Williams: What September Tells Us About the Pirates’ Bench in 2018

The Pirates are going to have a lot of question marks and decisions to make this offseason. They could probably use another reliable starting pitcher. Their bullpen could use a late inning arm. They have decisions to make at catcher, second base, third base, and other spots when it comes to playing a veteran player, or trading that player for salary relief and going with a prospect.

The bench is one area where they might not have any questions, at least if the month of September is any indication. Last year we saw Adam Frazier getting priority playing time in September, including getting starts when people went down with injuries. He followed that up by being a lock for the bench this year, and holding a spot on the team the entire season.

This year we are seeing the same thing from a few potential bench pieces in 2018. Jordan Luplow has been getting priority playing time, and it would be hard to imagine him starting off in Triple-A next year, after getting starts in the majors in September this year, even when everyone has been healthy. With the way he is playing right now, Luplow would be a good option as the fourth outfielder in Pittsburgh next year, taking up one of the bench spots.

Elias Diaz has also been getting priority playing time with Francisco Cervelli out for the remainder of the season. I think something has to give at the catcher position. If the Pirates keep Cervelli, I think it would be difficult to send Diaz down and pay Chris Stewart $1.5 M to be the backup. I think Diaz will be on the team next year, whether the Pirates use him to replace Cervelli as the starter, or Stewart as the backup. So the backup catcher spot would come down to Diaz or Stewart.

Adam Frazier would be a lock again. So would Sean Rodriguez. That would normally leave one bench spot remaining. However, there are other variables at play here.

The only way I see Rodriguez as a bench guy is if the Pirates keep Josh Harrison as their starting second baseman. If they parted ways with Harrison, then Rodriguez could take over at second, opening a spot on the bench for Max Moroff — another young player who is getting some priority time in September, and showing decent results.

The problem with choosing between Rodriguez and Harrison at second is that you ignore the situation at third base. David Freese is not an everyday third baseman. You need another option there, whether it’s an outside addition, or just one of Rodriguez or Harrison helping out. If you keep all three, you could still have Moroff on the bench as the final piece.

But even if you trade one of those three guys, you will still need another third base option, since you can’t go alone with Freese, and trading one of the three locks the other two into starting roles. A solution here would be to have Moroff starting at second on occasion, with one of Harrison or Rodriguez moving to third to spell Freese. But I don’t think the Pirates should be relying on Moroff to play that big of a role just yet.

The other younger player who has gotten a push this year is Jose Osuna. I have a hard time seeing him making the team on Opening Day next year, outside of an injury or a lot of unforeseen transactions. The Pirates won’t need a backup first baseman, and they will have plenty of outfield options. Luplow has moved ahead of Osuna, which could push Osuna back down to being depth out of Indianapolis.

At the moment, I see the bench being Diaz, Frazier, Rodriguez, Luplow, and Moroff. That’s not a bad group, as I think all five of them would have the upside of an average starter in different circumstances. If the Pirates can find a way to upgrade their lineup (second or third base would be the likely places), then you could see a different group, and possibly a stronger group with some trickle down effect. Either way, the bench should largely be composed with some younger players next year.

  • Doesnt Serpico have another year on his deal? There’s alot to like about Frazier’s bat, but he is an absolute bow wow in the infield, and can’t throw well enough to be an outfielder.

  • I don’t see that Rodriguez has anything left. He has been awful this year at
    the plate & only fair in the field. i’d rather see his at bats go to a kid with some
    sort of future.

  • I am not understanding why we have not seen more of Osuna in September.

  • I’d love to get Kang back, but let’s be serious…

    If the Pirates signed Moustakas and Lynn this off season, they’d still be in the bottom half of MLB payroll.

  • The bench may be set but too many staring lineup options are scary bad

    • just curious. who do you think is scary bad?

      • The thought of srod being starter at 2b or Diaz being starter at catcher is scary bad(should they try to free up some money)

        Freese is hardly ideal at 3b but isn’t scary bad.

        We all know nh- it’s hard to believe he is paying srod 6m to be a bench piece

  • I don’t see Luplow making the team out of spring training. He needs more at bats in AAA. He’s hit a couple of impressive HRs since being called up, but overall his numbers are poor.

  • Random question – do you think Jim Benedict would ever come back here now that he’s available?

  • Nice work, Tim.

    “Diaz, Frazier, Rodriguez, Luplow, and Moroff”

    Is that ever a case of “one of these things is not like the other ones”. I feel bad that his catastrophic car wreck derailed Sean Rodriguez’s career. I feel worse that Huntington inexplicably felt the urge to acquire him before seeing if his shredded shoulder allowed him to still be a Big League ballplayer.

    September stats notwithstanding, Moroff absolutely looks like he can pick it at short and Mercer’s bar for offensive success has dropped exceedingly low. Max needs a spot on this club.

