Can the Pittsburgh Pirates find the next David Freese in 2019’s crop of unsigned free agents?
The Pittsburgh Pirates sure do seem pretty set.
Whether it be repeated proclamations of faith from GM Neal Huntington towards names like Erik Gonzalez, Kevin Newman and Jordan Lyles, or the fact that the club has been linked to no one in particular over the past few weeks, the roster you saw this week as workouts began will more than likely be the one that travels north. Sure, the names might get juggled around a bit, but the Pirates’ opening 25-man roster is likely in Pirate City right now.
But, as a thought exercise at the very least, let’s run through some highlights of the still unsigned-free agents who might be forced into one-year “show it’ deals and list out some key points as to why the Pirates would sign them...and why the very likely won’t.
UT Marwin Gonzalez
Why the Pirates would sign him: Gonzalez can play multiple positions, though none of them particular well...except for left field that is. In 1085.1 career innings there, he is a +7 in Defensive Runs Saved.
Despite having a “down” year at the plate in 2018, still managed to put up a 1.6 fWAR, slashing .247/.324/.409 overall, good for a 104 wRC+. His 4 fWAR/144 wRC+ season of 2017 was likely the very peak of his productivity, but he still maintained good-enough discipline (9.6 percent BB rate/22.8 percent strikeout rate) while hitting 16 home runs over 552 plate appearances.
Why the team would not sign him: The Pirates have always been a club that is enamored with their own guys, and the 2019 versions of those guys are at shortstop in Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman and at second base with Adam Frazier Having already brought in Lonnie Chisenhall on a guaranteed major league deal, Gonzalez would have a tough time finding a large-enough number of plate appearances to make any potential deal worth it.
SS Jose Iglesias
Why the Pirates would sign him: The Pittsburgh Pirates ranked 28th in DRS from the shortstop position in 2018 with a -18 rating. Jose Iglesias is a career +12 defender at short across 5,138 innings. Enough said.
Why the team would not sign him: This one might actually fall into a baseball reason category. Iglesias’ bat is atrocious, and he would be more of a black hole than Jordy Mercer ever was offensively. He has only one 100 wRC+ or better season under his belt — and that was in 2013 across just 382 plate appearances. Prior to last year’s 90 wRC+, he posted two straight seasons in the 70s. While he has hit 30 doubles in each of the last two seasons, there actually may be more upside in Gonzalez’s and Newman’s bats than in Iglesias’.
SP Gio Gonzalez
Why the Pirates would sign him: Gonzalez would be the perfect piece to keep a seat warm for Mitch Keller on a one-year deal. Though his peripherals dimmed last year — K/9 down, BB/9 up (never a good combo — he improved those and more when he went to the Brewers at mid-season. While with the beermakers, Gonzalez posted an ERA of 2.13 against a FIP of 3.63. He is still just 33 years of age, and seems to have another few years in the tank. He carries a nice selection of pitches that might turn the Pittsburgh Pirates’ eye - Four-seam/Sinker/Curve/Change - with the curve in particular still carrying some bite with 31.43 percent whiffs per swing last season.
Why the team would not sign him: Simply put, because they already have a younger, cheaper version of Gonzalez in Jordan Lyles? Lyles carries eerily similar peripherals to Gonzalez, save for an ability to miss a few more bats without relying on the curveball as much as Gonzalez did. Gonzalez is just 33 years old, and thus might be able to command a two-year deal..and yeah, that won’t work for the club.
These are just a few. Got any others the Pirates should consider? Let us know who and why/why not in the comments?