As the Pirates began to shift their overarching focus to developing a young core, they’ve traded established veterans for young prospects.
One of the players to appear in trade rumors over the offseason was Adam Frazier, but come Monday, when the first full-squad workouts took place in Bradenton, Fla., he was at Pirate City and taking reps at second base.
None of the chatter bothered Frazier, but he said he didn’t totally block it out. He saw what was being said online, but his focus stayed on being prepared for his sixth MLB season with the Pirates.
“I try to stay in conversation with [general manager Ben] Cherington and [manager Derek] Shelton and try to expect what may be coming,” Frazier said. “None of that’s really come about. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m happy to be a Pittsburgh Pirate and looking forward to working with these guys.”
There was an interest in middle infielders on the market this year, but it turned out to be more skewed toward the free-agent side than trade acquisitions. Frazier’s down season in 2020 certainly didn’t help either. A contact hitter who is often in the top of the league in K%, he had a career low .230 batting average and .661 OPS.
Frazier attributed a lot of those struggles to how he came out of the gate, going 4-for-27 (.148) in the first week and pressing for results.
“It's just minimizing that and understanding who I am as a hitter and being that guy instead of trying to do too much,” he said.
But Frazier found a groove in September, when he returned closer to his career numbers by getting on base at a .340 clip to power a .756 OPS in 27 games. He’s motivated by some of the failures last season, but overall he thought he found himself in a decent spot, and so did Shelton.
“He really turned it around and had consistent at-bats and did a nice job,” Shelton said. “With 2020, for a lot of hitters, and again not just Pirates hitters, it was challenging. Guys that got off to difficult starts, it was hard to rebound and pull your numbers to where they were.”
Part of Frazier’s value comes in the form of defense as well. He’s a versatile option, with playing time at both second base and in the cavernous left field at PNC Park. Among all fielders in MLB, Frazier’s six outs above average tied for sixth at any position and ranked first among all second basemen; he led second basemen as well in 2019 with 11.
In turn, Shelton said going into camp, Frazier will be the everyday second baseman.
“This is a guy that's been in the Gold Glove conversation the last two years at least and has done a really good job,” Shelton said. “There are things we feel we can improve on at second, and I think he feels that, too, and he'll be the first person to tell you that. But he's going to be our second baseman."
This offseason wasn’t the first time trade rumors have come about for Frazier, and it certainly won’t be the last.
The Pirates are approaching their goal of building a sustainable playoff contender by being open-minded to moves that bring back young talent. This offseason, they traded Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon for 11 prospects. In January 2020, they shipped Starling Marte to the D-backs for shortstop Liover Peguero, the Pirates' No. 5 prospect, and upside arm Brennan Malone (No. 9).
But even with all the rumblings, things were largely the same for Frazier. Shelton said most of the conversations he had with his second baseman were about the deer he hunted this offseason, not about his long-term situation with the club.
If Frazier gets off to the kind of start he’s been trying to get off to for years, it will likely only increase the volume of those rumors. But that won’t change his day-to-day approach.
“I try to control what I can control,” he said. “I know I can't really have a say in any of that. I’ll be where my feet are and try to get better each day. I’m in a position now to try to lead these guys, so I’ll do my best to do that.”