    Also have confidence in Luplow’s demonstrated ability to adjust. You’d like your 4th OF to be able to handle CF, but that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

    • NMR… could you see Mercer becoming a Stephen Drew type for the Pirates? Someone who could legit fill in around the entire INF would be nice. I know people say Sean Rod… but he’s not a backup SS, at all.

      • I think that’s a great comp. Mercer doesn’t have any business facing RHP, so a flexible role that allowed him to float around and face mostly lefties would likely provide close to as much value as he adds now as a full-time starter.

        • I agree. I’ve just been surprised most fans dismiss Mercer. He’s exactly the piece you need for a true bench or someone to give you a 60 day DL stint as a starter and doesn’t kill you as a MI. It’s not his fault he’s in the role he’s in currently, but he’s definitely someone I see who gives any organization great value for his contract status.

  • Tim, do you guys do a year-end review of the draft and how the guys did?

  • doesn’t look to promising

  • Does Daniels hang-up if NH wants Gallo straight up for Chad Kuhl?

    • You answered your own question by asking it. Yes, he does.

    • Cole and Mercer to Rockies for Ryan McMahon, David Dahl and Trevor Story. I think we need some more left-handed power in this lineup.

  • The advance stats seem to indicate Frazier is trash at 2b, but decent in the OF. @piratesprospects:disqus is that how you read the #s?

    • That’s exactly how I see it. He handles himself well in the OF,, last I checked he was the best DRS outfielder on the team.

      His defense at 2b is really bad, even the plays that don’t show up as errors…Like dropping exchanges on DP’s, or not having the arm strength to finish a 5-4-3 DP….It’s a shame, because that bat is real and it plays very well at the top of the Buccos lineup. If he could even play a competent 2b, Harrison would be expendable and it would free up more salary for areas of need.

  • Couple things…

    -They can’t send Diaz down next year.
    -I don’t see how Luplow is a lock for the bench. It’s clear from my recliner that he needs more time in AAA. They need to sign a real 4th OF’er….Rajaj Davis or Jarrod Dyson would be nice fits.

    Hopefully this article leads into “what Sept tells us about the Pirates bullpen in 2018”

  • There should be acquisitions to force Freese and Polanco to the bench. Bench should be: Freese, Frazier, Polanco, Rodriguez, backup catcher.

    • Polanco to the bench ?? Fat chance.

      • Teach Polanco how to run without pulling his hammy, and he’s a good player. It just takes him too long to get his rhythm back after an injury for him to show his value when he can’t stay on the field for a full season.

  • Diaz is out of options. He has to make the team or be gone.

    • I think everyone agrees he makes the team, the question is whether as the primary or the backup.

  • Relevant in discussions about 2018 bench makeup:

    adam frazier is batting .321 / .378 / .488 in the 2nd half.

    i’m not *necessarily* advocating for this, but i honestly wont be shocked if they deal Cutch, acquire a really good infielder, and go with Frazier in LF.

    • I too think that if Frazier starts in 2018 it will be in left field. Overall that is his best position. He is okay at second, but he is not sure handed enough.

    • I think this is very likely. I also think it would be a mistake.

      • It all depends on how good that really good infielder is, doesn’t it?

        • True.

          Don’t get me wrong, I like Frazier. They need his bat somewhere in the line up. However he’s a butcher in the field wherever they play him. That wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t also true of Polonco, Osuna, and Luplo. They have offensive problems no doubt but they also have major holes in team defense.

          Yes his best position is left field. Yes they could get by with Marte, Polonco, Frazier and Luplow. But that combo is crazy weak defensively with speculative power at best. So weak defense and probably weaker offense too. Im not sure I’d do that. But if you accept the notion that they cannot spend more than $100 million, they will have to shed payroll somewhere. My guess is Cutch is going and they will seek to upgrade the infield, probably Third.

          • The stats don’t agree in LF – Frazier has a positive UZR/150 for his brief LF career (500 innings). Although I suspect that PNC might help inflate UZR for leftfielders.

            • That’s a very small sample size. I’m pretty positive that an outfield of Marte, McCutchen, Polonco is going to outperform an outfield of Frazier, Marte, Polonco most days both offensively and defensively by a large margin. That was my point.

  • What about the rumblings earlier in the year about Jose Osuna trying third base? I also remember Edwin Espinal, he of the Minor League First Base Gold Glove, playing third in Altoona. Is he at all an option for the 2018 team?

  • The best thing that can be said about that projected bench is that its flexible (financially and positionaly). (Why exactly did they sign SRod anyway if Moroff and Frazier were utility guys?) I guess a so-called money starved team has to save a buck somewhere. Banishing Osuna to AAA — or more likely another team — won’t do much for their power outage.

