Pirates Prospects Daily: Ben Cherington Identified and Addressed the Weakest Position

Regardless of how the rest of the offseason plays out, you can’t say that Ben Cherington and the Pirates front office didn’t recognize one of their biggest glaring holes. Not only did they realize that first base needed an upgrade, they were aggressive in addressing it.

After trading Jack Hartman to get Ji-Man Choi from the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this month, the Pirates reached into the free agent pool and signed former All-Star Carlos Santana to a one-year deal.

Santana is the ideal target to platoon with Choi at first base, but that isn’t the only thing you are going to get from him.

The 36-year-old does hit lefties better, but he isn’t someone who is completely out of place versus righties. He struggled against righties in 2022, slashing just .178/.289/.366, but hit 16 of his 19 home runs on the left side of the plate.

In fact, he has a better career tOPS+ (108 vs 97) against lefties, but has hit 74% of his all-time home runs against righties.

Choi made the position better by default, as the Pirates got the worst production from first basemen in the majors. Adding Santana even furthers their improvement, and in a way legitimizes it.

Pittsburgh has put an incredible focus on the first base position early on in free agency, and their focus on the position is almost reminiscent of the work they did last year in adding depth to the catcher position.

They brought in Malcom Nunez in the Jose Quintana trade. Nunez hit well in Double-A, despite being just 21-years-old, and got a brief taste of Indianapolis to close out the season.

Recently they’ve also added Lewin Diaz as a waiver claim from the Miami Marlins, and although he’s struggled in the majors, has shown he can hit for power in the minors.

Even if they put him through waivers (he’s out of options), if he clears and heads to Indianapolis, he could challenge Mason Martin, who has some of the best power in the minors but really struggled with making contact in Triple-A.

This is the second time in Cherington’s tenure that he has taken a focused look at a specific position and improved it through adding depth. With these additions, it also made the major league team better, and could make a more immediate impact.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

There was a lot of focus on the fact that Carlos Santana is the biggest free agent deal in years for the Pirates. His one year, $6.7 million contract isn’t really significantly higher than the one year, $5 million that the Pirates paid Roberto Perez last year. The difference is that the Pirates made this pickup after adding Ji-Man Choi, who is projected to receive $4.5 million through arbitration.

Combined, this duo will make $11.2 million in 2023.

The Pirates have some options here. They could go with Choi and Santana as an expensive platoon. They could also use both players in primary roles, with the 1B/DH spots both open. A true platoon would put Santana with limited playing time. I think it’s more likely that he’s the primary first baseman, and Choi is the primary DH.

I could see Lewin Diaz “platooning” with Santana, although not getting as much time as a left-hander normally would in such a role. Their combined defense at first would be a huge boost to this team. I could also see Diaz getting waived this offseason, and lost to another team.

Miguel Andújar is someone I’ve mentioned as a first base option. At this stage, it would be difficult to imagine him ever getting time at first. However, he could factor into the DH mix, while backing up left field.

Santana and Choi are one-year rentals, and will bring with them some valuable experience. I wrote on Wednesday about how the Pirates don’t have many players on their roster with experience on a contender. Carlos Santana absolutely provides this experience.

Andújar and Diaz are wild cards, as both in the post-prospect age range of 26-28. The odds of either one developing into more than a bench option are slim, but that outcome isn’t impossible. If either one has a breakout season, the Pirates have them beyond 2023, with one additional year of control for Andújar and four more for Diaz.

Again, the odds of those two specifically improving their game is slim. That’s why it’s important to point out again what Anthony highlighted above: The additions to the farm system.

A year ago, Mason Martin was the lone hope from the upper levels. He didn’t have a good season in 2022, with his strikeout issues prohibiting a promotion. The Pirates brought in Malcom Nunez at the trade deadline, giving Martin some competition in the system. Those two are joined by 2022 Altoona Curve breakout Aaron Shackelford, along with a few other emerging prospects from other positions who could shift to first.

This is the type of building I can get behind. If you look at this from a singular position, the Pirates are building from the extremes. They added Carlos Santana to the top, and everyone in the majors shifted down. A few weeks ago, Andújar would have been in the conversation as a first base option. Today, a lot would have to go wrong to get to that experiment. That is depth.

