PITTSBURGH -- Once again, John Jaso may spend his offseason learning a new position.
After the Pirates' season finale in St. Louis, manager Clint Hurdle mentioned an intriguing possibility that sheds light on Jaso's role in 2017. Pittsburgh would like Jaso to work out over the winter at third base and in the outfield.
Jaso is under contract next season, the second half of his two-year, $8 million deal. If he isn't traded, and if rookie Josh Bell returns as the primary first baseman, what does that mean for Jaso?
"That was the thought process. If John stays with us, how can we best serve him and leverage his opportunities to keep him fresh?" Hurdle said. "The guy has a swing that plays. He has an eye at the plate that plays. It's hard to turn your back on it."
Jaso overcame a midseason slump and put together a season right in line with his expected performance. A career .264/.359/.408 hitter, Jaso batted .268 with a .353 on-base percentage and slugged .413 with eight home runs in 132 games. His adjusted OPS was four percent better than a league-average hitter.
Defensively, Jaso worked through a lack of experience at first base and turned out to be a serviceable defender. The career catcher and designated hitter posted a .994 fielding percentage, with five errors in 108 games and 99 starts, and he ranked in the middle of the pack according to most advanced defensive metrics.
"I'm walking away from it feeling pretty good about myself. There was a few mistakes there, but I try not to make the same one twice," Jaso said. "Learn from myself, learn from others. I feel good with the way I played at first."
If the Pirates keep Jaso, he could play a valuable part by moving to the other side of the infield and the corner-outfield spots. He would effectively assume the role played this year by Matt Joyce (a fellow lefty-swinging corner outfielder) while taking over some of Sean Rodríguez's responsibilities as an occasional third baseman and late-inning replacement at first base.
Jaso also could spell Bell or platoon with David Freese at first. At third, he could share time with Freese behind starter Jung Ho Kang, potentially creating an interesting four-way rotation that also includes shortstop Jordy Mercer.
More than a year removed from serious knee surgery, Kang might see more time at shortstop next year. If Kang occasionally moves over from third, the Bucs could slot in Freese (a right-handed hitter) or Jaso (a lefty) depending on the starting pitcher.
That all hinges on Jaso's willingness to move around. Fortunately, he seems ready for another challenge, prepared for the familiar commute from his home in St. Petersburg to the Pirates' training complex in Bradenton, Fla., where he'll again work over the winter to expand his defensive repertoire.
"It's something I want to do. I want to keep playing defense," Jaso said. "I have confidence I can do it. It's not going to take anybody's job, but it's another card in my hand.
"Something fresh, you know," he added, smiling. "Keep giving you guys something to talk about."