Pittsburgh Pirates: How the Free Agent Market Could Help

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 25: Adam Frazier #26 of the Pittsburgh Pirates rounds third to score on a single by Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on September 25, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 25: Adam Frazier #26 of the Pittsburgh Pirates rounds third to score on a single by Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on September 25, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The free agent market also affects the trade market, and with the Pittsburgh Pirates willing to trade a handful players, this could have a large impact on how their off-season unfolds.

Last off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded off their most valuable trade piece in Starling Marte. The Bucs got a very good return for Marte. Shortstop Liover Peguero, now a top 100 prospect, and starting pitcher Brennan Malone, a first-round pick the year before and one of the top prep arms in the draft were the two pieces that headed back to Pittsburgh

What helped the Pittsburgh Pirates was that the free agent market was pretty barren of offensive centerfield options. Marte had hit .295/.342/.503 with 23 home runs, a .353 wOBA and 119 wRC+ in 2019. Among players with at least 100 games played in center, only Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mike Trout had a higher wRC+ and wOBA. Though he was considered one of the worst defensive center fielders in baseball in 2019, it’s not like teams didn’t have, or couldn’t find a glove first option that could replace Marte late into games.

Among free agent center fielders in the 2019-2020 off-season, only one had a wRC+ above 100, that being Brett Gardner who at this point in his career seems to be sticking with the New York Yankees until he retires.

This upcoming off-season the Pittsburgh Pirates will again be looking to bolster their farm system. The team will likely have a similar goal to 2020, that being acquiring a very high draft pick for next year’s draft. So they’ll likely be trading off some of their current pieces now that won’t play a part in the Pirates’ future.

For one, Joe Musgrove might be a highly sought after commodity. Yesterday, we took a look at teams that could be interested in Musgrove. When you look at the free agent market, very few names standout. Veteran right hander, and National League Cy Young candidate Trevor Bauer is the best pitcher on the market, and by a fair margin. The next best pitcher is Marcus Stroman, who sat out 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, but he’s had a very up and down career so far.

There are many pitchers who are coming off down years like Robbie Ray, Mike Minor and Jose Quintana, and some others who are coming off good seasons, but have been inconsistent with either health or performance in the past like Kevin Gausman, James Paxton, Drew Smyly, Rich Hill, and Cole Hamels. Even Bauer has been inconsistent in the past three years.

This could leave Musgrove as one of the most reliable starters on the market, and for a low cost in terms of dollars as well. Musgrove put up two solid seasons in 2018 and 2019, pitching to the tune of a 4.28 ERA, but 3.72 FIP, a 1.20 WHIP, walk rate of just 5.1% and 1.04 HR/9 rate. Deserved run average loves Big Joe as he put up a 3.43 DRA in 2018 and 3.59 DRA the following season.

In 2020, Musgrove lowered his ERA to 3.86 and lowered his FIP to just 3.42. Though he did see a large jump in his walk rate, spiking to 9.6%, this also came with his strikeout rate reaching 33.1%, beating his previous career high of 21.9% in 2019. Home runs weren’t a major issue again as he surrendered them at a rate of just 1.13.

What’s impressive is his batted ball rates. Musgrove allowed an exit velocity of just 85.1 MPH, which sits in the top 93rd percentile in baseball. Batters only managed a 32.3% hard hit rate vs the righty, which sat in the top 79th percentile. Musgrove has been a pretty consistently solid pitcher, posting strong walk and home run numbers in three straight seasons, and has seen his exit velocities and hard hit rates move in the right directions.

The Pittsburgh Pirates other notable trade piece is Adam Frazier. Trading Frazier needs to be one of the Bucs’ biggest priorities. Pittsburgh has too many middle infielders with a higher ceiling to keep Frazier around. From his rookie season in 2016 up through 2019, Frazier had posted a .279/.342/.420 line with a .327 wOBA and 103 wRC+.

Frazier never really deviated far from these numbers either. His highest wRC+ mark ws 116 in 2017 and his lowest was 97 in both 2017 and 2019. In 2019, Frazier got off to a freezing cold start, hitting .198/.234/.330 line and 50 wRC+. But in the second half of the season, he hit .271/.361/.402 with a 112 wRC+. This is par for the course for Frazier who always does poor in the first half just to get hot in the last half.

Frazier’s defensive value is where most of his production comes from. As a second baseman in the past two years, Frazier has +3 DRS, 4.7 UZR and 2.1 range runs above average. In terms of UZR/150, which shows how much they contributed defensively across an entire season, Frazier trails just Kolten Wong for the MLB lead. Frazier also can play the outfield. In his 987.1 career innings across all three positions, the utility man has +9 DRS, 1.2 UZR and 2.9 range runs above average.

Now in terms of other second basemen on the free agent market, guys like Cesar Hernandez, D.J. LeMahieu, Tommy La Stella and Jonathan Schoop are obviously more fitting answers for a team in need of a primary second baseman. But the amount of players who can play both second base and all three outfield spots to a better than average degree are slim.

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Enrique Hernandez is the only free agent who’s seen a notable amount of time at second and all three outfield spots in the past three years. Plus, usually guys who can play as many positions with the skill Frazier does aren’t consistently league average or better bats. Hernandez has only posted an OPS+ above 95 once, Jurickson Profar has proven to be a solid bat, but pales in comparrison to Frazier defensively. It also helps that Frazier is younger than 30 and has two affordable years of control left.