By Jared Lankes
Despite the Pirates less-than-encouraging 2016 campaign, one bright spot for them was their bench. David Freese, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, and eventually John Jaso all became strong contributors in limited roles or off the bench entirely. Since, Sean Rodriguez has left to go to the Braves and Matt Joyce figures to not return to the Pirates as well. Without these two, the Pirates will be looking to re-strengthen the bench. However, it is worth wondering if they would consider taking away from the bench in a trade instead, most notably speaking of David Freese and John Jaso.
Let’s start with David Freese. Freese signed a very affordable deal last spring with the Pirates to be a very late add-on and ended up being a massive contributor for them. The former World Series hero of 2011 for the Cardinals joined the other side and hit .270 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs while being able to play both third base and first base and doing great fill-in work for Jung Ho Kang. Then, shockingly, Freese signed a very affordable contract that keeps him under team control through 2018 with a cheap option for 2019.
So, why trade Freese when he is so affordable and still can get it done? Well, there are teams out there that would love to have a player like Freese. And when you look at the role for David Freese, it looks like he will be a role player. Bell at first base, Kang at third base, and some versatile guys on the team that can fill in too. Right now, David Freese represents more of a luxury for the Pirates than a need. While his contract is quite good, it might not be something the Pirates want to pay for a luxury option. It looks less needed now that roles are clearer than they were when the contact extension was signed. It seems that the Pirates could easily deal Freese and most every team would be willing to take on that contract. It could potentially give the Pirates more spending cash to go towards pitching or other needs, and they could probably get at least a decent return. Nothing too special but a decent piece.
Now to John Jaso. Jaso signed a two-year contract for just $8 million last offseason and was told to learn first base and did it to the point of overachieving. He eventually did get moved to a bench spot, as expected, when Josh Bell got called up and quickly surged. Despite scrutiny, John Jaso’s offensive numbers were not too bad unless you were betting on him being a Silver Slugger. He hit .268 with an on-base percentage of .353 along with 8 HRs and 42 RBIs. All mixed in the pot, he actually did not do too poorly at the plate and excelled defensively.
This type of commodity could be useful for a team that is looking for a stopgap or platoon player at 1B or need a bench player that can play that position. His affordable $4 million owed to him for next year and it only essentially being a one-year pact with him would be something many teams may be intrigued with. His overall skill set could be a good fit for some teams, maybe much more than the Pirates. Now, I do not think the Pirates would get anything of real significance for Jaso, so maybe keeping him might bring more value. But again, trading Jaso would free up some money for the Pirates to hopefully spend elsewhere.
I do not think both will be dealt, but one of them being dealt might go under a lot of consideration this winter. If Huntington gets calls on either, he would be dumb not to listen and consider a deal if the right one comes along. With the Pirates limited payroll and a bevy of options that can fill in as bench options, I believe trading one of them might actually be a good idea for the team if it gives them the needed financial means to help them fix the bigger needs that the club has.