Likewise, the team is no longer relying on a single prospect for their future. Martin will now get challenged by Nunez and Shackelford, and guys like Matt Gorski or Jared Triolo could find an easier path to the majors at first base.

This position is by no means set. It is rapidly trending in a positive direction.

I also don’t think the Pirates are finished with their additions this offseason.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at some internal left-handed bullpen options in the Pirates’ system.

Song of the Day

Fun fact: I bought “Supernatural” by Santana on the same day I bought my first Jimi Hendrix album — “Experience Hendrix”. These were two of the first albums I bought for myself, back when you bought physical music with cash at the mall. I’m sure others can talk about buying Santana albums at a much earlier time. In this same time frame, I also bought albums by Limp Bizkit and Mase, so there wasn’t consistency with my music choices. I did love electric guitar.

“Smooth” by Rob Thomas was the most popular song on this album, and as a big Matchbox Twenty fan, I loved that song. The song with Everlast was solid, but can get a bit repetitive. I would have to say that “Maria Maria” with The Product G&B and Wyclef Jean was my favorite on the album. The sleeper was “Do You Like the Way”, which had Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo Green.

I listened to that album while preparing tonight’s articles. However, the song of the day is this live gem with Alicia Keys, with a great guitar sample by Santana at the end.

Pirates Prospects Weekly

Our Friday feature is our weekly Pirates discussion. This week, Jeff Reed recapped where the Pirates were to date in the offseason. Eight hours later, the Pirates made a move that was a bit more than minimal with the addition of Carlos Santana.

Weekly Pirates Discussion: Ben Cherington Has Made Some Minimal Moves

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Anthony

Another interesting note on Santana, this one from Jason Mackey via Adam Frazier:

“He’s the man. Took our clubhouse to another level. Really smart player and a great leader. He’s a big addition for the Pirates in a lot of ways.”

I love the indifference from the fan base w/r/t intangibles; like they have any true justification for lobbing baseless opinions from their respective armchairs. This guy is extremely well respected within the game by his peers, and that’s all that REALLY matters. They wanted leadership, and they got it.

AdministrativeSky236

Hopefully theres a tall SS ready to be taken under his wing

steve_zielinski

The Pirates need to identify the player who can move to first base and do more than besting the Medoza Line. That would save the team the bother of finding one in the market.

Last edited 2 months ago by steve_zielinski
Y2JGQ2

I’m sorry you disagree, but they are good now. Noone cares about batting average, people do care about someone whom can save a few throwing errors from Cruz and throw an on-base % around .325-.350. In addition, people like Santana and Choi were CRUSHED by the shift, both will hit better in 2023

pittsburghbob69

Sabol has seen some time at 1B too. I’m still not completely out on Mason Martin yet either. He’s now playing an above average 1B defensively and played last season in AAA at his age 22 season(he was obviously young for the level).

My hope would be some platoon of Mason Martin or Blake Sabol and Jacob Gonzalez at 1B in 2024.

Santana and Choi are stop gaps that can be flipped at the deadline. I doubt, even the Pirates, see them as long term solutions at 1B.

I don’t know what people expected? Signing a UFA isn’t just as easy as, pay him the same amount he got from another team. The player has to want to sign and play here.

Josh Bell wasn’t coming back. Cody Bellinger was not signing to play here either.

In order to get a player to Pittsburgh right now, it’s needs to be an older veteran, a reclamation project, or the Pirates have to majorly overpay in either AAV or term; which isn’t likely.

And It’s not just the Pirates. Many MLB teams have to build from the draft and make sure they sign their homegrown players. Like Cleveland and Jose Rameriez.

It’s hard to convince any player to sign and play on a perennial loser. Getting veterans or reclamation projects via free agency is mainly their only option.

Will Meyers, Luke Voit are probably gonna get multi year deals. Keston Hiura played some 1B and same with Jackson Profar; but are either that much better? And again, they likely get multi year deals.

