Pittsburgh Pirates: Ji-Man Choi Conundrum Continues to Grow
By Marty Leap
Ji-Man Choi has not had many at-bats with the Pittsburgh Pirates thus far, and the team faces a bit of a conundrum of what to do with the veteran
Entering this past offseason first base was a major area of need for the Pittsburgh Pirates. On November 22nd the team appeared to solve their need at first base by trading minor league pitcher Jack Hartman to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Ji-Man Choi.
When Choi was first acquired he seemed like a natural answer at first base. A lifetime .238/.343/.426 hitter with a 115 wRC+ and 114 OPS+, this was set to be a major upgrade over what the Pirates had gotten from first base the previous three seasons.
The outlook for Choi would change a week later when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Carlos Santana to a one-year deal on November 29th. With this, it appeared Santana, the superior defender of the two, would be the team's primary first baseman with Choi serving as designated hitter.
However, things would once again change on January 20th. It was on this day that the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen re-joined forces on a one-year deal. When it was announced McCutchen would primarily serve as a DH with the team, it raised questions about if Choi had a spot with the team.
It could be possible to get Choi plenty of at-bats at DH with McCutchen in right field, but there are some issues there. First off, Connor Joe is off to a scorching hot start to the season earning him as many DH/OF at-bats as possible. Second, the Pirates want to get youngster Canaan Smith-Njgiba as many at-bats in right field/DH as possible. Finally, there is McCutchen's start to the season. Cutch, like Joe, is off to a strong start this season and is going to be in the lineup on a daily basis.
This now creates a conundrum on what to do with Choi. Entering play on Saturday, Choi had just 12 plate appearances this season. He is 1-for-12, with his lone hit being a single, in these PAs with five strikeouts.
The conundrum of what to do with Choi just continues to grow, especially with Santana starting to find his stroke at the plate. Santana is 3-for-8 with a double, two home runs, and a walk in the last two games. Even though he was 0-for-4, he had three strong ABs in which he squared the ball up but was robbed by good defense or ballpark factors in the game before the previous two. With this, you are going to look to continue to get Santana in the lineup each day.
The Pirates are certainly facing a bit of a conundrum with Choi. If he is going to get his bat going, he needs to be playing. However, he is not going to play over Santana or McCutchen. Factor in the strong start to the season for Joe and the Pirates wanting to get Smith-Njigba as many at-bats as possible, and it is hard to find a way to get Choi into the lineup consistently.
Choi's defensive imitations are a factor here as well. The only position he can play in the field at this point in his career is first base. This raises the question - how long will the Pirates continue to carry a player who can only play first base and DH that may not be playing with regularity?