Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Kevin Newman has provided a solid platoon bat this season, but will this be the off season the team trades the infielder?
Kevin Newman hasn’t been terrible at the plate or in the field this season. It’s the first time in the infielder’s career he’s posted relatively average numbers both with the glove and with the stick. But the Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of middle infielders up and coming, so is this the season the team decides to trade Newman?
After this year, it would make the most sense. Newman has slashed .275/.318/.375. He’s displaying his traditional low strikeout rate and walk rate approach with just a 15.8% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate. This comes out to a .305 wOBA and 95 wRC+, which while still not great, is still a whole lot better than the .250 wOBA and 53 wRC+ he had in 2020-2021.
On the defensive side of things, Newman hasn’t been able to recapture his Gold Glove escapades of 2021, but he has been good enough. At the keystone, he has 0 Defensive Runs Saved, but +1 Outs Above Average and +2.8 UZR/150. At shortstop, he has -2 DRS and OAA but a +5.1 UZR/150. Although Newman hasn’t been as bad as he was early in his career with the glove, specifically in 2019 and 2020, he hasn’t been as good as his 2021 campaign when he was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop.
Newman still struggles to make hard contact, but he’s adapted more to that profile. Despite an 85.6 MPH exit velocity and 27.4% hard-hit rate, Newman has a .325 batting average on balls in play. The infielder has seen his line-drive rate tick up from just 20.9% in 2019-2021 to 26.1% in 2022. This also means his ground ball rate has also taken a noticeable dip from 47% to 42.2%.
While Newman’s more line-drive-centric approach allows him to get more hits, a .326 BAbip is still a tad high. Though even if he becomes a ~90 wRC+ batter, there’s still value. It’s been an up-and-down career for Newman, but he’s likely not as bad as in 2020-2021, when he had just a .239 batting average on balls in play. Even with low hard-hit rates and higher than average ground ball rates, he’s not a 55 wRC+ batter. Even Billy Hamilton managed to put up a 64 wRC+ with an 81.7 MPH exit velocity and 45.2% ground ball rate. But he likely isn’t as good as 2019 when he had a 109 wRC+, mainly because the juiced ball inflated everyone’s offensive stats, including Newman’s.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely look to shop Newman, you also have to keep in mind that it is a very stacked free agent class. You have some of the best at the position, like Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, and Dansby Swanson, all hitting the free agent market simultaneously. Xander Bogaerts will likely opt out, adding yet another high-end free agent to an already deep class. There are other secondary options as well. Jose Iglesias has done pretty similar to Newman this season, and Elvis Andrus has had a second-half resurgence with the Chicago White Sox.
But the second base market is much thinner. The best second base option is Brandon Drury, but the rest of the 2B market consists of utility/depth and older rebound candidates like former Pirates Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier, along with Cesar Hernandez, Rougned Odor, Chris Owings, and Aledmys Diaz. If the Pirates were to shop Newman to second base needy teams, he’d arguably be the second-best option on the market, aside from Drury.
Newman has shown better defensive prowess at second base over shortstop in every year of his career except for 2021, so the Pirates might also find more value if they decide to present him more as a 2B than a SS. But would there be a reason for the Pirates to hold onto Newman?
If the Pittsburgh Pirates see Nick Gonzales or Liover Peguero as their future option at second base, there are far worse options to hold them over until they are in the major leagues than Newman. Newman can provide an 85-90 wRC+ bat and solid defense at second base. He has hit left-handers very well with an OPS of .840 and is batting .333/.353/.500 in high-leverage situations.
But Newman doesn’t do anything significantly better than someone like Diego Castillo or Hoy Park can do. If we are setting the bar at an 85 wRC+ and solid defense, Castillo has the ability to surpass that. Better yet, the Pirates should use Ji-Hwan Bae or Tucupita Marcano at 2B regularly before promoting a top prospect. That way, if either performs well, the Pirates have the option to move them to the outfield.
If the Pirates are looking to trade Kevin Newman, now is the best time as ever. They have multiple MLB-ready middle infielders like Marcano, Castillo, and Bae, who can easily hold the position over until Gonzales is ready, and there will be a demand for second basemen this winter.