Regardless of how the rest of the offseason plays out, you can’t say that Ben Cherington and the Pirates front office didn’t recognize one of their biggest glaring holes. Not only did they realize that first base needed an upgrade, they were aggressive in addressing it.
After trading Jack Hartman to get Ji-Man Choi from the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this month, the Pirates reached into the free agent pool and signed former All-Star Carlos Santana to a one-year deal.
Santana is the ideal target to platoon with Choi at first base, but that isn’t the only thing you are going to get from him.
The 36-year-old does hit lefties better, but he isn’t someone who is completely out of place versus righties. He struggled against righties in 2022, slashing just .178/.289/.366, but hit 16 of his 19 home runs on the left side of the plate.
In fact, he has a better career tOPS+ (108 vs 97) against lefties, but has hit 74% of his all-time home runs against righties.
Choi made the position better by default, as the Pirates got the worst production from first basemen in the majors. Adding Santana even furthers their improvement, and in a way legitimizes it.
Pittsburgh has put an incredible focus on the first base position early on in free agency, and their focus on the position is almost reminiscent of the work they did last year in adding depth to the catcher position.
They brought in Malcom Nunez in the Jose Quintana trade. Nunez hit well in Double-A, despite being just 21-years-old, and got a brief taste of Indianapolis to close out the season.
Recently they’ve also added Lewin Diaz as a waiver claim from the Miami Marlins, and although he’s struggled in the majors, has shown he can hit for power in the minors.
Even if they put him through waivers (he’s out of options), if he clears and heads to Indianapolis, he could challenge Mason Martin, who has some of the best power in the minors but really struggled with making contact in Triple-A.
This is the second time in Cherington’s tenure that he has taken a focused look at a specific position and improved it through adding depth. With these additions, it also made the major league team better, and could make a more immediate impact.
Highlight of the Day
Pirates Prospects Daily
By Tim Williams
There was a lot of focus on the fact that Carlos Santana is the biggest free agent deal in years for the Pirates. His one year, $6.7 million contract isn’t really significantly higher than the one year, $5 million that the Pirates paid Roberto Perez last year. The difference is that the Pirates made this pickup after adding Ji-Man Choi, who is projected to receive $4.5 million through arbitration.
Combined, this duo will make $11.2 million in 2023.
The Pirates have some options here. They could go with Choi and Santana as an expensive platoon. They could also use both players in primary roles, with the 1B/DH spots both open. A true platoon would put Santana with limited playing time. I think it’s more likely that he’s the primary first baseman, and Choi is the primary DH.
I could see Lewin Diaz “platooning” with Santana, although not getting as much time as a left-hander normally would in such a role. Their combined defense at first would be a huge boost to this team. I could also see Diaz getting waived this offseason, and lost to another team.
Miguel Andújar is someone I’ve mentioned as a first base option. At this stage, it would be difficult to imagine him ever getting time at first. However, he could factor into the DH mix, while backing up left field.
Santana and Choi are one-year rentals, and will bring with them some valuable experience. I wrote on Wednesday about how the Pirates don’t have many players on their roster with experience on a contender. Carlos Santana absolutely provides this experience.
Andújar and Diaz are wild cards, as both in the post-prospect age range of 26-28. The odds of either one developing into more than a bench option are slim, but that outcome isn’t impossible. If either one has a breakout season, the Pirates have them beyond 2023, with one additional year of control for Andújar and four more for Diaz.
Again, the odds of those two specifically improving their game is slim. That’s why it’s important to point out again what Anthony highlighted above: The additions to the farm system.
A year ago, Mason Martin was the lone hope from the upper levels. He didn’t have a good season in 2022, with his strikeout issues prohibiting a promotion. The Pirates brought in Malcom Nunez at the trade deadline, giving Martin some competition in the system. Those two are joined by 2022 Altoona Curve breakout Aaron Shackelford, along with a few other emerging prospects from other positions who could shift to first.
This is the type of building I can get behind. If you look at this from a singular position, the Pirates are building from the extremes. They added Carlos Santana to the top, and everyone in the majors shifted down. A few weeks ago, Andújar would have been in the conversation as a first base option. Today, a lot would have to go wrong to get to that experiment. That is depth.
Likewise, the team is no longer relying on a single prospect for their future. Martin will now get challenged by Nunez and Shackelford, and guys like Matt Gorski or Jared Triolo could find an easier path to the majors at first base.
This position is by no means set. It is rapidly trending in a positive direction.
I also don’t think the Pirates are finished with their additions this offseason.
**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at some internal left-handed bullpen options in the Pirates’ system.
Song of the Day
Fun fact: I bought “Supernatural” by Santana on the same day I bought my first Jimi Hendrix album — “Experience Hendrix”. These were two of the first albums I bought for myself, back when you bought physical music with cash at the mall. I’m sure others can talk about buying Santana albums at a much earlier time. In this same time frame, I also bought albums by Limp Bizkit and Mase, so there wasn’t consistency with my music choices. I did love electric guitar.
“Smooth” by Rob Thomas was the most popular song on this album, and as a big Matchbox Twenty fan, I loved that song. The song with Everlast was solid, but can get a bit repetitive. I would have to say that “Maria Maria” with The Product G&B and Wyclef Jean was my favorite on the album. The sleeper was “Do You Like the Way”, which had Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo Green.
I listened to that album while preparing tonight’s articles. However, the song of the day is this live gem with Alicia Keys, with a great guitar sample by Santana at the end.
Pirates Prospects Weekly
Our Friday feature is our weekly Pirates discussion. This week, Jeff Reed recapped where the Pirates were to date in the offseason. Eight hours later, the Pirates made a move that was a bit more than minimal with the addition of Carlos Santana.