Imo, no veteran should be taking AB/PT away from the players or prospects the Pirates have at the major league or AAA level; just yet. Except at 1B, where they needed a stop gap.

Y2JGQ2

Mason Martin=Brad Eldred

pittsburghbob69

Martin much better defensively. He was age 23 all last season too. That’s super young for AAA.

If he can hit .220-.240, .with a 310-.320 OBP, and 15-25 HR(which imo is completely doable). Along with playing a good 1st base, that’s a very competent and competitive 1B in todays MLB.

I’m not saying that’s a middle of the order batter either. But batting 7th, and having a Jacob Stallings type impact playing good defense would be a welcomed change at 1B for the Pirates.

pittsburghbob69

And I don’t think Eldred ever put up the EV’s Martin puts up. Obviously Martin has the K issue but he still puts up multiple 117mph plus exit velos. Only 5 BBEs have had an EV that high in MLB this year with Stanton having 3.

steve_zielinski

Bryant signed with Colorado. The Rockies are one raging dumpster fire now. That did not stop Bryant.

pittsburghbob69

Colorado overpaid in both term and AAV. They are paying him 26M/year till his age 37 season.

steve_zielinski

In other words, Bryant signed because of the money.

Y2JGQ2

or he is thinking past a year or two of struggles

pittsburghbob69

I would imagine he didn’t get any other offers paying him 26M per year till age 37. Obviously, I could be wrong though.

Like I said, the Pirates too have to either majorly overpay in either term or AAV(or both like Colorado did with Bryant), sign a veteran, or a reclamation project(or maybe someone with ties to Pgh). Besides that I doubt Pgh is on any players list of places to play.

Until they start winning some and start putting pieces in place. Then expectations of the quality of UFA’s will grow.

And in order to do that, they need to draft well, develop, sign and retain their homegrown talent.

I always thought 2023 and beyond. Imo, the Pirates have a .500 right now with a full year of Oneil Cruz, Suwinski, J.Bae, plus Reynolds and KeHayes. A full year of Roansy in the rotation, plus Keller, Brubaker and Johan Oviedo.

Last edited 2 months ago by pittsburghbob69
Anthony

There seems to be a “plan” and that’s the only thing that worried me about this off-season. I’m encouraged by their intent and action thus far and expect them to continue to turn over the roster and add incrementally. Remember, things tend to happen slowly, then all at once.

KirkV12

I suppose this is a solid depth move, but Santana has hit below .215 for three straight years and has been basically on the Mendoza line for two of them. I can’t imagine why that would improve as he ages into his 37 year old season and joins an awful lineup with less protection. He has no defensive value. This strikes me as a $7MM deal for a 0.5 WAR player. Fingers crossed that banning shifts and platooning aggressively would make some hodgepodge of productivity out of 1B/DH, but that seems like a stretch to actually put into practice. The only real positives I see here are: 1. The veteran leadership and mentality are genuinely valuable. I’m a believer in that. And 2. It is literally impossible to be as bad as Yoshi was last year, so they will inevitably regress upward, and 0.5 war would be like a 3 war improvement over Yoshi. But still, it feels uninspired to me. Here’s hoping Nunez starts hot in AAA and makes a case for midseason promotion.

Y2JGQ2

Dont’ forget the effect of his left handed hitting stats on the shift which is GONE next year. and don’t forget his OBP due to his walks.

Scrappy2499

From what I remember he is still a better than average defender at 1b. I think they are hoping that the end of the defensive shifts will get him back to around the .240 mark he used to hit. Plus he supposedly still has strong power numbers. Guess we shall see, I don’t believe he can be nearly as bad as last year regardless…🤷🏼‍♂️

Y2JGQ2

You are absolutely 100% correct in all your assumptions

KirkV12

At least they’re signing major league players this winter. Even if the performance sucks, it indicates a willingness to pay SOME money for a guy who can be feasibly considered worthy of a starting role. That’s more than could be said for the last two offseasons.

