When assessing what went wrong for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2022, well, let’s just say that conversation would end up being pretty lengthy.
A lot of different factors play into why a team finished the year 62-100, earning their second straight 100-loss season.
One of the major problems for the Pirates a season ago was the production — or lack there of — from their first basemen.
Pirates’ first basemen last season combined to slash .206/.264/.337, good for a .601 OPS. All four marks ranked dead last in the entire league.
So, why did first base serve as a black hole for the Pirates last year? Simply put — they did not roster an actual first baseman for much of the season.
Yoshi Tsutugo was given the first crack at the first base gig out of spring training after impressing with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of the 2021 season.
Thanks to his efforts from that year in the black and gold, the Pirates re-upped with Tsutsugo on a one-year deal in the offseason.
Unfortunately for Tsutsugo and the Pirates, the deal did not at all work out as planned. In 50 games with the Pirates last year, Tsutsugo hit just .171 and his power disappeared.
He recorded only six extra-base hits — four doubles and two home runs while recording just a .058 ISO.
The struggles led to the Pirates eventually releasing Tsutsugo.
Outside of Tsutsugo, the Pirates used a revolving door of guys to try and hold down the position.
Michael Chavis received the bulk of the playing time at first base but was ultimately designated for assignment towards the end of the season.
The list of others used at first base include names like Josh VanMeter, Bligh Madris and Zack Collins — none of whom remain with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization.
At the end of the season, both GM Ben Cherington and manager Derek Shelton acknowledged that the position would need to be addressed. The team could simply not utilize the same strategy they did a year ago.
Turn the page to the offseason and what was the first significant move the Bucs made? They acquired first baseman Ji-Man Choi from the Tampa Bay Rays for righty Jack Hartman.
Choi isn’t an MVP level first baseman who will wow you with his play, but he’s a steady contributor who serves as a big improvement from what was used a season ago.
For his major league career, Choi has posted a .773 OPS (116 wRC+) with 61 home runs in 486 games. The most refreshing stat for the Pirates is that 348 of those games have come at first base.
Choi is an experienced veteran who became a fan favorite in Tampa and will be counted on to provide leadership for a young clubhouse.
Then on Tuesday, the Pirates picked up another first baseman when they claimed Lewin Díaz off waivers from the Miami Marlins.
The pickup of Díaz is quite different from that of Choi. Díaz is still a young player who hasn’t been able to put it all together at the plate in the big leagues.
What Díaz does offer though is strong defense. In only 99 games at first base in the big leagues, Díaz has posted 16 defensive runs saved and has not been charged with any errors.
Without even getting to the winter meetings which take place the first week of December, the Pirates have already added two natural first baseman to their roster.
Choi figures to get the first crack as the main first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into opening day next season. Díaz’s role may be a bit murkier, but he offers value in the field and does possess upside.
While the bar has been set quite low from a season ago, that serves as improvement in the roster construction by Cherington.