By Jason Shetler
While 2016 was a disappointing year for the Pirates, there was one consistent bright spot, and that was their bench. Last offseason, Sean Rodriguez was brought back on a one-year deal, while Matt Joyce signed a minor league contract. Both were big reasons as to why the Pirates boasted one of the best benches in baseball this year. Although Rodriguez and Joyce will be free agents this offseason, the Pirates may already be set with their bench for next season.
David Freese is coming back after signing a two-year extension with the Pirates in August. Freese continues to put up solid numbers versus lefty pitching, and will share the first base duties with Josh Bell. He should also see time at third base, filling in for Jung-Ho Kang every once in awhile.
John Jaso will be returning, only this time in a utility role. In addition to first base, the Pirates plan to have him work out at third base and the outfield this offseason, in an effort to be more versatile. Jaso’s on base ability would certainly be beneficial coming off the bench.
Chris Stewart is currently recovering from knee surgery and should be ready by Opening Day. Stewart has spent the past three seasons as the Pirates backup catcher. He was signed to a very inexpensive contract extension last offseason.
Adam Frazier had himself a good rookie campaign with the Pirates. Frazier put up a .753 OPS vs RHP, and was even better against LHP, posting an OPS of .840. The fact that he can handle any kind of pitching is a huge plus, especially in pinch-hit situations.
The final bench spot will likely go to Alen Hanson, who is going to be out of options next year. After coming up through the minors primarily as a shortstop, Hanson has shown more versatility, playing second base, third base and left field. The Pirates could use some great speed off the bench, and Hanson would certainly provide that.
It says a lot about the depth the Pirates have in terms of their bench, as even if they’re unable to re-sign Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce, the bench could already be set heading into the 2017 season.