With the Pittsburgh Pirates re-signing Yoshi Tsutsugo, Colin Moran’s future with the Bucs is now up in the air. What options do they have?
The Pittsburgh Pirates brought Yoshi Tsutsugo back into the fold when they signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal. Tsutsugo will likely be the primary first baseman going into 2022, barring anything catastrophic. But bringing back Tsutsugo without the guarantee of a DH, as likely as it is, means that Colin Moran’s role with the Pirates is now up in the air.
Last season, Moran posted a .258/.334/.390 line, .318 wOBA, and 98 wRC+, making him an overall slightly below league average hitter. Moran struck out at a 24.2% rate, which was a career-high in at least 300 plate appearances. He also only had a .132 isolated slugging percentage with 10 home runs in just 359 trips to the plate. It also didn’t help that Moran was a very poor fielder. He had -3 DRS and a -6.1 UZR/150 at first base.
This marked Moran’s 4th season with the Pirates. So far, he hasn’t done all that well since arriving in the Gerrit Cole trade. He’s been pretty much a league-average hitter. Moran has a .269/.331/.419 line, .321 wOBA, and 100 wRC+. That kind of production isn’t awful, but he’s a well below-average defender at first base and an even worse fielder at the hot corner.
Now it’s not all doom-and-gloom for Moran. From the beginning of the shortened 2020 season up until his injury in early May of this season, it looked like he was starting to turn a corner. He hit .266/.335/.471 with a .345 wOBA, and 116 wRC+. The notable aspect of his game during this stretch was his power. He blasted 14 home runs in 322 plate appearances, which comes out to 26 throughout 600 plate appearances. He also reached the .200 mark in ISO, maxing out at .204.
Right now, the Pirates have a few options for Moran. One of them is trading him right now. Moran could be in that spot that Josh Bell was in last off-season; he pretty much is what he is at this point in his career. A rebound to start 2022 wouldn’t increase his value by a noticeable amount. He’s only controlled through 2023 and it’s not like the Pirates couldn’t find someone who can play first base and DH and outproduce Moran. The downside of trying to trade Moran right now is that there isn’t a very high demand for a league-average hitting 1B/DH rebound candidate. Maybe the Oakland A’s or Cleveland Indians take a look at Moran, but the question is if said teams can find that kind of production in their system without having to give up prospects.
Another option is to hold onto him until at least the trade deadline. Now I did say that his value isn’t going to massively increase, even if he does bounce back, but that might not stop a desperate team in July to pay more than what he is worth. The Pirates could potentially get back a decent prospect this way, but it also runs the risk of him just performing the way he has the last few years and his demand remaining low.
One last option is to just run with Moran. Maybe the hitter we saw in 2020-early-2021 is the true Colin Moran. One of the main things that slowed him down in ‘21 was injuries, but some of those injuries were just pure bad luck, like him getting hit on the wrist. Moran comes back healthy next season, hits .265/.340/.470 with 25 home runs while playing regularly and now all of a sudden you have a decent hitting first baseman or solid DH.
The Pittsburgh Pirates would likely trade Moran if they can get back what they’re looking for. So far, the returns for players since Ben Cherington has taken over haven’t been poor. They’ve all brought back at least one player who has the potential to be part of the Pirate long-term future, even if they weren’t high-demand commodities like Josh Bell or Tyler Anderson. Teams probably aren’t willing to give up anything more than a few lottery ticket prospects, or a player who might have a high ceiling, but is still 5+ years away from being ready.
The Pirates might be able to do a change-of-scenery swap. The Rays recently traded oft-injured pitching prospect Brent Honeywell to the Oakland A’s for just cash. Maybe they would be willing to perform a similar trade with another oft-injured and recent thoracic outlet surgery recipient, former two-way top prospect Brendan McKay?
Admittedly, it would be a pretty big ask as well as a fair risk for the Pittsburgh Pirates given the success rate of thoracic outlet surgery, but if it were presented, the Pirates should take the opportunity.
I think the better option would be to wait until the trade deadline. His trade value, even if he is only a league-average hitter like he has been, isn’t going to take a significant hit. The Pirates’ better bet is to hope a team gets desperate and is more willing to reach something near the Pirates’ demands.
In the end, there’s no clear answer on what to do with Moran. Some options have more positives than others, but all have the same problem of Moran being just a league-average hitter whose best position is probably DH. If that’s all a team views Moran, they’re not going to give up anything of value. If the Pittsburgh Pirates decide to keep him and try to trade him at the deadline, him being a league-average bat with no position doesn’t change his value. Holding onto him throughout all of 2022 just means he has one less year of control left.