scenarios happens, keeping Jaso would be a great move.

3. The NL Adds the DH

This is what I’m hoping will happen. It would solve some problems for the Pirates, specifically with Josh Bell. They could put him as the DH most of the time, limiting the negative impact of his defense, and letting him just focus on the bat, which I don’t think we’ve come close to seeing the best of just yet. The first base position would then be split between Jaso and Freese, with Freese becoming a regular starter, and Jaso getting a few starts per week, like Freese in the scenario above.

4. Andrew McCutchen Gets Traded

Back to the big hypothetical. If McCutchen gets traded, then the Pirates can replace him by doing what they did at the end of the season. Bell could split between first base and right field, with Freese and Jaso splitting time at first base when Bell isn’t playing the position. This might help to off-set losing McCutchen’s offense, due to the defensive upgrade. You’d upgrade the defense at first base, and you’d go from a bad outfielder in center field, to a bad outfielder in right field.

There are some interesting things that make me think the Pirates aren’t just going with the straightforward approaches from number one and two, specifically that they spent all of September rotating the first basemen, and they’re having Bell work in the outfield and Jaso working at third base this off-season. There have also been some rumors that McCutchen could be shopped, but nothing that says they’re actively trying to trade him. But if he does get traded, then I think we’ll look back and view the news that Bell and Jaso are working at positions other than first base a lot differently, sort of in a “So that’s what they were planning” way. Then again, maybe they don’t trade McCutchen, and we just look back on those off-season plans as normal attempts to add depth.

I feel like something is going to happen with the first base situation. I hope that would be the addition of the DH, as I think that would help the Pirates with their current roster situation. But if this all turns out to be nothing, and they keep all three first basemen, then it’s not going to be a bad thing to have a lot of depth, especially after a 2016 season where they saw starters dropping like flies down the stretch.

**2016 First Base Recap: How Long Will the Josh Bell Experiment Last? My recap of the first base position this year, along with a look at Josh Bell’s future.

**AFL: Eric Wood Plays First Base for the First Time, Has Busy Day on Offense and Defense. Speaking of first base, I doubt Wood is an option there, since he’s one of the best third base prospects in the upper levels. But it’s interesting that he’s getting work at first and the corner outfield spots this off-season, after playing exclusively third base up until now.

PROSPECT WATCH

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PIRATES DISCUSSION

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mitch t

Im getting a laugh from some of the comments debasing the value of our players because we missed the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. I forgot that the first rule of Off-Season BaseBlogging is that virtually every player you have needs traded to fill nonexistent needs and no Pirate has any value to anyone. OH and if we don’t sign someone it’s because we’re cheap but if we do sign someone we spent too much. Yes, we do need to trade Cutch for two mediocre starting pitchers but we will surely need to toss in a starting shortstop because… CRAZY

Self Trolling will cause you to go blind folks!

NMR

Says the guy who added absolutely no value to the conversation.

HartHighPirate

Thanks mitch t. After reading 57 comments your comment is the voice of reason.

dr dng

What value can we get for Jaso?

Can we get a quality reliever for him?

Blaine Huff

For an average replacement player (excuse the redundancy)? I’m guessing, no. Nothing more than salary relief.

Y2JGQ2

In my opinion, any type of thought to change the DH system has to come as part of a vote by the fans, and not just baseball fans, but NL fans. You should have a ballot very similar to what they do at all-star games, but do it NOT online, only at the NL parks. Paying fans of those teams only should be voting. At the end of the year you tally the Yes vs. No votes, and majority has it for…….5 years. When it expires, you can ask again. This decision needs to be made by the fans of the teams that will be impacted- Noone else.

Y2JGQ2

I feel like adding a dH is going to lose a lot of fans- I’m one of them. I hate the American league game, and I know i’m not speaking alone.

Zack Nagel

I wouldn’t be surprised if Jordy Merced ends up on thre trade block. They’ve already referenced Kang back to shortstop in 2017. Maybe Mercer is moved or they split starts at short. If he isn’t going to be the everyday I say move him to someone looking for a veteran shortstop.

I think the fan base would implode if the Pirates traded both Mercer and Cutch, but I could see it happening and not skipping a beat. Sign a good bench bat and let Ngoepe backup until Newman is ready for a callup.

Need to get agresssive at some point and trading two position players to get pitching could be a good move.

emjayinTN

Newman will be playing SS by July with Alen Hanson or Jordy Mercer at 2B. Mercer can play every infield position and will be too valuable as a leveling block for the young kids, as the utility IF, RH hitter at 1B, if needed, and he is reasonably priced.