  • My prediction: neither Mercer nor Harrison are on the team next year, affecting much of this article.

    • I could see Harrison, but hard to see Mercer being gone. Who would they start at shortstop?

      • I agree that Harrison is more likely because i have a feeling that they really like Moroff. The stats folks at fangraphs’ models sure like Moroff. Their stats-only prospect rankings had him well in the top 100 prospects.

        but for SS… someone outside of the organization… or perhaps just… ahem… currently being held out of the country.

        They just need more than Mercer’s 1.5 WAR.

        Maybe my post was more of a “bold prediction” than a regular, “i think this has a >70 pct chance of happening” prediction.

        it all goes back to the whole No Man’s Land stuff. Mercer is kinda the posterboy of No Man’s Land.

        he hits enough to be a major leaguer, but only if he had a better glove. Fields well enough to be a major leaguer, but only if he had a better bat. The sum is a below average player.

        • Shortstop is a tough position to fill. I think it would cost a ton to upgrade over Mercer’s 1.5 WAR, whether via trade or free agency.

          They might be able to get the same production for cheaper, but even that would be difficult, as I don’t think Mercer would cost a lot.

          Mercer isn’t really the problem with this offense. The problem is that he is highlighted due to the weakness on offense surrounding him. They’d be better off trying to upgrade other positions.

          • Yeah maybe taking their shot at replacing him with Newman/SeanRod/Moroff, and throwing money at 3b or the bullpen or C is more likely

            • It’s more likely Mercer stays at about 5 million his last time through arbitration and hopefully Tucker takes over in 2019.

          • Tim,
            With the current strategy around baseball being home runs, power, extra base hits, with an increase is strikeouts, is SS still a priority defensive position? Or should it be starting to view as an position where the offense can outweigh defense much like the other infield positions?

            • i think you’re overthinking things.

              you want good players. if they’re good because they’re powerful, then so be it. if they’re good because they get on base 36 % of the time, then so be it. if theyre good because they play transcendent defense, then so be it.

              just because something is a trend doesnt mean that it’s the only way to win or even that it’s part of some grand strategy.

          • What about trading Cole for Gleyber Torres?

      • Tim, I think “who would they start at shortstop” is the wrong question. The right question is “are they willing to pay Mercer $8-10M to play shortstop?” Because after a good year, that’s where he’s likely to end up. So unless they can get him to take a low-ball contract and avoid arbitration, he’ll be too expensive, and they’ll have to find someone else. Much like they have done in the past at other positions.

  • Would like to see more out of Bostick. Like what I see so far. Battle with Moroff in spring training. Who knows what can happen until then. Probably alot

  • justinblain1996
    September 29, 2017 1:57 pm

    My guess at the bench is that they trade Freese. So my bench guess would be Diaz, Rodriguez, Luplow, Moroff, and Osuna. Harrison would be 3rd base and Frazier would be 2nd base. I say start Frazier over Rodriguez because in September Frazier has been getting most of his starts if not all of them at 2nd base. Hitting wise Frazier has been better, and if defense is a question mark at 2nd, Moroff or Rodriguez can be a late inning defensive replacement. Just a guess/ my opinion. I could see Tim’s bench guess happen though with no trades.

  • With the limited resources the team has, I do not think it wise to invest in another starting pitcher. Take the strongest five North out of Cole, Taillon, Nova, Williams, Brault and Kuhl. I think moving Kuhl to the pen is the best approach. It lengthens the back end of the pen and also gets a lefty into the rotation. Brault has looked much better this year compared to last. We need a reliable lefty in the pen and some added power in the lineup – whether that be at third or second.

    • I will be surprised if Cole makes it through the off-season with the Pirates. Way too many teams underperforming this year and in desperate need of pitching. Desperate is the key word – willing to pay for a #1/2 for the next 2 years – some AL playoff teams I would not count out – Yankees, Houston, Minnesota, and AL teams close to qualifying for the playoffs Texas, Seattle, and the Angels in the first year out from under that horrible Josh Hamilton salary.

      I hear you Tim about Rodriguez, but the guy was and still is a roadblock to upward mobility. Parts of 3 years with the Pirates and in two of those years he was pitiful. In 2015 .246/281/362/.643 OPS with 17W/ 68K; in 2017 a SSS of 88 AB with a .159/.253/.273/.525 OPS with 8W/35K.

      Freese has started 115 games for the Pirates in 2017. Do we need 2 backups for 47 games?

      • michael schalke
        September 30, 2017 9:21 am

        Cole and Cutch will be gone and with some luck the Pirates should be a lot better next year. Also looking at improvement from the young guys who got their feet wet over the last two years.

      • Rodriguez’s bat looks mighty slow to me. I am sure that his injury and early recovery account for a little of that, but he is way behind on MLB fastballs.

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