You can’t accuse Pirates’ general manager Ben Cherington of being reluctant to pull the trade trigger this winter, as he’s dealt away a majority of the club’s most marketable assets.
But one player who many figured would be reporting to somewhere other than Bradenton, Fla., this week for the start of spring training remains Pirates property, and you have to wonder if that ship has sailed – at least for now.
Adam Frazier, the club’s regular second baseman most of the last three seasons, hasn’t gone anywhere, and after scouring several predicted starting lineups for 2021, it seems the list of potential trade partners has dwindled. One publication still has Frazier being dealt – to Oakland, in exchange for outfielder Stephen Piscotty and a prospect to help take the sting out of Piscotty’s $7.6 annual salary. But I’m wondering if the A’s would rather just stand pat with the likes of Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp and Vimael Machin, as well as veteran Jed Lowrie, who was signed to a minor league deal last week. And Brian Goodwin, who signed a minor league deal with the Pirates last week, might be the only outfielder with big league credentials coming to Pittsburgh.
A number of teams saw changes at second base during the off season — the Brewers signed Kolton Wong, the Giants brought Tommy LaStella aboard, Kike Hernandez left the Dodgers for Boston — and other minor moves were made involving sometime second basemen like Brock Holt, Hanser Alberto and Asdrubal Cabrera. And a few other clubs re-signed their own free agents. So, what once looked to be a rather unsettled second base landscape has settled down quite a bit.
I’m guessing Cherington has had plenty of discussions regarding Frazier recently, in part because he’s scheduled to make $4.3 million this year – a king’s ransom by Pirates standards. So I’m assuming the Bucs’ GM just isn’t getting offers he believes are commensurate with Frazier’s value.
But just how valuable is Frazier? After parts of five seasons in the big leagues totaling 1,633 at-bats, he’s posted a career batting average of .273 with an OPS of .749. He’s been the model of consistency when it comes to batting averages over the course of a season, as he hit .276, .277 and .278 in his last three full seasons before dipping to .230 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But while he had consistent first- and second-half splits in 2017, he was anything but consistent in 2018-19.
In 2018, he scuffled offensively in the first half, hitting just .239 with a .678 OPS through June 22 – a period of 58 games – and was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis for a stretch of 24 games before being recalled to the majors at the end of July. He certainly heated up from that point on, hitting .306 with an .890 OPS in the season’s final two months. In 2019 he also started slowly, logging a .254 average and a.672 OPS through June 30 before hitting .303 with an .836 OPS from July 1 through the end of the season.
Of course, a player’s value isn’t tied only to his bat, and that’s where Frazier becomes more attractive. He’s been a Gold Glove finalist at second base the past two years, and he’s also shown the ability to play solid defense in the outfield. That versatility ultimately could earn him a spot in someone else’s lineup at some point in 2021 – but just how soon?
I’ve never been a huge fan – maybe it’s been his cold-and-hot offensive performances. And last season didn’t help, pandemic or no pandemic But even I admit that he would be a nice asset on a winning team. None of us know what sort of careers the prospects that Cherington obtained for Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon will have – that likely won’t be revealed for another four or five years. But given Frazier’s penchant for slow starts, I’d like to see Cherington pull the trigger on a Frazier deal sooner rather than later and continue to stock the system with talent – even if it’s of the lottery ticket variety. Moving Frazier not only would bring a potential asset, but it would open up a spot for one of the other middle infielders – Kevin Newman would be my choice at second, with Cole Tucker getting plugged in at short. It’s time to find out if those two players are capable major leaguers or just two more failed top draft picks.