Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Friday – a weak class of first basemen


Every Friday this offseason, we’ll post our Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Friday piece, in which we’ll discuss a player, a group of players, a position of need, or some other topic related to the Pirates and free agency. We’ll go in-depth with stats and analysis as we hope to keep you fully informed and occupied this offseason.

Welcome to the very first edition of our new weekly piece, Free Agent Friday! In this first piece, I wanted to take a look at potential free agent options at first base. Yes, the Pirates can still stick with Pedro Alvarez next season. But we all know that whether or not to keep Pedro around for one more season is one of the more pressing decisions Neal Huntington will have to make this offseason. In fact, keeping Pedro might not be the best decision for the Pirates. MLB Trade Rumors predicts him to make a little over $8 million in arbitration, which is much more than he’s worth based on his 0.1 2015 WAR value (WAR according to ESPN). That money could be used towards acquiring a better first base option, or towards relief or starting pitching.

I’m not a fan of Pedro. Up until recently, I would have loved to see Pedro go. And then I checked out the free agent first base class for this offseason (as provided by MLB Trade Rumors). It’s poor, not just in quality but in quantity as well. Here’s the list:

First Basemen

Jeff Baker (35)
Chris Davis (30)
Edwin Encarnacion (33) – $10MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Corey Hart (34)
Kelly Johnson (34)
Garrett Jones (35)
Adam Lind (32) – $8MM club option with a $500K buyout
Justin Morneau (35) – $9MM mutual option with a $750K buyout
Mike Napoli (34)
Steve Pearce (33)
Mark Reynolds (32)
Sean Rodriguez (31)
Chris Parmelee (28)”

The only name that stands out is Chris Davis, who is a fantastic offensive player, but could price himself out of what the Pirates are comfortable with. Let’s start this list by knocking out the names that won’t be options for the Pirates. Encarnacion’s option is a guarantee to be picked up by the Blue Jays, and I’d also feel confident in saying Lind’s option will be picked up by the Brewers after the good season he had. The Pirates won’t bring back Corey Hart, who they gave up on mid-season. Jeff Baker and Sean Rodriguez are more utility players than everyday first basemen, and both had sub-par seasons.

Chris Parmelee also had a poor season, and Kelly Johnson, while he did have a decent season, is more of a utility player than an everyday first baseman. Johnson wouldn’t be a bad pickup, but he’d be more useful in a utility role. And Morneau would most likely have his option picked up after having a great 2014 season and missing most of last season due to injury. If it’s not picked up, I don’t think the Pirates would target him, as he didn’t perform well when he was in Pittsburgh in the past. So, after eliminating those players, this is who we’re left with:

First Basemen

Chris Davis (30)
Garrett Jones (35)
Mike Napoli (34)
Steve Pearce (33)
Mark Reynolds (32)”

Not many great options here. Chris Davis obviously stands out, and would the ideal first base option for this team. He had a fantastic rebound 2015 season after a rough 2014 season, leading all of baseball in home runs with 47 and finishing third overall in RBIs with 117. He also led baseball in strikeouts with 208, but most teams would take that with the kind of production he brings to the table. And he’s an average defensive played based on DWAR, and he only made three errors last season, which is a huge upgrade from Pedro.

All in all, Davis would be perfect for this Pirates’ team. Unfortunately, I think it’s a far-fetched idea to think the Pirates can sign him. The main concern is the money he’s going to command. He’ll likely get at least $12-$15 milion per season, and maybe more than that. While he did have a suspension in 2013 due to PEDs, he showed the ability to rebound this past season. Aside from money, the Pirates likely still have plans for Josh Bell as the future first baseman in Pittsburgh, and Bell could likely be ready for the majors at some point in 2016. They’d have to sign Davis to a one-year contract to avoid blocking Bell, and there’s almost no chance Davis would sign a short-term deal. If they sign Davis long-term and trade Bell, however, that’s a different story. But with an already-deflated first base market, his price will surely rise as the offseason progresses.

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The Pirates were linked to Napoli during the season, who has good career splits against lefties and could platoon with Pedro. But he doesn’t hit for average. If he’d sign a cheap one-year deal, I wouldn’t mind the Pirates signing him.

Steve Pearce and Garrett Jones are former Pirates, though Pearce is coming off a poor season and doesn’t hit lefties well. Jones also doesn’t hit lefties well and has had back-to-back bad seasons, so I don’t see the Pirates targeting either of these two.

Mark Reynolds wouldn’t be the worst option in the world if you don’t mind a right-handed Pedro Alvarez, considering his low-average, high-strikeout, hit-just-for-power tendencies.

In the end, I only see two realistic free agent options for the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason: Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds. The only other first baseman I’m fond of is Chris Davis, and he’s a long-shot at best for this club. Kelly Johnson could be a decent option, but again, he’s more of a utility player than a steady first baseman. This makes me think it’s more and more likely that the Pirates bring back Pedro next year unless they decide to explore the trade route.

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Next: The Elephant in the Pittsburgh Pirates War Room