Trade JHAY, Jaso this off-season; no trade for Jordy Mercer.

Y2JGQ2

I don’t remember seeing this reference to Kang playing shortstop, in fact I heard pretty blatantly that he would never be able to play short, he wasn’t even good at short (or even average) before the injury. It would be a horrible move if they did it. We have no depth at that position for another 2 years in the minors. Mercer goes nowhere.

Zack Nagel

Several articles between 9/26 and 10/2 going into detail that stems from Clint Hurdle’s response to a question about Kang at short next season. Also, two years is fairly pessimistic. Thinking Newman doesn’t reach the majors until 2019 is wrong.

Y2JGQ2

Nope, not really. 2 years is about right based on the defense he’s shown

Blaine Huff

I’m not following the organization’s thinking, at all.

You’ve got a potential premium hitter in Bell, he came up as an outfielder, but was moved to first to expedite his arrival…now that he’s here, they want to shift him back and forth between positions. Alright, I get it, his defense isn’t great…is it going to get any better by shuttling him around the field? Put him at first, accept the defense in exchange for the bat, let the kid get settled in and maybe he’ll improve.

Freese? Why was he resigned? My theory is that the Pirates wanted to show they were doing something with the Liriano money.

Through game 81 last season:
296 PA
10 HR
.286 BA
.830 OPS

Game 82-162:
196 PA
3 HR
.246 BA
.664 OPS

He’s a strikeout machine…last season it was 1:3.46 PA. To put that in perspective, in Pedro’s last season for the Bucs, his ratio was 1:3.75.

He never should have been resigned.

Trade Cutch? Now? I was in favor of it when he was at his peak, but…unless some other GM can be convinced to empty the farm for him…why trade him at his lowest value? If his finish at the end of the season was legit and it carries over, he’ll have much more value at the trade deadline.

And I really don’t buy the argument that trading Cutch frees up money. So what if it does? The Pirates line-up is set, it’s the rotation that is dire need of additions…and the cupboard is bare as far as free agents go. Hell, there are so few guys out there, the Pirates would be lucky to get CJ Wilson.

Bobby L

Whether I’m right or way off base, I thought the Freese signing was insurance for Kang. The timing may have been coincidental, but there was no logical reason for it otherwise.

Blaine Huff

Could be the case. One way or the other, I hope that mess is resolved soon.

NMR

As for Bell, it’s quite possible they just don’t see enough improvement at 1B to trust time and reps to get him the rest of the way. Would it be worse to split his time now or waste a couple more seasons on a position he never gets better than “bad” at playing?

These guys and their first basemen…

Blaine Huff

And, truth be told, he may not be a great fielder…or, even an average one. But I think that has to be weighed with the bat.

i can take Pedro defense if he’s putting up Rizzo offense.

But I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the player to be bouncing him around…not everyone should have multiple positions, but, it seems, this team wants them to.

He’s young, give him some stability and see what happens…if he never develops at first, If it doesn’t happen…sure, there may be a corner spot in the OF waiting….but let the guy settle in.

NMR

Except that Josh Bell is nowhere even close to “Rizzo offense”, and that’s no knock on a 23 yo kid who performed admirably in his first taste of big league ball but an appreciation for how great Rizzo is offensively. He’s essentially Josh Bell’s same plate discipline with literally double Bell’s power production.

I can appreciate the stability argument, but I cannot reconcile this club’s want and need to address run prevention with willingly starting him at 1B 150 times next year. It’s a tough spot.

emjayinTN

Your last paragraph makes way too much sense. Bell came up for 150 PA’s and posted a .368 On Base and a .406 Slugging, with more Walks than K’s, and 8 doubles/3 HR’s.

I think it makes a lot more sense building for the future with a 24 year old.

NMR

The Freese extension would be harmless on a properly-funded team, but my worry is that the extension combined with some of the talk coming from Huntington since then points to a return to the Barajas-Barmes-Overbay days of spreading a small amount of money around a bunch of different needs.

This is an organization that has to develop the kind of bench pieces that they’ll spend 10% of their payroll on next year in Freese and Jaso.

monkshot

Freese was a GB machine last year, we haven’t seen a GB rate that high since Tabata was on the team. When Freese would hit the ball in the air, it turned into a HR. To think a guy will be successful with those ratios, is crazy. Yes, I’m too lazy to look at the actual numbers.

NMR

Freese had the most extreme combination of strikeouts (28.9%) and Groundballs (60.7%). He’s basically what every Pirate pitcher tries to accomplish on the mound.

