With MLB roster/transaction freeze lifted, teams could be interested in adding some depth via free agency. This former rival is still a free agent and could help the Pittsburgh Pirates infield depth.
As we near the start of Spring Training 2.0, teams are re-engaging in acquisition talks with players and teams. With uncertainty of players opting out of playing the season, teams need depth. The Pittsburgh Pirates are no different than other MLB teams when it comes to this.
A handful have already made some of those types of signings. For example, the New York Mets signed former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Melky Cabrera, and Hunter Strickland, and the Yankees signed former 2015 National League Rookie of the Year finalist, Matt Duffy.
One of the more interesting names still lurking on the free agent market is infielder Scooter Gennett. The Pittsburgh Pirates should be more than familiar with Gennett as he spent 2013 up until 2019 with two division rivals in the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds.
Although Gennett wasn’t all that productive with the Brew Crew, he really broke out with the Reds in 2017 and 2018. In those two seasons, the second baseman hit for a strong 303/.351/.508 line, had a 124 wRC+ and slugged 50 long balls. Sure, he did play half of his games in the hitter friendly confines of Great American Ballpark, but it’s not like it mattered too much anyway. In 2017, he still produced a solid .284/.333/.481 line on the road, and was even better on the road than at home in 2018. During his lone all-star season, Scooter batted .299/.342/.485 at home, but .319/.379/.494 away.
Not only was he not affected by playing in a hitter friendly ballpark, but Gennett was an extremely clutch batter. With runners in scoring position, the slugger had a 1.014 OPS in 2017 and .836 OPS in 2018. That kind of production when there’s a good opportunity to score runs is a very valuable tool.
In terms of his platoon splits, Scooter can hit lefties, but not for much power. In both seasons, he barely posted a slugging percentage above .400 vs southpaws, but posted a .294 batting average vs lefties in 2017 and .248 vs lefties in 2018.
Although he was a great batter, he wasn’t nearly as effective as a second baseman. In total, he had -23 DRS, -2.4 UZR, and -1 range run above average. He did show a decent amount of improvement in 2018 when he had -10 DRS, but +2.1 UZR, and +1.6 range runs above average. Overall, his combined 6.0 fWAR in these two seasons was 6th among all second basemen.
In 2019, Gennett was set up again for high expectations. That’s just what happens when you break out and become a guy who can hit 20-25 long balls and put up a 120+ wRC+ in a season. But Gennett suffered a groin strain at the end of spring training before the beginning of the 2019 regular season. He only played in 42 games, and received 139 plate appearances with the Reds, and eventually the San Francisco Giants, and hit just for a .538 OPS and 47 OPS+.
Regardless, it’s clear that the injury really affected his playing ability in 2019. Gennett has the potential to be an extremely effective batter. He would be a much better version of Colin Moran. Right now, Gennett could be the Pittsburgh Pirates primary left handed platoon bat at first base. Now, yes, Gennett has not played first base professionally. But if Gennett wants to keep playing, he might need to reinvent himself as a Howie Kendrick type of player.
While this might not be a huge defensive upgrade, it would definitely be a solid signing to upgrade the team’s bench and offense. Gennett, given a platoon at first base and facing right handed pitching most of the time, could become a very valuable member of the team. If the Pittsburgh Pirates were to sign him, I could see a one-year, $3-5 million deal, prorated. In short, it would be a rebuild your value kind of deal. If it works out, the Pirates snagged a bargain that could either help them win in a shortened season, or help them bring back a prospect at the deadline if the Pirates are out of it.