This will probably be repeated at TPOP and around the internets all offseason, but…the Pirates infield was bad in 2018, excluding the catcher position. It’s one thing to be bad with the bat, as they all were this past season. If they were slick with the leather, they could take the ‘run prevention’ angle and go that route. As a team, though, the Pirates weren’t very good with the glove, either:
? Alex Stumpf (@AlexJStumpf) October 4, 2018
Under the theory that 10 runs equals 1 win, what Alex is saying is that the 141 run differential between the Brewers and Pirates corresponds with the 13 games they finished behind the Brew Crew.
It appears that Adam Frazier is being penciled in as the starting 2B for 2019. I’m fine with that. I believe in the changes that he made at the plate following his midseason demotion to Indianapolis. His defensive metrics at 2B have also been trending up in recent years. In an effort to minimize how many problems there are, he’s in the ‘fine’ bin. That leaves 1B, shortstop, and 3B to fix. No problem!
While I personally believe that Neal Huntington won’t give up on Josh Bell at 1B, that won’t stop me from writing some articles later this offseason about replacing him. I think they at least believe he can hit dingerz and if that’s all he does they’re OK with it. On a team that is relatively starved for power, it’s hard to see them give up on his potential to sock 30.
I’ve stated my case that I’m not a believer in Colin Moran’s future. Again, if he was at least defensively gifted like Matt Chapman of the A’s, I could live with the anemic isolated slugging. But he’s pretty bad there, too. By reading the tea leaves, though, it sure seems like the Pirates are going to bring Jung-ho Kang back in 2019. Whether that’s by straight picking up his $5.5M option or declining it and re-negotiating a lower amount remains to be seen. But I’m sure I’ll write about 3B replacements, too!
That leaves us with the shortstop position. It’s the most readily upgradeable one, as there is no obvious incumbent starter. Jordy Mercer is a free agent and his hoped-for protege, Kevin Newman, had an extremely disappointing audition in September.
Free agency is the equivalent of swimming in the open ocean with a cut on your leg. You’re hopeful that everything will be fine, but there’s always the chance that a shark will swim up and bite your leg off.
That brings us to Jose Iglesias. Iglesias has been the long-time shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, but now he is mercifully a free agent from both the team and the city. His bat will remind you of Jordy Mercer’s. No, seriously. Look at their 2018 lines:
- Mercer — .251/.315/.381, 85 wRC+
- Iglesias — .269/.310/.389, 90 wRC+
So from an offensive standpoint, it should be a rough wash. At least Iglesias offers a modicum of speed, as he stole 15 bases last year.
But where Iglesias earns his paychecks is with the glove. As a whole, the Tigers’ shortstops ranked 5th in baseball with a +13.1 UZR. For comparison, the Pirates collectively ranked 14th at +6.1 UZR. The primary components for each team were Mercer (+4.8) and Iglesias (+13.6). Just doing some quick gorilla math, there’s an 8.8 difference in runs between Mercer and Iglesias, meaning that Iglesias would be a nearly 1 win improvement on just his defensive contributions.
To further hone in on what Iglesias brings to the table, look at his Inside Edge fielding numbers:
…and compare them to Jordy Mercer’s:
You can see that Mercer keeps pace with Iglesias on the Routine and Likely categories. But the pair deviate in the Unlikely and Even categories severely. Yes, it’s only a combined 19 and 28 chances between the two player’s categories, but just the fact that Iglesias is able to get to more chances is impressive.
It feels to me that Iglesias has been around forever, but 2019 will only be his age-29 year. Jordy Mercer will be entering the dreaded age-32 year that causes the hackles to raise on the collective backs of the Pirates’ front office.
Since this is the Pirates and we’re trapped within the event horizon where every transaction this offseason will be tied to whether or not they can afford it, what would a contract for Iglesias look like ? Last offseason, all-glove and (seriously) no-bat Alcides Escobar signed for 1 year/$2.5M. Zack Cozart signed for 3 years/$38M with the Angels on the strength of both his bat and his glove — then proceeded to be injured and terrible. Considering that Iglesias made $6.3M this year in his last arbitration year, I’d be comfortable saying that putting him as a midpoint between Escobar and Cosart in the $7.5M average annual value is reasonable.
Would Iglesias take a 1 year deal ? Probably in February, but I don’t think the Pirates can afford to wait out his market. I’d offer a 2 year/$14M deal as soon as free agency opens and see where that takes me.
It’s not Iglesias or bust, though. If you recall back at the midpoint of the article I said the Tigers ranked 5th in baseball in shortstop defense. The Oakland A’s, fueled by Marcus Semien, finished 4th.
Semien just completed his finest year as a shortstop in the Majors for the thoroughly surprising Oakland A’s. His triple slash line was in line with Mercer and Iglesias at .255/.318/.388 (90 wRC+), but his defense was exemplary at +15.6 UZR. That mark put him 3rd in the Majors behind glove demi-god Andrelton Simmons (+26.1) and future demi-god Francisco Lindor (+21.1). For reference, Jose Iglesias was 4th with +13.6. And if you like counting stats, Semien hit 15 homers and stole 14 bases this past season.
Semien has flashed the potential for power that neither Mercer nor Iglesias have demonstrated. In 2016, Semien smashed 27 homers en route to a .197 isolated slugging percentage. That season is clearly the outlier of his career, but he at least showed he has it in him.
Semien’s acquisition would be challenging as he’s coming off a 3.7 WAR season and has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He made $3.1M this past season, so he’s probably going to enter the same $6.5-$7M range as what I’ve proposed for Iglesias. However, he’s probably looking to top out in arbitration around $10-11M on this current course, so he’s not only more expensive monetarily, but also in the prospect cost required. I’d say that the aggressive Billy Beane and his equally aggressive GM, David Forst, would attempt to get Mitch Keller. That’s a non-starter for me, but I’d easily part with Newman and consider moving Cole Tucker if they turned down Newman. The deal would require another piece, maybe a Nick Kingham/J.T. Brubaker-type.
The Pirates have to keep the heat turned up this offseason. The team has the potential to challenge for a division title based on what I see in the starting rotation and the bullpen. The catchers are solid and the outfield is capable. With a few tweaks to the infield, primarily at shortstop, this team could break on through to the other side of a non Wild Card game.