Shortstop Woes Continue For The Pittsburgh Pirates

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

What will the Pittsburgh Pirates do at shortstop moving forward?

Shortstop has seemed to be a problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates for the better part of two decades. Minus a few good years from Jack Wilson and a strong 2013 by Jordy Mercer, the team has not had a good shortstop since Jay Bell in the early 90s.

As the offseason approaches, shortstop remains an issue for the Pirates. The aforementioned Mercer is set to hit free agency, and, regardless, his play in recent years has left a lot to be desired.

Highly touted prospect Kevin Newman was supposed to fix the Pirates’ issues at shortstop, but, thus far, the returns on Newman have been underwhelming. Since late August, Newman has gotten the lion’s share of at bats at shortstop for the Pirates. But he has yet to lock the position up as the team and their fans had hoped.

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While it is just 91 plate appearances, Newman is slashing just .200/.242/.224 thus far in his MLB career. This includes a 23.1% strikeout rate, and poor defense (-2 defensive runs saved, -1.2 dWAR) at shortstop.

The biggest concern with Newman is that in the minors there were concerns about his ability to hit for power and his defense at shortstop. The fact these two woes have continued to plague him at the MLB level is where the concern comes from.

So, what do the Pittsburgh Pirates do at shortstop moving forward?

Newman has yet to do anything to prove he deserves to be the starting shortstop entering 2019. Internal options could include fast rising utility man Pablo Reyes, but he has limited time at shortstop in the minors and is likely best served in a non-starting role.

Then there is Jung Ho Kang. The Korean slugger made his return to the Majors with a pinch-hit single on Friday night. However, Kang has not played shortstop at the MLB level since September of 2015, which was before suffering a catastrophic leg injury later that month. And even before the injury, Kang was a poor defender at the position.

What about external options?

Well, when looking at the free agent class, it is not a great one at shortstop.

Jed Lowrie would be a great fit, but will likely be out of the Pirates’ price range. Jose Iglesias and Freddy Galvis are both players that would better fit the Pirate budget, and both are plus defenders at the position, but neither would provide much of an offensive upgrade, if any at all, at shortstop.

Elvis Andrus could be an intriguing option, too. Like Iglesias and Galvis, he is a plus defender at shortstop. But his lifetime .275/.333/.371 slash line, .311 wOBA, and 88 wRC+ leave a lot to be desired. He is, however, a better offensive player than Iglesias or Galvis.

They could always look to re-sign Mercer as well. A month or two ago this seemed almost impossible, but now it may not be quite as far fetched.

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Could Neal Huntington look to the trade market? Absolutely. But what could happen there is far too difficult for anyone to ever predict. No matter how he goes about it, addressing the shortstop position needs to be a top priority of Huntington’s this offseason.