The Pirates entered this offseason with one glaring void to fill: first base. Less than one week into the offseason, that spot has been filled.
Pittsburgh acquired first baseman Ji-Man Choi from the Rays in exchange for Minor League right-handed pitcher Jack Hartman, the team announced on Thursday.
"We think he fits well for us," Cherington said. "Left-handed hitter with a history of on-base skills, good defender, good reputation as a teammate. We felt good about this as a first move and we'll continue to look at ways to add to the offense."
In 2022, Choi hit .233/.341/.388 with 11 home runs and a 115 wRC+ in 113 games. Choi made strides as a defender as well, worth a career-best two outs above average across 792 2/3 innings at first base.
Cherington said that Choi is currently in South Korea and set to undergo a minor procedure for his right elbow. Choi went on the 10-day injured list in May due to loose bodies in his right elbow, and Cherington said that elbow continued to bother Choi late into the season. Choi is expected to return to the United States in January to prepare for Spring Training.
Choi, a lifetime .239/.345/.429 hitter across seven seasons, stands to be Pittsburgh’s 2023 Opening Day starter at first base, a position where the Pirates lacked offensive production.
Last season, Pittsburgh rolled out 10 first basemen: Michael Chavis, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Daniel Vogelbach, Josh VanMeter, Zack Collins, Ben Gamel, Bligh Madris, Kevin Padlo, Diego Castillo and Yu Chang. That group combined to hit .206/.264/.337 with 17 home runs and a .601 OPS in games that they started at first base. By the end of the season, the Pirates did not have a primary first baseman on their active roster.
“First base was obviously a spot that we saw a lot of different guys at this year, and we need to get more offensive production out of that,” Cherington said in his end-of-season media availability.
Choi, Castillo and Miguel Andújar are the only position players on the 40-man roster who have spent time at first base in the Majors, though Castillo and Andújar have only spent a combined 49 1/3 innings at the position.
With first base partially addressed, Cherington said the Pirates will continue to look for ways to deepen their lineup.
"Now that free agency is opening, we've had enough conversations with agents to kind of get a sense of where the more realistic and likely matches are," Cherington said. "Doesn't mean that they'll happen, but we'll follow up on those conversations now that we're all back from Vegas. The trade conversations can continue, too. We'll see where it lands, but we'd certainly like to to continue to add to the offense."
Choi’s tenure with the Pirates may only last one year as he is set to become a free agent in 2024, but the 31-year-old could serve as a bridge to the future as 1B/3B Malcom Nunez, the Pirates’ No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline who could be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, makes his way through the farm system.
Along with the acquisition of Choi, the Pirates reinstated outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba and right-handers Colin Holderman, Yerry De Los Santos, Blake Cederlind and Max Koranic from the 60-day injured list.
Additionally, Cederlind, right-hander Peter Solomon, right-hander Beau Sulser, catcher Jason Delay, lefty Eric Stout and catcher/first baseman Zack Collins have been removed from the 40-man roster, cleared waivers and outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis. Stout and Collins have become free agents. The 40-man roster stands at 40.