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Inbox: How will Bucs approach third base?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
December 19, 2017

If Jungho Kang cannot return, what are the Pirates' viable options for third base? -- Stan D., Ellwood City, Pa.They're clearly planning for life without Kang, and at this point, David Freese remains their No. 1 option, as he was last season.• Submit your question to the Pirates Inbox Freese sometimes

If Jungho Kang cannot return, what are the Pirates' viable options for third base?
-- Stan D., Ellwood City, Pa.

They're clearly planning for life without Kang, and at this point, David Freese remains their No. 1 option, as he was last season.
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Freese sometimes gets a bad rap around here, but he's been a league-average hitter -- evidenced by his 100 adjusted OPS+ -- and fielded his position well, with 13 Defensive Runs Saved the past two years. He was the Pirates' third-most valuable position player last season, according to Wins Above Replacement, behind Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison. He's due a modest $4.25 million next year.
Freese increased his walk rate (11.5 percent), cut down on his strikeout rate (still high at 23.1 percent) and led the team in on-base percentage (.368) in 2017. He still hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity last season of 88.9 mph, according to Statcast™ -- the highest on the team, slightly above McCutchen's 88.4 mph.

The issue was that Freese put the ball on the ground too often, posting a 57 percent ground-ball rate. Manager Clint Hurdle said Freese has talked about tweaking his swing to incorporate more lift and hit more fly balls. That's the way the game is going, even for an established veteran like Freese.
You'd like to see more power at that position, sure, especially if he's batting cleanup or fifth. (It would help to get more power out of the other non Josh Bell corner spots, namely Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte.) The challenge is not wearing down Freese, as they did this year while waiting for Kang.
To that end, they can rotate a handful of other players between second and third: Harrison, Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez and Max Moroff. The Pirates will also try out Jose Osuna at third, where he's reportedly handled himself well in winter ball. What Osuna might lack in defensive polish, he can make up for in power potential.
If the Pirates make a trade involving Gerrit Cole, McCutchen or Harrison, it would make sense for them to pursue a young third baseman. Aside from Ke'Bryan Hayes, they don't have any high-end prospects there.
Do you think the Pirates will get a Cole deal done with the Yankees?
-- Stacy A., Pittsburgh

Reports indicate the clubs are still in communication and the Yankees are still interested, though various rumors have connected New York to everyone in the Cole/Michael Fulmer/Patrick Corbin class of young starters. My sense is the talks are real, so this is something to keep an eye on.

Both clubs are in a position of strength, so negotiations could proceed slowly. The Pirates don't need to trade Cole, who has two years of control remaining. Nor do the Yankees need a starter, especially with Carsten Sabathia back. (Counterpoint: They certainly didn't needGiancarlo Stanton, either, but they got him anyway. Why not?)
If the Pirates are willing to take a temporary step back, they match up extremely well, perhaps in a deal built around outfielder Clint Frazier and another well-regarded prospect in the class just below No. 2 overall prospect Gleyber Torres -- someone like third baseman Miguel Andujar, who might answer the previous question about third base for the next couple years.
When the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray from the A's in July, it cost the Yanks their No. 4, No. 8 and No. 12 prospects at the time: outfielder Dustin Fowler, infielder Jorge Mateo and right-hander James Kaprielian.
The Pirates have every right to set a high price for Cole, too, just as teams frequently come calling for their top prospects. I wouldn't be surprised if the Pirates initially asked for Torres, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported, or center-field prospect Estevan Florial.
Do you think Frazier will get a bigger role next year, or will it be the same as 2017?
-- Kade W., Montgomery, Pa.

It depends on what they do with Harrison. If he's traded, Frazier would probably gain the most playing time at second base. Otherwise, he'll have the same super-utility role as last season as a backup at second, third and the outfield -- maybe seeing some time at shortstop as well.

Keep in mind Frazier played a ton last season. Despite two disabled list stints and a brutal June/July slump, he played 121 games and made 454 plate appearances, sixth-most on the team. It's possible to play a lot without being a "starter," as Harrison has proved in the past, though Frazier also received unexpected playing time due to the unplanned absences of Kang, Marte and Polanco.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.