The Pittsburgh Pirates are finalizing a deal to send LHP Rich Hill and 1B Ji-Man Choi to the San Diego Padres, according to Jeff Passan. Dennis Lin reports that the Pirates will be getting LHP Jackson Wolf, OF Estuar Suero, and 1B Alfonso Rivas.
UPDATE 5:22 PM: The Pirates have officially announced the deal.
TO THE PADRES
Rich Hill, LHP – The Pirates signed Hill for $8 million to stabilize their rotation with veteran leadership. The 43-year-old lefty made 22 starts, putting up a 4.76 ERA in 119 innings of work. The overall results weren’t great, but Hill came up big for the Pirates in a few moments this year, serving as the stopper during a few losing stretches.
Ji Man Choi, 1B – The Pirates added Choi in November in a trade with the Rays. He was meant to split the year with Carlos Santana at first base. Choi was injured early, and only saw 76 plate appearances with the Pirates. He had a .205/.224/.507 line, but has two doubles and two homers in his last six games.
TO THE PIRATES
Jackson Wolf, LHP – Wolf made his MLB debut this year, making one start for the Padres, allowing three runs on five hits. He jumped from Double-A to the majors for one appearance, after posting a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings over his final three starts. His return to Double-A, on July 29th, saw him give up eight runs in 3.1 innings. The Padres drafted him in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. The 6′ 7″ left-hander has a below-average fastball, working in the upper 80s/low 90s, but a lot of deception with the way he moves. He’s got a plus slider and an average curveball, with the chance for above-average command.
Estuar Suero, OF – Similar to the Carlos Santana trade, where they acquired 18-year-old infielder Jhonny Severino, the Pirates went all the way down to rookie ball to land the 17-year-old Suero. Signed by the Padres in January 2022 for $325,000, he’s a lanky 6′ 5″ switch hitter with athleticism. He’s been hitting .216/.306/.345 with four homers in 160 plate appearances in the Arizona Complex League. His 30% strikeout rate is alarming at the moment. FanGraphs gives him plus raw power potential, plus speed, but below average hit tools. He’s got a future value of 40+, and will be a development project.
Alfonso Rivas, 1B – The Pirates traded Choi in this deal, after trading Santana earlier this week. Rivas looks like a replacement candidate, although likely near the same tier with current prospects in the upper levels. He turns 27 in September, and has a .245/.330/.323 line in 353 career plate appearances in the majors. This year he’s been hitting .332/.462/.582 with nine homers in Triple-A. His 19.2% strikeout rate, 18.8% walk rate, and .250 ISO have been his best power and plate patience results of his career. He had 17 plate appearances for the Padres this year, but no consistent playing time. He’s got above-average hit potential, average power potential, and average fielding potential. Considering the lack of first base options in Pittsburgh, he could get a shot at the majors over the final two months.
Hill and Choi were free agents at the end of the 2023 season. Hill might have been able to provide additional leadership value throughout the year, but at this point it would be better to give starts to players who could be in the rotation next year. The trade of Choi leaves first base as a dead zone, though this may have been fixed with the trade.
Wolf and Rivas have lower upside on the return. In fact, the hope with both looks like they eventually replicate Hill and Choi. Wolf is a soft tossing, crafty lefty who could serve as a swingman or depth in the rotation. Rivas could be a fringe-average first baseman with a power boost.
The Pirates lack a first baseman the rest of the way. I wrote about the options after the Santana trade. Rivas may jump to the top of that list, to at least give the Pirates a defensive-ready first baseman in the big leagues.
The wild card here is Suero, who the Pirates will get a chance to develop. Between the Santana and now this trade, the Pirates have added two international players signed in January 2022, at a point when they were out of bonus money. The combined bonuses of Severino (from the Santana trade) and Suero would have been over $1.5 million. Bonuses are in the past, and what the Pirates hope for is that each of these players reaches their plus power potential in the future.
The Pirates traded two pending free agents. They got young power they can develop, and older players who they might be able to tweak into 40-45 grade guys in the majors.
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.