Coming into the 2017 season, the starting outfield was Polanco-Marte-McCutchen from left to right. No one had ‘nandrolone’ in their lexicon at that point, people were optimistic that McCutchen would rebound to useful above-average player, and were thinking that Polanco would breakout once and for all. And although Jung-ho Kang was not really in the picture, people were by and large comfortable with David Freese at 3B and Josh Harrison at 2B. Adam Frazier was coming off a solid rookie season and expected to be a key super-sub type of role.
But then each member of the outfield crashed out due to either suspension, ineffectiveness, or injury. This lead to Adam Frazier getting semi-regular work, primarily in LF, but also spelling Josh Harrison at 2B occasionally. Frazier came out in April swinging a nice bat with a very respectable .306/.370/.449 (819 OPS, 121 wRC+) triple slash line. He batted primarily in the leadoff spot and fans were relatively content that at least the Pirates solved the leadoff spot in an ugly April.
Frazier missed a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury at the end of April into the first couple weeks of May. Since his return, though, Adam Frazier has made everyone (including the decision makers at 100 Federal Street) start to re-evaluate exactly what they have in him. Starting on his May 12th return, Frazier has batted an amazing .344/.437/.475 (912 OPS, 147 wRC+) with 2 homers. He’s basically producing the offense of one and a half people at this point. The only thing that Frazier hasn’t done (yet) is steal a high volume of bases, but really who cares?
His overall season line of .327/.408/.464 (872 OPS, 136 wRC+) is fantastic in its own right, but is bound to regress. Frazier’s BABIP of .355 is incredibly high, considering that the typical player usually runs a batting average of balls in play of .300. However, I prefer to see what kind of BABIP’s a player has put up in his minor league career and time in the majors to determine his baseline. If you look at his historical BABIP’s, Frazier has run in the .360’s and in his short time in the majors last year had a .353 BABIP, so this isn’t incredibly unusual. It’s reasonable to assume that Frazier could do these types of things over the course of a full season.
With the Pirates not exactly overflowing with All-Star candidates besides maybe Nova and Cole, Frazier could very well be playing his way into an All-Star berth, quite an achievement for a player that didn’t have a regular position at the start of the year. Perhaps this all sound eerily familiar to Josh Harrison’s 2014 season. Like Frazier, he didn’t start off with a spot, but once he got in he made the most of it and rode it to an All-Star spot, a top 10 MVP finish in the NL that year, and a long-term contract the following spring.
Is Frazier playing his way into a team-friendly extension, as well? When Harrison signed his deal in April of 2015, he just put pen to paper on his first arbitration-eligible contract. His $2.8M 2015 arbitration deal was rolled into his 4 year/$27.3M extension. The Pirates bought out his three arbitration years, plus a free agent year (2018), with two option years in 2019 and 2020. Harrison was in his age-27 season. By contrast, at the end of this year Frazier will be completing just his first full season. The Pirates still have two potential min-scale years plus three arbitration years of team control. They don’t really need to do the deal for the 25-year old. However, the Pirates are going to do something with McCutchen this season or offseason. They were dangling Harrison last offseason, as he was coming off a poor year. His trade value is only going up with this great season he’s having. The Pirates could use Frazier as a starter at both 2B and LF in 2018.
It’s not unusual for players with little service time to get deals anymore. Assuming Frazier stays up the whole year, he’ll have 1.101 of service time at the end of 2017. Those 101 days are well under the threshold for Super Two, typically around 130 days after a player’s third full season when they are preparing to enter arbitration for the first time. Prior to the season, the Cardinals signed OF Stephen Piscotty (1.076 service time) to a 6 yr/$33.5M deal. The White Sox locked down SS Tim Anderson (0.115, essentially the same amount of service Frazier had coming into this year) to a 6 yr/$25M deal. And the Indians signed their super-utility guy, Jose Ramirez (2.074) to a 5 yr/$26M deal. None of the three are great comparables in terms of batting profiles, but if you use Jose Ramirez’s as a baseline, a Frazier deal could look something like this:
- Signing bonus $2M
- 2018 — $550K
- 2019 — $750K
- 2020 — $2.5M
- 2021 — $3.75M
- 2022 — $6.0M
- 2023 — $9.0M (free agent year bought out)
- 2024 — $12.0M club option ($1M buyout)
- 2025 — $13.5M club option ($1M buyout)
If you take just the guaranteed money from 2018 to 2023, including signing bonuses and the one buyout, that’s a 6 yr/$25.55M deal. For a player that doesn’t provide much power or stolen bases, that’s a good deal, hence why he’s $8M less than Piscotty over the same amount of term. He’s also signing it one year earlier than Ramirez, so there’s one more min-scale level year in there, pushing the average annual value down over his deal. It’s pretty much the Tim Anderson deal, but Anderson plays a steady SS, albeit has a much weaker bat. Like I said, no perfect comparisons, but I like where this lands.
But just because the Pirates can do something, should they do something? It’s always nice to have fixed costs in any business. This deal also takes Frazier out through his age-31 season and we all know how the Pirates have set up extension contracts using the age of 32 as a decision point. Does Frazier play enough defense to warrant this commitment to him? I believe that he can improve on his outfield defense with repetition and experience. As Frazier told TPOP’s Alex Stumpf on Sunday, “If you start thinking about things out there, it gets hard.” He’s athletic enough to grind it out to at least average in the outfield. Would I put him in the giant LF in PNC Park? Probably not. I’m not sure if he can get there at 2B, though. Neil Walker wasn’t winning any Gold Gloves at 2B, but Frazier is starting at a level much lower than him, which is amazing since he was a starting SS for Mississippi State when the Pirates drafted him in 2013.
I would do the deal, personally. That bat plays. Good contact hitters that can also draw their fair share of walks are valuable commodities. The Pirates could keep him in the leadoff spot and eliminate the temptation to put either Marte or Polanco there to fill a need. Frazier’s not going to steal 40 bases, but he’ll be on for the meat of the order to try and drive him in.