Daryle Ward, Lyle Overbay, Doug Mientkiewicz, Matt Hague, Brad Eldred, Jeff Clement, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Hernandez, Ike Davis, and most recently, Pedro Alvarez. These are just some of the players on the long list of first basemen the Pirates have rostered the last decade. As you can obviously see, this certainly has not been a position of strength. I honestly would not be surprised if all of the first basemen combined for a 10 WAR over the past 10 years. On April 3, 2016, that is all going to change.
During this offseason, it was questioned whether the Pirates were going to tender Pedro a contract, trade him, or simply release him. The latter was the road they chose as the NSN humbly applauded. Ryan was looking for the Pirates to acquire Mitch Moreland, as myself had hoped the Pirates would land Mike Napoli. Moreland would require losing a player via trade, whereas Napoli would have just been a monetary move, but both would come with decent pop and some resemblance of defense that was not there in ’15. To our surprise, though not entirely surprised, the Pirates chose a different path. They first traded for a somewhat unknown, Jason Rogers. Shortly after that, they signed a free agent DH, John Jaso.
These offseason moves are not the splash most of Yinzer Nation was hoping to see. No, the Pirates did not sign Chris Davis. What they did do, however, was go to the drawing board and get creative in typical fashion. They identified a buy low candidate on a rebuilding Brewers team who still had options that could also play some third.
Jason Rogers just turned 28 years of age on March 13th. He has a total of 179 big league at bats. It would be accurate to say he is a late bloomer. It wouldn’t be accurate to say he has just become a productive player. In his minor league career, he’s totaled a .290 average, .372 OBP, and a .838 OPS. All of those are solid numbers. Even with his first test of the big leagues, he totaled a .286 average, .358 OBP, and a .786 OPS. Though it was just a small sample size, those numbers are virtually on par with his career minor league numbers. Rogers can provide the Pirates good depth at the corners and at very least a solid bat coming off the bench.
After the Pirates traded Keon Broxton to Milwaukee, they weren’t done trying to upgrade their first base position. They saw a player who was going under the radar and scooped him up for just a 2 year $8 million deal. John Jaso being signed to the Pirates put a pleasant smirk on my face. After the initial, ‘huh’ moment, I immediately fell in love with this deal. For the first time in quite a long time, the Pirates had a player who brought a valuable track record of getting on base. This has been close to an achilles heal for the Pirates. Outside of Andrew McCutchen for many years, Pittsburgh fielded a lineup of free swingers who rarely drew a walk. Not only did the Pirates lock up a player of this skill set, but they did it with a first baseman as well.
Jaso is a career .263 hitter who gets on base at a .361 clip. Last season, he batted .286 and got on base at an impressive .380. Hurdle has all intentions of putting him in the lead off role vs. righties and follow him up with McCutchen. For the first time, the Buccos will have a couple of on base machines manning the top of the order.
As impressive as the offensive numbers are, there are some defensive deficiencies that come with Jaso’s game. First off, Jaso has played a total of 5 innings at first base. Secondly, he has played catcher, but was exclusively used as a DH last season because his defensive skills were declining. The risk that Jaso is another Pedro Alvarez is real, but the percentage of that in my opinion is very small. Even though he doesn’t pack the punch Pedro could, his overall offensive game brings more value in today’s game than Pedro’s. You could also say that its almost impossible for anyone to play as bad as Pedro did last season defensively. There should not be any reason to think that Jaso should command the offensive numbers we are use to seeing from him, while being athletic enough to provide a slightly below average glove at first. In total, I would assume the combination of those numbers could provide a 3+ WAR player.
Lost in these two moves is Mike Morse. As you can read in the Lineup Projections, we may not be huge believers in Morse, but he has the potential of being a quality depth piece and pop that comes off of the bench. Morse was the only first baseman on the team once the Pirates moved on from Pedro and its obvious they weren’t too confident in his abilities either. There have been a list of injuries with this player, and his age (34 years old) creates a bigger risk of a major decline phase. So far this spring, Morse is batting .353 with five extra base hits, but spring stats are just spring stats. If it means anything to you, then just know that Jean Segura is batting .517 and Matt Carpenter is at a fine .167.
The combo of Jaso, Rogers, and Morse is a solid one for sure, but in the wings is still Joshua Evan Bell. The 23 year old switch hitter is baseball’s #49 prospect. He was given the promotion to Indianapolis last season and received just 121 at bats. Pittsburgh is typically not aggressive in their development, so Bell will continue honing his game in Triple A to begin the season. He is still learning how to play first base as well, so being patient will definitely help pay off down the road. Once this guy is ready for the call up, he should present a good average with a bit of pop. I would like to compare Bell to Cervelli once he arrives. We should see a guy who hits about .290, gets on base about 35% of the time, but comes with minimal pop. Unlike Cervelli, Bell should develop and tap into his power and eventually become a 15-20 home run hitter.
While many people have doubted what Pittsburgh’s front office has done this offseason, I think this team will surprise a lot of people. They certainly do not have the hype surrounding them like the Cubs do, but I wouldn’t doubt the talent this club brings. There are the stars with Cutch, Cole, and Melancon, but in 2016 you will find there is more quality in the role players as mentioned in this article. In a position that has been plagued a black hole for many years, first base is going to be an absolute position of strength this year and for some years to come.
Everybody dust off your Jolly Rogers, put the Iron City in the fridge, and get ready for the 2016 season. In just 2 days, the road to Buctober begins again vs. the nemesis St. Louis Cardinals. The North Shore Nine is very optimistic about this season, and so should you! Lets Go Bucs!