Catch_22

They’ve addressed 1b & dh, 2 positions needing upgraded. I’m guessing they’ll roll with Santana, Choi and Andujar manning 1b & dh. This is obviously better than Chavis, vanmeter and zack Collins playing 1b, with a bunch of fringe prospects playing dh. Looking around the diamond, they need to figure out RF & C. I could see a Cutch reunion, he’s not good enough to sign with a contender and they need at minimum a rh outfield bat.

Last edited 2 months ago by Catch_22
Mblee24

I would love Cutch to comeback as DH and back up corner outfielder though.

Mblee24

I would roll with Reynolds, Suwinski, and Mitchell in the outfield. With Bae and Andujar as back ups. You also have swaggerty and CSN who I think both could be a solid 4th outfielders with the potential of being starters. I think they just need a catcher, 2 starters and 2 relievers. I will be happy if they do this. Especially if they are legit starters and relievers.

EightMenOut

Seems like a good addition for the money and contract length. Doing things like this early in the off season should help influence a solid major league starting pitcher(s) to sign on.

chuck_conner

For free??

EightMenOut

I am hoping for one or two in the range of (years/cost-in-millions), 3/10, 2/12. I am also thinking we could sign Cueto cheaper than that.

Y2JGQ2

blasphemy…..Cueto…..

leefieux

‘This is the second time in Cherington’s tenure that he has taken a focused look at a specific position ‘

Foogive my faulty memory, but what was the first??

mpg43952

Does waiver wire bum count as a position? He’s been working on that his entire tenure!

Y2JGQ2

every small market GM does that

EightMenOut

i think the answer is catcher.

battlingbucs

Have to assume he means catcher. Drafting Davis and trading for Rodriguez, Bins and Gutierrez.

Y2JGQ2

You gotta just wait for the kids to come up. you can’t block your 2 best position player prospects.

Tim Williams

They added a lot of Catchers in 2021.

leefieux

I was thinking at the MLB level. I was hoping that you weren’t counting the guys who played there in 2022 as ‘addressing a weak position’. 🙂 🙂

emjayinTN

Satisfying a need at 1B with two aged veterans who have been hired for only one year apiece does not “address” the problem. At the trading deadline in 2022, this same GM traded for a 21 year old RH hitting Cuban 1B who was hitting very well at AA Springfield for St Louis in the Texas League, even though he was one of the youngest players in the league.

That kid, Malcom Nunez, went to Altoona for the Pirates and did even better than he did at Springfield, earning a promotion to AAA where he did well in a SSS. Instead of viewing him as somebody we might see in MLB in 2023, we showed our support by leaving him unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. But he did pick up a RH hitting 1B who is only 15 years older!

Y2JGQ2

How does it not? You ensure your ML team is reasonably staffed with pieces you can move at the deadline to get something back, and you don’t block any prospects (3rd basemen whom are HOPELESSLY blocked behind Hayes) from moving over there or from Nunez whom seems to be a LEGIT prospect.

EightMenOut

Nunez apparently was not a good enough fielder to stick at 3rd. At 5’11” , and having played less than 100 games at first in the minors, he is not exactly profiling as a ready now first baseman either (let alone for a team that has a shortstop spraying 95 mph fastballs left, right, high and in the dirt). Hard to see a team willing to roster him for most of the year in the majors. Best for the Pirates if he continues to develop playing every day in AAA. 40-man is getting a bit crowded with others that profile as useful as Nunez for the 2023 mlb club.

Y2JGQ2

2023 is irrelevant besides allowing these rookies to become solid ML’ers. This is like 1987/88 – you are looking for progress from your rookies, not looking to compete for a offseason spot

leefieux

Watch it. My comments denigrating the work of our GM got me several down votes. 🙂 🙂 .

steve_zielinski

There are medications that help with the down votes!

Scam likely

What worries is that Santana makes the same amout of money that Reynolds makes, is the a neutral cost transaction. Hmmm

roberto

No worries. It’s not your money.

juniorkrz

I believe he means he’s worried that the team will now trade Reynolds to save a little money.

roberto

I’d worry about something else. They are profitable, have little debt, a robust farm system, and the capacity to take on at least one more big contract. Now finding a good Tai Chi teacher is worth fussing about.

skliesen

Definitely a better start to the offseason than I expected based on previous winters under BC. Hopefully Tim is right and there are other moves to come like signing Sean Manaea to a long-term FA contract.

