Who’s on third?
Prior to the start of the 2017 season the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to be in great shape at third base. After all they had one of the league’s biggest power threats in Jung Ho Kang manning the hot corner, with former World Series MVP David Freese backing him up.
Well, things went far from according to plan for the Pirates at third base in 2017.
Jung Ho Kang missed the entire season due to being on the restricted list after getting a DUI in his native South Korea last offseason. This led to David Freese having to play on a daily basis at third base. At Freese’s age, this is simply something he is no longer cut out to do.
In 115 games at third base in 2017 David Freese had a very strong defensive season. His seven defensive runs saved was tied with Anthony Rendon for third most among National League third baseman and his .960 fielding percentage was seventh best in the League.
However, Freese’s offense was putrid this past season. His 23.1 percent strikeout rate was above league average, while his .108 ISO and .317 slugging percentage were both career worsts. His .326 wOBA was the third lowest of his career and his wRC+ of 100 was a new career worst. His 1.6 fWAR was his lowest since 2013.
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So, where do the Pirates go at third base in 2018? Because playing Freese every day is not going to get the job done.
They can hope that Jung Ho Kang gets his work visa issues worked out and is able to return to the Major Leagues in 2018. That, however, seems unlikely to happen. This leaves the Pirates with their internal options which are not pretty.
When used properly, Freese can still be a very serviceable player. But the Pirates need someone to, at least, split time with Freese at third base which they do not appear to have.
In August the Pirates traded to re-acquire utility man Sean Rodriguez who can play third base. However, Rodriguez is coming off a .257 wOBA and 55 wRC+ season. Furthermore, he has always been a player that is best served in a bench role.
In theory, Adam Frazier and Max Moroff could be options at third base as well. But Frazier has very little experience at third base and Moroff is looking to be much like Rodriguez in that he is best suited to be a bench player in the Major Leagues.
First baseman/outfielder Jose Osuna also started to learn third base this past season. The problem is Osuna is awful against right-handed pitching. Also, he is a poor defender at positions he already plays let alone a new one.
Another option would be to add a new second baseman and to slide Josh Harrison to third base. If Adam Frazier’s glove was not unplayably bad at second base this problem would be solved as he could play second base with Harrison at third. However, Frazier’s defense at second base is far too horrendous for him to play every day.
The Pirates’ best option is to address third base either via free agency or a trade this offseason. Last season Freese still owned a .364 wOBA and a 125 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Due to this the Bucs just need to find a left-handed hitter to platoon with Freese at third base.
As was said above, in theory, this left-handed hitter could be Adam Frazier or Max Moroff. That, however, does not seem like a very safe bet by the Pirates. Adding a left-handed hitting third baseman would the easiest and cheapest solution to the Pirates’ issues at third base and that is something Neal Huntington needs to look to do this offseason.