Recent Posts

The Big Picture View of the Pirates’ Infield

The arrival of Jung-ho Kang may not have clouded Walker's future, as some suspect Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

The arrival of Jung-ho Kang may not have clouded Walker’s future, as some suspect
Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

With the signing of Jung-ho Kang, the Pirates’ infield situation now has a good problem to have. As long as Kang doesn’t completely tank, the Pirates have four good players to play three positions. Many immediately speculated that Kang’s arrival could signal the eventual departure of Neil Walker, whether via a trade or letting him walk in free agency after 2016, but I’m not totally sure about that.

Although the Pirates have to ship $5M (plus the always humorous extra $2015) to the Nexen Hereos, the actual amount of salary they are scheduled to pay Kang over the course of his contract is minimal in baseball dollars. Kang’s salaries of $2.5M, $2.5M, $2.75M, and $3M are essentially the rates of a quality utility infielder. The dollar value behind Kang is not enough to justify him a starting position if he doesn’t warrant it.

It’s not as if any of the four players are a young phenom with room to grow or an old veteran on their last legs. Kang fits right in with the rest of the infielders, in terms of age (July 1st cutoff):

  • Kang will be age-28 during the 2015 season
  • Josh Harrison will be age-27 during the 2015 season
  • Jordy Mercer will be age-28 during the 2015 season
  • Neil Walker will be age-29 during the 2015 season

All four of them have multiple years of team control left, as well. Here’s a look at each player, how many years they have left under team control, and what age they’ll be at the end of it:

  • Kang — through 2018 (with 2019 club option), age-31 in 2018 season
  • Harrison — through 2017, age-29 in 2017 season
  • Mercer — through 2018, age-31 in 2018 season
  • Walker — through 2016, age-30 in 2016 season

However, in January, team President Frank Coonelly was interviewed on 93.7 the Fan’s Bucco Talk and said that the Pirates are continuing to have discussions with Walker’s reps regarding a potential contract extension. Going by recent extensions completed by GM Neal Huntington, it appears as if the Pirates have age-32 as a decision point in their process. Perhaps they feel that’s where a player’s physical traits start to degrade and want a chance to escape a deal at that point. Andrew McCutchen’s contract has a club option for 2018, which will be his age-31 season. Starling Marte’s recent deal takes him to 2019, with two club options for 2020 and 2021 — his age 31 and 32 seasons. Even Charlie Morton’s mini-extension guarantees him through his age-32 season, with an option on his age-33 season.

So to that end, perhaps the Pirates are discussing a four year deal that would incorporate some midpoint on the two sides’ submitted arbitration requests for Walker ($8M from Pirates, $9M from Walker’s camp). A four year deal would buy out two free agent years, another Huntington staple for an extension, and give team control through his age-32 season in 2018. Something like a 4 year/$46M deal could work for both sides — $8.5M in 2015, $11.5M in 2016, $13M in both 2017 and 2018.

Even if Walker loses a step at 2B, he is still enough of an athlete to consider moving him back to 3B for the last year or two of the deal. That was his position coming up through the minors after the Pirates moved him off of catcher. And if all else fails, there’s always the bastion of slow, podding players — first base.

For those that may be saying to just let Neil Walker go after his 2016 season because Alen Hanson is in the minors, I would like to ask you a question: If the Pirates had tremendous faith in Hanson, why did they go out of their way to bid on Kang and sign him to a four year deal, with an option for a fifth year? They know they have multiple years on Harrison and Mercer, too. To me, the Pirates have reservations about Hanson’s attitude and makeup. He’s been suspended on multiple occasions for poor attitude by the Pirates already. Yes, he is a talented player, but I’ve felt that they would move him if the right trade proposal came along.

It has been a long time…and I mean a looooonnnng time….since the Pirates had an infield this good. Walker had a career-high year last year with a wRC+ of 130. Harrison finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting. Mercer had a very good campaign after his abysmal April and dreadful May. Now they strengthened the bench with Kang. The 2015 season will be the year the Pirates evaluate Kang’s ability to potentially be a starter. If he’s just so-so, they have a utility infielder (paid as one, too) that can backup three infield positions.

To me, there’s no problem at all in the Pirates’ infield (aside from 1B, which we won’t talk about). The Pirates have set themselves up with plenty of team control and plenty of positional flexibility for years to come. Sometimes, as Pirate fans, we’re allowed to have nice things.


Kevin Creagh is the author of the sci-fi novel Creating Christ, available now on Amazon

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

2 Comments on The Big Picture View of the Pirates’ Infield

  1. I also wonder if Dan Fox’s next trick is rotating players to keep them fresh. While I don’t think moving everybody around would be a good move, having the flexibility to give people scheduled days off may increase their performance. 2 starters (Harrison and Mercer) and the backups (Kang and Rodriguez) can hopefully legitimately field and hit the role and can keep the players healthy. If there’s one thing Dan Fox has shown, it’s that he is always thinking ahead and seems to advocate for getting personnel to match what he’s thinking.

    • Kevin Creagh // February 17, 2015 at 12:47 PM //

      That’s an interesting idea. This team is crazy deep. I wonder if they would have traded for Rodriguez if they knew for sure they were getting Kang. But then this could play into your rotating idea — Rodriguez can play the corner OF spots to give breaks, plus the infield.

Comments are closed.