Pirates exploring different options for first base
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is keeping an open mind about his club's immediate future at first base, refusing to dismiss any possible scenario as Pittsburgh seeks a replacement for Pedro Alvarez and a complement for Michael Morse.
"We're open to just about anything and everything," Huntington said.
The Pirates may choose to employ a true platoon, finding a veteran left-handed hitter to share time with Morse, or they could use Morse as their everyday first baseman. They also haven't ruled out the idea of acquiring someone to be their regular first baseman. Along those lines, according to an industry source, they have recently expressed interest in free agent Mike Napoli.
Napoli would satisfy many of the Pirates' needs at first base as they look to move on from Alvarez, who was non-tendered last week after struggling to make the adjustment to a new position. At this point, Morse, Jake Goebbert and No. 3-ranked Pirates prospect Josh Bell are the only first basemen on Pittsburgh's roster.
Napoli hit just .224 with a .734 OPS for the Red Sox and Rangers last season, though he finished strong (.295/.396/.513 with five homers) in 35 games for Texas. Over the previous two seasons, he put together a combined .254/.365/.453 batting line with 40 homers and 147 RBIs.
Based on his performance with the Red Sox, the 34-year-old would also represent a clear upgrade defensively. From 2013-14, Napoli led all Major League first baseman in UZR/150 (10.4) and ranked third with 17 Defensive Runs Saved.
Highly regarded for his clubhouse presence, Napoli was an American League All-Star in 2012 and won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013. Beyond Chris Davis, he is perhaps the most proven option in an otherwise-thin free-agent class at first base.
"There's not a ton of depth out there. There's also not a ton of need, so there's not a ton of competition at this point in time," Huntington said. "We've had conversations on both fronts: We've had conversations with free agents; we've had conversations on trades."
On the free-agent front, other possible fits include former Pirates Justin Morneau and Ike Davis, both left-handed hitters who would complement the right-handed Morse. The Pirates also are interested in Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, according to the Dallas Morning News. Moreland, a left-handed hitter, worked closely with manager Clint Hurdle when he was the Rangers' hitting coach in 2010.
The Bucs' long-term solution at first base still appears to be Bell, who was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis late last season. The switch-hitting 23-year-old batted .317 with an .838 OPS while spending most of last season with Double-A Altoona.
While Bell is now only a step away from the Majors, Huntington cautioned that Bell still has a lot of room to grow defensively as he continues the transition from outfield to first base.
"I'm not going to put a timeframe on him, but there's a lot of good things happening with Josh," Huntington said. "The defense still continues to be a challenge, but he has made tremendous strides."
With Morse already on board, first base isn't necessarily the Pirates' most pressing need this offseason. Morse, acquired just before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, is only a year removed from a strong offensive season with the Giants.
For now, however, Morse is only one of many options the Pirates are considering at first base.
"Is there a fit that complements us? Is there a fit that we believe makes sense and in our minds makes us better? We'll continue to explore that," Huntington said. "But we do feel Mike Morse is a legitimate Major League player and allows us a comfort zone of what we can do, if there's something out there that makes us better."