The offseason is just days old, but an intriguing third base option is on the market. Could the Pittsburgh Pirates be suitors?
The 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates were stymied by the absence of their regular third baseman Jung Ho Kang in more ways than one.
Not only did it remove one of the team’s chief power threats from the lineup, it also forced David Freese into rigid regularity at third base. It became very clear very quickly that Freese could not withstand the workload required of a true everyday third baseman, and his play faltered.
With Kang’s status still unknown, it is incumbent upon Pirates brass to explore any and all options for the third base position, both internal and external. The signing of Sean Rodriguez and the presence of third base-capable Adam Frazier are stopgap solutions. With apologies to Rodriguez’s 2016 season, neither provide the steady power threat that Kang brought to the lineup.
Could Healy be the salve to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ irritating power issues?
Profile and Performance
Healy is a 25 year-old infielder who can play first and third. He was drafted by the A’s in the third round of the 2013 entry draft. He made his debut in 2016, slashing .305/.337/.524 across 283 plate appearances. This, after a quick ascension through the minor leagues that saw him jump all the way to the majors from Double-A in the first half of 2016.
Healy is a right-handed bat who will take his hacks — his strikeout rate topped out at 23.5 percent in 2017 — but does not draw a fair share of walks. His 3.8 percent walk rate in 2017 belies the type of respect that most power hitters cultivate. It would be tempting to come to the conclusion that Healy is still learning how to face MLB-level pitching. While that may hold water, the simple fact is that his walk rate declined year-over-year while his strikeout rate climbed from 21.2 percent the year prior.
This is not to say that Healy won’t be able to increase his selectivity at the plate — 2017 was just first full season after all — but the truth is that a book is starting to be written on Healy. Maybe it’s still in the prologue or Chapter One, but it is being written nonetheless.
table courtesy of Baseball Reference
The case for Healy.
- Slotting Healy’s 25+ home run power would fit nicely in the middle of the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. Alongside Josh Bell and Andrew McCutchen, Healy’s presence would also lengthen the entire Pirates lineup. A conceivable heart of the lineup with Marte at the two-spot, followed by McCutchen-Bell-Healy, freeing up Gregory Polanco to stay at the sixth spot looks awfully attractive on paper.
- The club’s need for power cannot be overstated, so we’ll spend a second bullet point talking about Healy’s power stroke. None of his 25 home runs were cheap, and he has shown an ability to go down to get the ball and deposit it into the stands:
- Healy is a unicorn in the sense that he is controllable through 2023. He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2020 at the earliest, making him a very affordable power threat.
The case against Healy
- The fact that Healy is so affordable for such a prolonged time actually works against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Oakland will likely demand quite the haul for such a controlled, semi-proven slugger. More on that below.
- We mentioned that Healy takes his hacks at the plate, but the types of swings he lets loose could be concerning. He posted a 37.3 percent O-Swing (percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone swung at by a hitter), a full 7.3 percentage points higher than the American League-wide 2017 rate. On those pitches he made contact with 58.9 percent, 4 points lower than the AL norm.
- The low walk rate contributes to his wRC+ of 100, right on the accepted average run-creation rate. Healy has power, sure, but what might that matter if bottom-line run creation is average at best?
- Lastly, Healy’s fielding can be generously described as a work in progress. It’s no coincidence that Healy spent a lot of time at the DH spot in 2017, with a Defensive Runs Saved rating of -2 in his 260 innings of third base play last season. There is no path for him to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates other than third base, and will give the club (and any NL club) serious pause.
What it might take
It’s going to take a whole heck of a lot.
Ok, to be more specific, we can start with a major-league ready or close to major league ready reliever. Slusser notes in her report that the club is seeking bullpen help. A package of Felipe Rivero plus a decent prospect would get it done.
That’s not going to happen.
In fact, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a dearth of tradeable major-league ready bullpen options. Oakland would balk at taking on Daniel Hudson‘s $5.5 million owed for 2018, and the A’s are looking further along than next year, regardless. If we leave out those two, the picture becomes one of quantity over quality — if there is a picture to be painted at all.
Trading for Healy will also cause the Pirates to make some decisions on the upper-echelon of its prospects a lot sooner than they would like. For one, it would force the club to decide on 3B prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes‘ future. It may also force the Pirates’ hand in deciding on Chad Kuhl‘s future — should the A’s see him as a bullpen arm, he would make a fine one — as well as those of pitchers Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes, who would likely be seen as desirable targets.
Though his power is tempting, Healy profiles as a DH-type that can make cameos at corner infield spots. Without the athleticism to provide value at other positions, Healy simply is not a good fit for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Many would like to see Pittsburgh chase some power to add to their lineup, but Healy is not the answer, as tempting as he may be.
Photo credit – Keith Allison – Flickr Creative Commons