Blaine Huff

I was with you until the second paragraph…

…then I was just f’n depressed.

Freese is an okay ballplayer…the kind the Yankees would have had on the team during their run. But I don’t know that he’s so suited for the Pirates.

Not with ML-minimum guys like Hanson, Frazier, and Rogers around.

NMR

Ha! Man, I genuinely forgot Jason Rogers was still a thing. I suppose it says something that he has yet to be mentioned in a conversation about first basemen, although yeah, he’d be the perfect type to fill Freese’s role. I just doubt he’s capable.

Blaine Huff

Yeah, his omission is a head scratcher.

I don’t think he’s anything special…but a bench-bat/spot-starter? Sure, he fits the bill.

But, I s’pose, that’s what irritates me with the discussion…it seems like the issue is whether Bell will be treated like Rogers should be…

“We’ll put you here, we’ll put you there…we’ll see what happens…”

The thought that guys at the talent level of Freese or Jaso could take PA’s away from Bell is disturbing.

Yes, Bell’s defense may be quite lacking…but what will that cost the team? A win over the span of a year? Two, three, maybe four? Okay. Even if it’s that bad…His bat isn’t that much better than theirs?

As you can see…I’m high on the kid. And I’m sorta lost on the disconnect in the organization. This is the guy they broke the draft for…this is the guy they made change positions to get him to the majors…now it’s the cold feet thing of…”well, let’s try you here…and here…and…”

Damn, this team loves supersubs so much, they’re going to have him taking grounders at SS in a couple of months…

Have some confidence…he was drafted and developed…let him play and see what happens.

NMR

But they *haven’t* developed Bell, not on both sides of the ball, whether due to his fault or theirs. I don’t think it’s an organizational flaw as much as it is an admission of reality. His glove *already* cost the team almost a full win, in about 20% of the innings he’ll eventually play over a full year. Don’t extrapolate that, but it’s quite possible that he’ll need to be a >120 wRC+ type hitter just to break replacement level.

Now if they punt another year then sure, throw Bell at 1B and be done with it. But if they do plan to contend, and they should, then I think they simply have to have a strategy to mitigate his defensive issues while still keeping the bat in the lineup as much as possible.

Or, maybe even better, exchange Bell’s value as a hitter for a greater need, pitching.

Bobby L

You make some very good points.

Bell can hit, no doubt. Whether it’s Hurdle’s reluctance to use him or Hurdle’s desire to have a roster full of utility players or upper management dictating who to play and where, there does appear to be some disconnect.

Catch22

With Bell being a disaster wherever he plays, I would trade him this off-season. I don’t have the patience to watch another guy that can’t play 1B. Offer him to Tampa for Archer and Alex Colome. I’m sure the Pirates would have to include more, but Bell would be the headliner. All the sudden a rotation of Cole-Archer-Taillon-Kuhl-Glasnow looks pretty good, as does a back end of Nicasio-Rivero-Watson-Colome. They could use Nicasio and Rivero as the high leverage pitchers for the 5th-7th, then you still have Bastardo to mix and match with and Watson could return to his familiar 8th inning role.

Just a phone call away, Neal!

Y2JGQ2

I don’t remember Archer being all that good this season….

Y2JGQ2

ANYONE with baseball and atheletic ability can learn to play adequate first base with time and reps. If all we need is adequate there, then just let the damn kid play and shut up about it. In 2-3 years, he’ll be fine.

NMR

Absolutely false.

Shocking lack of appreciation for what it’s like to field 100mph groundballs with guys getting down the line in 4 seconds.

Y2JGQ2

Exactly what I’ve been saying for two years…..through drafts and watching them put pedro over there……..I’m glad you at least picked up on it, that was complete reverse pyschology. I’m a first baseman and have been for almost 30 years now. Fielding ground balls is the easy part actually. learning your range and what balls to go after and which ones to allow to pitcher in front of you or the second baseman to the right of you- by far the hardest thing

tedwins

Boy that trade would be a tough explanation by the Tampa GM to his fan base/ownership but you do suggest, correctly, that the Pirates would have to include more. So with that said, it would have to be something compelling along with Bell, I’m having a hard time thinking what else would be needed….Guessing Kuhl and at least one of our top prospects (perhaps more, probably more) one who is not quite ready and one who is knocking on the MLB door, probably both actually…I really don’t know what it would take for that type of controllable package from Tampa…. Perhaps I’m under estimating Bell’s value, I may be overestimating it when I think of a package of Colome and Archer as that would take a HUGE return, imho….

