In the late hours of Friday night Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington pulled off two quick trades that sent veteran infielders David Freese and Adeiny Hechavarria to the Dodgers and Yankees for a few prospects and cash considerations in return.
While these two moves clearly show that the front office has officially waved the white flag for 2018 it can also be said that these two trades provide solid insight toward the clubs’ overall intentions for the upcoming off season along with 2019. Here are my three takeaways.
1. Out with the old, in with the new
A big area where the Pirates have been criticized in the recent past has been player development. Despite being out of the playoff hunt in the final month of the season in 2016 and 2017, we have seen the club choose to give playing time to veteran role players like Sean Rodriguez and John Jaso rather than using September to allow their younger players to come up and game some key big-league experience.
It seems that this will not be an issue in 2018. With Freese, Hechavarria and Rodriguez gone, the clubs only two veterans who might not be back next year are Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer. While both are no longer on the DL, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that neither one of them is completely healthy.
Though Harrison and Mercer have both played significant roles in the revival of baseball in Pittsburgh neither have much a future remaining with the Pirates. The front office knows that, and the players do too. With that being said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer receive the majority of reps for the remainder of the season. Both have established themselves enough in the minor leagues this year to be given a shot at starting in the majors in 2019. September will be their audition.
2. Time to go shopping
Regardless of how well Newman and Kramer play in the upcoming month, the Bucs will need to add a veteran infielder to their major league roster this off season. Some wondered if Freese or Hechavarria would be that guy. We now know the answer to that question.
With Freese off the books already and Harrison and Mercer likely to follow, the Pirates should have a decent sized budget (even by their standards) to bring in an above average veteran on a short-term deal to hold down a middle infield spot. Players like Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier and Asdrubal Cabrera will could not only fill the role of a veteran leader but provide the club with some much-needed power. While the idea of the Pirates spending decent money on an established position player in the off season sounds like an unrealistic dream, the moves they have already made in 2018 have shown that possibly things have changed.
Huntington backed up his words and proved how much he believes in the group by bringing in Chris Archer and Keone Kela. The front office clearly thinks that this team is good enough to compete. Similar how to the Bucs brought in Russell Martin after their young core showed promise in 2011, we could see the Pirates shop for a legit middle of the order infielder to provide immediate offensive help in 2019.
On the flip side of this theory, if Huntington believes in his guys he might want to stick who he has now and simply add a few bench guys who can serve as platoon players or late inning subs. While this route is far less exciting, it can also be beneficial. Jordy Mercer was able to slowly work his way into the starting lineup after being platooned with Clint Barmes for a few years. Maybe the Bucs will enter the off season looking for their next “Barmes” who can split time with Newman and Kramer until they’re completely ready to be full time starters.
3. Expect more Frazier and Moran
While I have spoken a lot about Newman and Kramer so far, the two players who will benefit the most from Freese and Hechavarria leaving town will be Adam Frazier and Colin Moran. Both entered this year on the bubble of being every day starters. The moves made on Friday show that the franchise clearly has seen enough to trust both to take on higher roles.
No more Freese means Moran is now the main guy at third base. While there is still a chance that Jung Ho Kang could be the platoon-mate for Moran, it would be hard to imagine that the Pirates would have that much faith in a player who hasn’t played in the MLB since 2016. His power numbers weren’t great, and his defense needs a lot of work, but the Pirates clearly have faith in Moran. Hopefully with Freese gone, Moran will hit the ground running with this opportunity and get better in the areas that he struggled in 2018, for next year.
Hechavarria leaving will open more opportunities at second base for Adam Frazier who has been searching for a spot to play at consistently since his rookie year. Similar to Newman and Kramer, Frazier will enter September with a chance to earn himself an everyday starting role in 2019. If he can finish the year strong he might be given the playing time many feel he deserves.