Pittsburgh Pirates: Grading the Adam Frazier Trade

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 14: Tucupita Marcano #16 of the San Diego Padres grounds into a fielders choice during the third inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at PETCO Park on May 14, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 14: Tucupita Marcano #16 of the San Diego Padres grounds into a fielders choice during the third inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at PETCO Park on May 14, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded second baseman Adam Frazier to the San Diego Padres, so how did the Pirates do in their return for the all-star?

The Pittsburgh Pirates made the first big trade of the trade deadline, sending second baseman Adam Frazier to the San Diego Padres for a three-player package. Those three players were Tucupita Marcano, Jack Suwinski, and Michell Miliano.

So, how well did the Pittsburgh Pirates do in this trade?

Well, first, let’s see the value they gave up. Frazier has been having a career year. Through 424 plate appearances, Frazier is batting .324/.388/.448 with a .365 wOBA, and 130 wRC+. It’s also worth noting that he has struck out at a career-low 10.6% rate, and is walking at a career-high 8.4% rate. Frazier has been one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. Among his peers at his position, he ranks 4th in OPS and wRC+, and 3rd in wOBA.

Much of Frazier’s production has been because of his 30.7% line drive rate. Plus he’s hit a ground ball just 36.9% of the time. Frazier was also a gold glove finalist in 2019 and 2020 after putting up +11 DRS, 5.1 UZR/150, +2.1 range runs above average, and being 8th in outs above average.

However, there was concern that came with Frazier. For one, he was only about a league-average hitter from 2016, his rookie season, up through last year. All told, he hit .273/.336/.413 with a .323 wOBA, and 100 wRC+/99 OPS+.

Frazier has a .359 batting average on balls in play this season compared to his .303 mark in his years prior. DRC+, a more predictive measurement than wRC+ or OPS+, pins him at just 112. Frazier has an expected batting line of .300/.368/.389 with a .338 xwOBA. Decent numbers yes, but more akin to what former Pittsburgh Pirate Josh Harrison is doing this year, who has a 108 wRC+ in 2021. He also hasn’t been the defensive wizard at the keystone like he was in 2019-2020. This year he has only +1 DRS, a -5.9 UZR/150, -2 range runs above average, and is in the bottom 23rd percentile of outs above average.

Frazier comes with another year of control remaining after this year. The Pittsburgh Pirates also sent $1.4 million to the Padres. That almost pays off what is left on Frazier’s contract for the rest of 2021. He’ll enter arbitration once again this upcoming offseason.

Now the headliner of the deal was Marcano. Ranked as the Padres’ 10th best prospect by FanGraphs and 5th best prospect by MLB Pipeline, Marcano is having a solid year at Triple-A. Through 199 plate appearances, Marcano has a .272/.367/.444 line with a .352 wOBA, and 101 wRC+. Marcano struggled in 2017 and 2019. However, he has shown some power this year. He already has 6 home runs, which doubles the total he had between 2017-2019. Overall, he’s put up a solid .172 isolated slugging percentage.

Marcano is a hit-over-power kind of prospect. He has a 60-future hit tool, but just a 30-future game power, and raw power grade. He’s also a great runner. He has been given a 60-speed grade. Marcano has displayed strong plate discipline this year, walking 13.6% of the time while going down on strike three in just 12.6% of all his plate appearances. As a defender, he’s considered average at the very least with the glove. He can play all over the infield and has seen some time in the outfield.

Marcano has gotten his first taste of big-league action and has shown some good plate discipline with 6 walks against just 9 strikeouts, but has just a .485 OPS. Though it is in a very small sample size of 50 plate appearances and he’s yet to string together 3 games in a row with at least 4 plate appearances. Could be a case of needs consistent playing time to get things going. You could draw a lot of similarities to another former Padre top infield prospect in Luis Urias. Didn’t get the chance at everyday at bats in the Major Leagues until he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Now he’s developed into a pretty solid hitter with some pop despite his smaller frame and being a hit-over-power prospect coming up through their system.

You also have to remember, he’s young, very young. Marcano is just 21-years-old and won’t turn 22 until mid-September (also want to note that Urias came up at the same age). He’s just 5 days older than the Pirates’ most recent first-round draft pick, Henry Davis, and younger than their 2020 first-round pick, Nick Gonzales. He’s younger than all but one of the players at Double-A Altoona.

Despite his very young age, he already has elite-level hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skill. He has the skill to hit to all fields. Plus his ball-strike recognition has improved this year, evident by his strong walk and strikeout rates. If he can add just a bit of bulk and add some more raw power, you’re looking at a pretty solid hitter.