Catch22

I’m thinking Bell and Keller get it done….If I’m NH, I don’t hesitate.

Gallatin

Thank god you are not the GM.

NMR

Of the Pirates?

You’re wildly inflating the value of Bell and Keller if you think the Pirates come out short on that deal.

leowalter

You are not and thats a good thing

monkshot

I missed you buddy, good stuff.

NMR

Crazy thing about Archer is that getting him right now, after a 3-yr track record of performing *at least* as well as a good #3 and an ace-level year under his belt, gives you just one less year of club control than you have over Mitch Keller, who hasn’t thrown a pitch above A-ball.

Archer is stupid, stupid valuable. Your deal is off to a good start, but I think it would almost certainly take Glasnow and/or a combination of several other top prospects just to get Archer alone.

Y2JGQ2

Why not just make it Bell and Cutch then for Archer and Colome and call it the day.

NMR

Because for a team like Tampa, six years of a Top 25 prospect is worth more than 2 years of Cutch at a price tag closing in on $30m.

Y2JGQ2

good point, its not their bag.

tedwins

Yeah NH wouldn’t hesitate, but it would probably be much more, but not sure I’m in the best position to surmise what “much more” means…. To get a controllable, arguably, number two starter and a young(ish) controlled closer would probably certainly lead to additional names being included that would make us uneasy (we know the names)… Not sure, just me….

Catch22

DH is not coming to the NL.

Bryan J

Let’s hope so. I hate the DH.

NMR

I hate myself for how irrationally accepting I am of the idea that another marginal platoon will work out, this time Jaso/Freese, after so much failure over the past nine years.comment image

emjayinTN

Option 2 should be done ASAP. The only other option that has any possibility beyond that would be Option 4. I would hate to see it happen.

gashuffer

did the pirates ever try cutch at other positions.was cf the first option.

Y2JGQ2

Cutch would be better in Right than Bell- so this whole suggestion doesn’t make any sense.

gashuffer

never suggested he can 2nd
just wondered if the pirates tried him at other positions during his rookie year before opting for cf

Y2JGQ2

no

Justin B

Was just thinking about this one myself. Why not? It would solve a lot of problems. The question is can he handle it?

mouse

I suggested (mostly in jest) at one point that they look at him for first base, ala Willy Stargell.

gashuffer

i was thinking they may have tried him at 2b during rookie
ball but quickly gave up on that. he’s not a defensive stalwart.

EWS34

Walkers offense was not good enough for first, why would Cutch’s?

mouse

It does appear as though the DH is on the way. I’ll miss the strategy. In many ways it will be like the idea of the closer. It relieves the manager of a whole lot of decisions he otherwise would have to make, so a lot less chance to screw up. It also deprives the fan of a lot of chances to second guess and complain (and really, isn’t that what being a baseball fan is all about?)

The other off-season factor that could arise (the elephant in the room) is Kang’s legal situation. I haven’t heard of any resolution of his criminal charge, but I suspect any conviction would affect his visa status. Has that matter been resolved?

PikeBishop65

I remember going to my first AL game in Cleveland in 1988 and I watched an AL manager lose a game because of DH inspired laziness. I watched a starter melt down in the 7th, who probably wouldn’t have started the sixth and would have been lifted for a PH.

taylor26554

Ban the DH. 🙂 The National league games are more interesting to watch. Deals with more strategy. And when you have a good hitting pitcher, let’s face it. They get written about a lot.

NMR

I f*cking love watching a guy flail three times at pitches he’s nowhere near qualified to hit.

john fluharty

I’ve never liked that one league had the DH and the other didn’t have it, but I’d rather they ban the DH from the AL and just skip the pitcher’s at bat, letting 8 guys bat in stead of 9. A few guys get extra at bats that way. Not sure why no one ever seems to consider this as an option.

John Ciccotelli

The union would never go for it. An intriguing alternative.

rich

I have never liked the DH. But the strategy everyone talks about isn’t all that exciting. It basically comes down to things like:
– You are down by two runs, the bases are loaded in the 4th inning, and your crappy pitcher is at bat. Do you give up on the inning and let him strike out? Or yank out your pitcher and stress out your bullpen?

Y2JGQ2

Not at all. The decision carries on throughout the game. Bench players are rarely utilized because pinch hitters aren’t necessary. This negates a lot of situational changes from pitchers as well. Pitchers need to be atheletes, they need to be able to hit, and they need to be able to run. If they can’t, well then its their fault they got injured. Maybe a pitcher the equivalent to a punter or kicker in football is ludicrous

Richard C

Amen brother. Ban the DH.

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