This is one in a series of stories looking at members of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster.
Ji-Man Choi turned out to be just the tip of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offseason iceberg.
The Pirates acquired the first baseman from the Tampa Bay Rays on Nov. 10 in a trade for minor league pitcher Jack Hartman. The move was significant in the fact that it represented a change in general manager Ben Cherington’s roster-building method as he added a veteran player instead of subtracting one.
It turns out that Choi was just the first of many veterans who have been added to the Pirates’ roster this winter.
Left-hander Rich Hill was signed as a free agent along with right-hander Vince Velasquez, lefty reliever Jarlin Garcia, catcher Austin Hedges, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and designated hitter Carlos Santana. Cherington also traded with the Colorado Rockies for first baseman/outfielder Connor Joe.
Among the things Cherington wanted to accomplish at the start of the offseason was finding a regular first baseman and improving the Pirates’ on-base percentage. He believes the Pirates did both by adding Choi.
Choi had a .341 OBP last season in 113 games last season. The Pirates’ .291 mark ranked 28th among the 30 major league teams.
The Pirates also believe Choi will play solid defense.
He finished seventh among big league first basemen in 2022 with two outs above average, according to Baseball Savant. Since breaking into the major leagues, Choi has a .994 fielding percentage at first base, committing 16 errors in 348 games.
Hampered by a bone chip in his right elbow that required surgery, Choi had an up-and-down offensive season. He batted .233 with 11 home runs in 113 games and 419 plate appearances.
However, his 114 OPS+ meant he was 14% above average offensively among MLB first basemen when park factors are accounted for.
Choi had a career-high 20-game on-base streak from May 28-June 22 in which he hit .328/.410/.537 with three homers and 10 walks in 78 plate appearances. It was also the longest on-base streak by a Rays hitter in 2022.
Choi’s 61 career home runs over seven seasons rank second among South Korean-born players. The record is 218 by Shin-Soo Choo.
The left-handed hitting Ji-Man Choi figures to be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ regular first baseman this season, though he could wind up in a platoon with the right-handed hitting Joe. Choi is a .203 lifetime hitter against lefty pitchers with four homers in 278 trips to the plate.