The second piece of the puzzle is outfielder Suwinski. Suwinski is having a career year at Double-A. Through 267 plate appearances, the right fielder is batting .269/.398/.551. He’s swatted 15 home runs while putting up a strong .282 isolated slugging percentage. Suwinski has walked a considerable amount, posting a 16.9% walk rate. Though this does come at the cost of a 27.7% strikeout rate. Overall though, he has a wOBA above .400 at .413, and wRC+ above 150, at 154.

According to Suwinski’s scouting report from Baseball Prospectus, he has a similar profile to Texas Rangers’ slugger Joey Gallo. A power-hitting threat who has some swing and miss, but can more than handle himself in the outfield. He moves quite well for his 6’2″, 206-pound frame. According to Baseball Prospectus, his running ability has been given a 50-grade. Suwinski looks like a plus defender in either outfield corner and even played a passable centerfield if he needed to. Overall, Baseball Prospectus saw it as a 55-grade tool. The arm is his best tool with a 60-grade. Suwinski will turn 23 at the end of the month. Given his strong showing at Double-A, the Pirates may place him at Triple-A to start his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Finally, there’s Miliano. Miliano made his transition to the bullpen this year. So far, he’s pitched 30 innings between Low-A and High-A, posting a 3.60 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and 1.40 WHIP. Miliano has struck out a whopping 43% of batters faced this season while also putting up a solid 0.9 HR/9 rate. The problem has been walks. Miliano 18.2% walk rate isn’t anything new for him. Control has been a huge issue for Miliano in the past.

Miliano belongs in the bullpen. He’s only a two-pitch pitcher, but those 2 pitches are considered above-average offerings. His fastball is seen as a 55-offering in the future while his curveball is given a 60-future grade. While he currently has a 20-command grade, FanGraphs projects he could have average command (50) in the future. The Dominican-born right-hander has a lanky 6’3, 185-pound frame. Overall, he’s still a very raw talent that needs work, but definitely has the stuff to be a contributor to the Pirate Major League bullpen in the future. He won’t turn 22 until late December, so the Pittsburgh Pirates have time to work with the young arm.

My Verdict

Admittedly, the return seems a bit light. The Pittsburgh Pirates are taking a risk with Marcano as the headliner. Marcano could develop into the team’s next Frazier or Josh Harrison, providing a .280 AVG and .750 OPS who can play essentially wherever you put him. But he could also be a Kevin Newman or Cole Tucker, whose only value comes from baserunning and defensive versatility/ability. Hopefully, some of the power he showed at Triple-A this year can translate to the big leagues. It would help his fantastic hand eye coordination and bat-to-ball skill play way up, even to the point where he could surpass either Frazier or Harrison. Suwinski could be a less powerful version of Joey Gallo or a platoon/4th outfielder. Every team has about a dozen Milinao’s somewhere in their farm system.

Frazier was an All-Star this season. He’s been a top 40 hitter in baseball this season (ranked 35th in wRC+, 37th in OPS, 29th in wOBA). But that’s not to say the San Diego Padres aren’t taking any risk. He was a league-average hitter across 4 seasons. Even with this year, he has a career 106 wRC+/105 OPS+. He’s only ever once had an fWAR above 2, that being in 2019. Any team can read that his underlying numbers and see that he’s closer to his 2016-2020 form than many think.

Teams don’t care that he started at second base in the All-Star Game, maybe only for the fact it may bring in more fans given his popularity. Teams don’t care if he’s leading the league in hits. They’re also not going to bet against 1804 plate appearance where he was a league average hitter where the underlying numbers supported that vs 424 where he was a good hitter where the underlying numbers were still a bit skeptical. All-in-all, teams likely only view him as a slightly better hitter this year than in prior seasons.

Though there’s possibly more there we can’t see. After all, likely everyone reading this is outsiders looking in. Ben Cherington and company must see something in Marcano we don’t. I doubt he or the Pittsburgh Pirates essentially pay the rest of Frazier’s salary for the season just to receive nothing of note in return. It also stands to reason that the Padres know why the Pirates like Marcano so much. They weren’t willing to give him up in the Joe Musgrove deal despite Musgrove having much more value at the time than Frazier does now. It took the Pirates sending Frazier plus almost all of Frazier’s remaining salary for 2021 to get him. That can’t be overlooked.

Bucs Previously Tried to Acquire Marcano. dark. Next

All told, this is one of those ‘wait-and-see’ kind of trades. Frazier could regress to a league-average bat. Marcano could develop into Adam Frazier/Josh Harrison 2.0 and then some. It’ll take another year or two until Marcano is fully developed and the fact that the Padres weren’t willing to give him up for Joe Musgrove, and the Pirates had to include cash to get him make him an interesting player. On paper, the return is kind of meh for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but I think there’s more we aren’t seeing. It’s not as bad as some are making it out to be.

Final grade: C+