Pittsburgh Pirates: Rich Hill/Ji-Man Choi Trade Could Be Huge Win

The Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi swap could end up paying major dividends for the Pirates.
Jul 22, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Jackson Wolf (43) pitches
Jul 22, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Jackson Wolf (43) pitches / Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi to the Padres at this year's trade deadline. However, this swap could pay major dividends in the very near future.

The Pittsburgh Pirates traded two rental veterans to the San Diego Padres, and the return was quite good. For Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi, the Pirates got back Estuar Suero, Jackson Wolf, and Alfonso Rivas. The return has some massive upside and could be a major win for the Pirates in the long run.

The first thing you have to consider is that the Pirates didn’t give up much in the trade. Hill was a veteran 5th starter and Choi was a platoon first baseman. They were also rentals and will be free agents after the end of this season. Sure, both had their strengths and gave the Pirates something of worth, but Hill wasn’t any sort of All-Star starter, and Choi missed a good chunk of the year.

The three players the Pirates got back could potentially help them in the long run, and with the bar set by Choi and Hill, it would be extremely hard, maybe even impossible, for the three players to not make this trade fairly lopsided.

The highest ceiling prospect the Bucs got back was Suero. I recently wrote that Suero has the potential to be a top 100 prospect in the near future. Suero is a 6’5”, 180 pound outfielder with plus speed and has the chance to remain in center field long-term. He’s already shown a decent feel for the position. He strikes out at a fair rate right now, but that’s a minor concern, given that he’s only 17.

The most MLB-ready prospect was Wolf. A former fourth-round pick, Wolf is a soft-tossing sidearmer. He has pitched his whole season at Double-A, working to a 3.95 ERA, 3.93 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP. He’s striking out 28.3% of opponents with a 7% walk rate and 1.15 HR/9. Wolf only sits upper-80s/low-90s but has good command, as well as an above-average slider and curveball. His fourth pitch is a changeup.

Even Rivas hasn’t been a terrible bench first baseman. He has a .411 slugging percentage this season, as well as an above-average OPS against opposite-handed pitching. Rivas has also graded out as an above-average defensive first baseman throughout his career. Sure, he isn’t the Pirates’ long-term and permanent solution at first base, but for a bench first baseman, there are far worse options out there.

Technically, by bWAR, the Pirates are already winning the trade. Choi and Hill have combined for -0.9 bWAR. Rivas has been the only player of the Pirates’ package to play in the Major Leagues, but his -0.1 bWAR trumps what Choi and Hill have combined to do thus far. WAR isn’t the be-all-end-all, and Rivas has less than 100 plate appearances to his name as a member of the Pirates. But the Bucs are already out in front of the trade, and the stat at least gives you a general idea of how valuable a player was overall.

In terms of what Wolf/Suero/Rivas would have to do in order to surpass the production that Hill and Choi gave the Pirates, the bar is once again set pretty low. The veteran lefty provided the Bucs with a +.6 bWAR, while the South Korean first baseman amounted to a +0.1 bWAR. A +0.7 combined bWAR is barely above replacement level. If slightly above replacement-level production is the number to meet for the trio of players, then I think the Pirates have a pretty good shot at surpassing that.

This really has the potential to be one of the most lopsided trades in recent baseball history, though we probably won’t know if that will happen until later in the decade. Note that I only said the potential to be. Wolf could make his debut late this year but probably won’t get an extended look until 2024. Suero is still only 17, and unless he makes an Ethan Salas-like ascension, you’re probably looking at four years at the earliest. Although I think he can be a solid platoon/defensive replacement first baseman, Rivas might max out at a 1-1.5+ WAR player.

But let’s say that Wolf pitches like a no. 3-4 starter next season, Rivas gives the Pirates +1.0 WAR and proves to be a solid defensive first baseman with some ability to hit RHP, Suero actually reaches his potential, becoming a center fielder with 40 homer power, and Choi/Hill don’t have a miraculous September. That could make this one of the greatest trades the Pirates ever made.

That is a dream and a half, at least right now. Could it happen? Absolutely. Am I going to hold my breath on it? Absolutely not. But the chances are low. However, it would almost be impossible for the Pirates to get the short end of the deal. If any of Rivas, Wolf, or Suero become an average semi-regular in the near future, the Pirates will get a lot of bang for their buck in this deal.

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