After a disappointing 2015 season, Sean Rodriguez had himself a career year in 2016. In his first look as a starter as a Pirate, he’s torn the cover off the ball this month, hitting .333 this month with six home runs and 17 RBI. Now he’s the second most valuable free agent for the Pirates this offseason, only behind Ivan Nova. Like Nova, the Pirates would like to keep him, but free agency is going to make that difficult.
“We would love to have Sean remain in a Pirate uniform,” GM Neal Huntington said during his weekly presser Sunday. “Given what he’s done this year, we would fully anticipate that there’s going to be quite a market out there for him.”
Not to sound too much like a negative Nancy, but that sounds a lot like code for ‘don’t get too attached. He’s not here for much longer.’
It’s hard to blame the front office if they let him walk. Rodriguez is a borderline top-10 position player available in a weak free agent class, meaning he probably has a good chance at a two or three year deal with a significant raise and increase in playing time. Almost every contender has a need to address and he has potential to be that guy for any of them.
Fortunately for the Bucs, they have a smorgasbord of infielders dying to take his spot on the bench. In fact, there may be too many.
The most obvious replacement is Adam Frazier, who despite not having Rodriguez’s power, has shown flashes of 2014 Josh Harrison in his first look in the majors, but it goes beyond just him. These are the arguments for and against each infielder who will be competing for a spot next year. This list does not include free agents or trades; just players currently on the 40-man roster.
The case for: There are rumors of the Pirates wanting to part with the first baseman, but he could be worth another look. Jaso is already under contract at a reasonable rate ($4M) for a league average bat (102 wRC+). There’s always a risk that Josh Bell struggles (he is a rookie, after all), and having an insurance option besides David Freese could be beneficial. He also had some success pinch-hitting down the stretch and hit .320 off the bench on the year.
The case against: Jaso could be a good trade piece for a team that needs a short-term first baseman/DH (think Mets/Royals). He probably would not fetch much, but he might bring back a project reliever (Jim Henderson of the Mets would be a good fit). $4M is also a little steep for a bench piece (roughly the base salaries of Rodriguez, Matt Joyce and Adam Frazier put together).
The case for: Clint Hurdle recently described Hanson as his best baserunning option off the bench. He’s currently ranked as the Pirates’ 13th best prospect, but he’s out of options, meaning that it’s now or never to give him a shot as a major leaguer. While he’s a second baseman by trade, he also had time at third, left and center this year at Indianapolis.
The case against: Hanson has only been a league average offensive player in AAA despite his speed, recording a 101 and 102 wRC+ the last two years. While he may not be as valuable as he once was, he could be an appealing piece of a trade package.
The case for: I’ve already talked about Moroff to great lengths. The tl;dr version would be he walks at an incredible rate and has versatility around the infield.
The case against: Moroff still has options, so he might be best off being a depth piece in 2017. He also may not be major league ready since he was left off the roster during September call-ups.
The case for: If you pretend that this year never happened, Rogers seems like an appealing bench piece. He can play first, third and a touch of corner outfield to go along with an .808 OPS as a pinch-hitter in 2015. He walked seven times in his 32 plate appearances in limited playing time in 2016.
The case against: But it’s hard to pretend such a forgettable year never happened. Rogers spent most of it in AAA, where he posted a very middling .709 OPS. He’ll be turning 29 during Spring Training, so it will be interesting to see if he’s a part of the Pirates’ plans going forward.
The case for: He’s defensively versatile and an above average baserunner. He was also just the third player Hurdle entrusted giving playing time at shortstop to this year.
The case against: I mean no disrespect to Pedro, but he probably is playing to his fullest potential of being a AAA insurance plan and a September call-up.
The case for: Ngoepe has always been touted as a glove first middle infielder for years and has lived up to that billing. His fielding percentage is a little lower than one would hope for (.970 at shortstop and .979 at second in his career), but his range makes up for it.
The case against: Ngoepe struck out 34.9% of the time this year at AAA and has always struggled at the dish. He also comes with off the field baggage, getting suspended for the rest of the season after a bar fight in Toledo in late August.
The case for: I think the plan is to let him play some winter ball and see if he surprises. He was often listed as one of the Rangers and Nationals top 30 prospects before being DFA’d last week.
The case against: Don’t be surprised if he’s one of the first players who gets DFA’d this offseason to make room on the 40-man. He hasn’t made himself indispensable despite the hype of being a once highly rated prospect.