The Pittsburgh Pirates could use another infielder, and while he may be a bold trade target, Jake Cronenworth from the Padres would be a great fit
The San Diego Padres are likely going to look to cut salary this off-season. After taking out a loan to cover some costs, some of which included player costs, and stating before the off-season began that they would look to try and decrease payroll below $200 million, at the very least, they may listen to some of their higher paid players. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates need another infielder. While they could roll with Nick Gonzales, Ji Hwan Bae, and Liover Peguero at second base while moving Jared Triolo over to first base, a more proven answer would be preferable.
One, very bold, trade target for the Pirates to pursue from the Padres is infielder Jake Cronenworth. Cronenworth has recently been named as a potential trade candidate for the Padres by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Cronenworth would be a great fit at second base for the Pirates and would also be relatively affordable.
Cronenworth is coming off a mediocre season with the bat, slashing just .229/.312/.378 with a .301 wOBA and 92 wRC+. While the infielder still walked at an above-average 8.8% rate with a quality 18.6% strikeout rate, he only hit ten home runs through 527 plate appearances and had a .148 isolated slugging percentage. Cronenworth missed the last month of the season because of a fractured wrist caused by a hot by pitch in the last week of August.
While he wasn’t hitting well, and his season came to an abrupt end, going into the year, he had consistently been one of the more underrated players in baseball. From his 2020 rookie season through 2022, Cronenworth batted .256/.338/.431 with a .333 wOBA, and 115 wRC+. He struck out in just 16.5% of his plate appearances while having a 9.4% walk rate. While he was never one of baseball’s top power hitters, his .175 isolated slugging percentage was above average.
Cronenworth mostly played first base this past season. With Gold Glove caliber defender Ha-Seong Kim and the signing of Xander Bogaerts, the Padres had to get creative with their defensive alignment and even moved Fernando Tatis Jr. to the outfield full-time. Cronenworth, while not a terrible first baseman, is far better at the keystone. In 2595.2 innings at second, Cronenworth has +8 defensive runs saved and outs above average.
Sure, Cronenworth made back-to-back all-star games, but he was never heralded as the third most valuable second baseman in 2021-2022. Cronenworth posted two straight seasons with more than 4.0 fWAR between 2021-2022. Only Jose Altuve and Marcus Semien finished with more fWAR in these two years.
Cronenworth has also been durable. Had he not gotten hit by a pitch in late August, he probably would have reached the 150+ games played milestone for a third season in a row. From 2020 to 2022, Cronenworth appeared in 364 of 384 possible games. That means that Cronenworth played in about 95% of the Padres games played.
The Padres signed Cronenworth to a seven-year deal worth $80 million in April of 2023. He will make just $7,285,714 in 2024, then $11,285,715 in 2025, and finally $12,285,715 each season for the final five years of his contract. Cronenworth’s deal carries him through his age-36 campaign as well, and he won’t become a free agent until after 2030. If Cronenworth can return to form and play like he did in 2021 and 2022, he’d be a bargain at that price.
Of course, even if the Padres are looking to cut payroll, they’re not simply going to salary dump a second baseman with infield utility and the potential to be a +4 fWAR player. He never makes $13 million in any season of the contract. The Padres may have made some bad trades in their recent history, but they’re more than smart enough to get something of good value for Jake Cronenworth.
Still, while trading for Jake Cronenworth is bold because the Padres will put a high price tag on him, and rightfully so, along with the fact he’s under control for long enough the Padres could go through a retooling phase and still have the infielder under contract, the Pirates should at least keep him on their radar if they truly do shop him, or at least listen to offers regarding the two-time all-star. He’d be an immediate long-term solution at second base.