The biggest question surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates, from a position player standpoint, is who will be the starting first baseman in 2024.
General manager Ben Cherington said last week that he will likely look outside the organization to fill the spot. Internal candidates Connor Joe and Jared Triolo are solid role players but don’t profile as ever day first baseman.
The second biggest position player question is second base. The Pirates have plenty of options they could sort through during spring training.
“It could be the field where we figure that out through those internal candidates,” Cherington said last week during the Major League Baseball General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I would not rule out adding someone if there’s a fit out there that we feel can help the offense and he can happen to play second base. But we also like the internal candidates, and it could be that we trust that field and let the internal candidates compete in spring training.”
The Pirates have four players on the 40-man roster who started at least 10 games at second base this past season as rookies – Ji Hwan Bae (56), Nick Gonzales (25), Liover Peguero (23) and Triolo (10). Manager Derek Shelton said all four will likely get a shot at the starting job in the spring.
“There’s a lot of competition there,” Shelton said during the final week of the season. “Bae, I think grew a ton at second base this year. We’ve seen that (Gonzales) can play on both sides of the base, which is really important. Triolo has made a really big impact, especially now showing the ability to play first.
“There’s a lot of different options with where we’re at now. (Peguero) came in playing just shortstop and now we’ve transitioned him into playing some second base. We feel, organizationally, we’re in a much better spot because there’s a ton more options to be able to play there. The versatility that we’ve talked about for four years, I think it’s really starting to come to fruition of being able to bounce guys around the field.”
The 24-year-old Bae is intriguing because of his outstanding speed and youth. However, Bae’s results as a rookie in 2023 were lackluster as he hit .231/.296/.311 with two home runs and 24 stolen bases in 111 games.
However, a sprained left ankle that sidelined Bae from July 2-Aug. 17 hampered him throughout the rest of the season. Bae had 20 steals in 76 games when he got hurt but stole just four bases in 35 games after being activated from the injured list.
Cherington said the Pirates expect Bae to be fully healthy by the start of spring training.
Bae did not grade out well defensively, though, as he had minus-6 defensive runs saved at second base. Peguero was at minus-4 and Gonzales was minus-1 and Triolo was plus-1.
Peguero is just 22 and hit seven home runs in 59 games this year as a rookie with a slash line of .237/.280/.374. Gonzales batted .209/.268/.348 with two homers in 35 games while Triolo hit .298/.388/.398 with three homers in 54 games.
The free agent market is thin on second basemen. Whit Merrifield is likely out of the Pirates’ price range but a reunion with Adam Frazier or signing Amed Rosario could be a possibility.
Frazier helped the Baltimore Orioles win the American League East this year while hitting .240/.300/.396 with 13 homers and 11 stolen bases in 141 games. Rosario played in 142 games combined with the Cleveland Guardians and Los Angeles Dodgers, finishing with a .263/.305/.378 line, six home runs and 15 stolen bases.
Rosario had three defensive runs saved but Frazier finished with minus-4.
Bringing Frazier back would be a cool story as he was a starter in the 2021 All-Star Game despite playing on a Pirates team that lost 101 games. However, the Pirates have so many internal options to consider that it would seem wise to use their resources to fill holes at first base or on the pitching staff.