Four Realistic Free Agents That Could Make The Pittsburgh Pirates Playoff Contenders

These free agents should be within the Pirates' price range, and could push them into being potential contenders in 2024.

Sep 18, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52)
Sep 18, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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First baseman Brandon Belt

The Pirates’ lack first base depth in the Majors. If the season were to start right now, Connor Joe would be their answer to the position. Joe is far from a bad player, and made some promising adjustments in the second half that could make him a better and more consistent hitter moving forward, but he’s a good part-timer or platoon hitter, not someone you to rely on regularly. Adding another strong platoon hitter would significantly improve the first base depth, and production, and nobody would be a better platoon-mate for Joe than Brandon Belt.

Belt batted .254/.369/.490 last season with a .369 wOBA, and 148 wRC+. Although he struck out at a 34.9% rate, he also had a phenomenal 15.1% BB%. Only 17 batters have put up a BB% of at least 15% in 400+ PAs over the last three years, and five of them are Juan Soto and Aaron Judge. Belt’s 19 home runs is the second most he’s ever hit in his career, and his .236 ISO is his third best.

But of those 404 plate appearances Belt took, 365 were against RHP (90.4%, to be exact). Belt batted an even better .256/.375/.515 with a .381 wOBA, and 146 wRC+ when he faced opposite-handed pitching. He still struck out around 35% of the time with a 34.5% K-rate, with a similar 15.6% BB%. But all 19 of his home runs were against right-handed pitching, and his .259 ISO was the 19th highest among hitters with 350+ PAs against RHP last season.

Belt mostly served as a designated hitter last year, but he’s still a solid defensive first baseman. He had -2 defensive runs saved, but +1 out above average. UZR/150 also painted him in a positive light at +2.6. Belt may no longer contend for a Gold Glove like he did in his prime, but he’s going to give you average to above average defense at the position.

A platoon of Belt and Joe would be a strong duo at first base. If you combine Joe’s splits vs LHP and Belt’s splits vs RHP, both from 2023, you get a hitter who had 558 plate appearances, and a .259/.373/.493 batter with 24 home runs. We are playing some narrative ball here, but that’s an OPS well above .850, .866 to be exact. Just look at the kind of batters who put up an ~.860 OPS last season. Austin Riley, Corbin Carroll, Luis Arraez, and Luis Robert were all relatively close to that level of production. That’s production any team would take from one of their line-up spots, even if it took two players to do so.