Last edited 2 months ago by skliesen
Tomkatf14

I’m a fan of this move specifically and from a larger standpoint, I like it much more than I do specifically. The reality is with this move and the Choi trade the Pirates have likely improved a minimum of 5 wins. That’s with zero improvement and also I believe both players are among the most shifted players in MLB so there is potential to see 7 additional wins alone from just one position. I think with zero additions from here on out, realistically we could expect 3 more wins from Hayes/BRey combined and an additional win or two from the rest of the position players at minimum. Also 1-2 wins from the bullpen. Starters is where I’m not certain there is room for massive growth as most of those regulars pitched at a level fairly close to their individual ceilings. So at worst this is a 73 win team on 11/27

I think the quick acquisitions of two legitimate MLB players for legitimate (albeit still fairly low) dollars signals there is more to be done and BN actually thinks it’s time to loosen the purse strings very slightly. This can go one of two ways…I do believe 4 players (BRey/Cruz/Mitch/Ro)could be approached about extensions. I think the over/under on those agreeing to extensions is 2.5, which would add another 10Mish in payroll assuming BRey isn’t one of them. But I think they certainly shop for another OF and relief pitcher and probably one mid-tier starter FA on a 3 year deal. They can fit all of that with a payroll at near 80M which is appropriate for where they are in their build. Those additions could bring the floor up to around 78 wins with the upside of sneaking into WC2 position

AdministrativeSky236

I like this take. First base was so bad that as of now we are absolutely 5-7 wins better already. Can definitely expect natural improvement from all of the rooks we leaned on plus i believe hayes will bring an extra war or two working on that launch angle. I could see things breaking where we have at least a 10 game improvement next year

jaygray007

Payroll is around 52 now, meaning there’s about 10 to be spent till they hit last yrs number.

I guess its probably too much to expect one more hitter for DH and/or LF. Bring me Andrew heaney then I suppose

Last edited 2 months ago by jaygray007
skliesen

Heaney would be a good plan B. Manaea is definitely my plan A though.

Last edited 2 months ago by skliesen
bianco599

I think I agreed with you before on this but if not I guess this is my second chance. Less stress than pitching for San Diego may loosen him up.

skliesen

He’s the best reclamation project and probably most importantly his poor performance on a contender last year could scare off the other contenders.

bianco599

Kind of like when AJ left the Big Apple. Let’s see if Benny agrees with us.

jaygray007

I think we need to start thinking of andujar as a strong versatile bat off of the bench instead of pencilling him into a defined starting role, and this is 100 percent totally fine

b mcferren

platoon Andujar with Jack

barring injury, it seems this recent activity leaves Mitchell as a man without a spot on the roster

jaygray007

Andujar doesn’t hit lefties.

jaygray007

Ideally, this is an expensive platoon, with a true DH like brantley on the way..

Realistically, Im sure I could probably convince myself that Santana can be a full time player, with chois platoon partner yet to be acquired.

I dont see how Lewin survives spring training on the 40 and 26 man roster without injuries, which is totally fine. Unless mayyyybe they go with a 12 man pitching staff

Last edited 2 months ago by jaygray007
leefieux

I am honestly not too concerned about Lewin surviving ST, lol.

bianco599

I used to have a thing for Michelle Branch so Game of Love was a good one for me. Can’t believe you used to have to hide cd cases or some fool would steal them. Could put mine on my truck hood and it would be there a month later these days.

JimEastTennessee

Leadership.
Carlos: “This, Boys…this is how it’s done”

leefieux

Now bring back Q so that he can show the pitchers!

Cocktailsfor2

Agreed. Throw a 3-year contract at him and see if he’ll bite.

sewer2001

Outstanding analysis, Tim. Great explanation of depth and why it matters. Those complaining that we spent $12 million on 1st base which could have bought a good player for 1st base completely miss the point you are making. Hopefully your concise writing helps some eyes open.

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