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Ask BD: What to do about 3B

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Addressing the third base situation . . .

In your opinion . . .
…, what would be the best route for the Pirates regarding third base next season?

For me, "knowing" free agency is out of the question, and trades might not take place unless the team wants some extra "financial flexibility," I would like to see Harrison at third (full-time) and Frazier at second (full-time).

— Montana’s Pirate

Thinking about possible upgrades at third tends to leave me thinking their current situation is really bad.

If we’re taking the current roster as a given, Harrison at third and Frazier at second makes as much sense as anything. The biggest problem with starting David Freese there again, even more than the low ceiling, is the risk of collapse. He’ll turn 35 in April and his ISO has gone .163>.142>.108 the last three years. And Sean Rodriguez is an even bigger risk because he’s coming off a major injury and a terrible (but brief) season, and they’d be counting on him to repeat a 2016 performance that was totally uncharacteristic of the entire rest of his career. At least Frazier is young and could be a useful piece several years from now. And he has surprisingly little experience at second, just 71 starts total at all levels, so more time there wouldn’t hurt.

Of course, going with Harrison and Frazier won’t do anything to address the team’s crippling lack of power. That’s where it starts to get really discouraging. Mike Moustakas isn’t happening, so the best options, assuming they can’t miraculously locate the next Travis Shaw, would probably be signing Todd Frazier or Neil Walker, or trading for somebody like Yangervis Solarte. These guys would be an upgrade of something like 0.5 to 1.5 fWAR (or a downgrade if Solarte hits like he did in 2017). The Pirates were near the bottom of all MLB in most offensive categories, so it’s hard to see how one move like this will really change anything to enough of a degree to be worth it.

Where you come out on the 3B situation, I think, depends on how you estimate the odds on the Pirates getting dramatically improved production across the board from the rest of the lineup. That would require significantly improved performance/health from Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli, as well as a more consistent season from Andrew McCutchen and continued improvement from Josh Bell. If you think there’s a reasonable chance of that happening, then you’d want a modest upgrade at third. If not, then the obvious approach is a rebuild, which would probably entail trading Harrison and moving Frazier to a bigger role for now.