What Should the Pirates Do With Adam Frazier This Offseason?

Adam Frazier is an average MLB starting second baseman.

There have been 28 second basemen in the majors with 1000+ plate appearances since the start of the 2018 season. That was the year that Frazier saw his breakout and emerged as an MLB starter. Of that group, Frazier ranks 16th in fWAR. He’s positioned just above Asdrubal Cabrera, and just below Jurickson Profar.

The surprising thing to me is how Frazier got there. Coming up through the minors, the bat was leading the way for Frazier, while the defense lagged behind. He was drafted as a shortstop, but quickly moved over to second base. There was a time when his defense at second base didn’t project him to be a starter. The Pirates even moved him to the outfield to get him in the majors in a super utility role. It wasn’t until after he was sent down in 2018 that he returned as a defender who could stick at second base.

Frazier’s defense has been a big surprise. Out of 35 second baseman with 1000+ innings since 2018, Frazier ranks seventh in defensive runs. His 5.0 UZR/150 ranks sixth, and he ranks 10th and 11th in Defensive Runs Saved and Plus/Minus.

Among the qualified second basemen, Frazier’s offense ranks below-average, with his lack of power dragging him down from being a slightly above-average hitter. When breaking down his playing time, Frazier is too inconsistent throughout the year, showing bursts of strong offense, and bursts of offense that would send him back to Triple-A if it weren’t for the defense.

The overall combo here is that the Pirates have an above-average defender who ranks among the top ten in the game at the position, and a slightly below-average hitter.

Adam Frazier is an average MLB starting second baseman.

The Pirates have him under control through the 2022 season.

And the Pirates aren’t winning in 2021.

So what should the Pirates do with Frazier?

The small market argument is to trade him and think long-term. You might not get a lot in a return for Frazier, especially coming off a shortened season where he had a .661 OPS. He’s an average MLB starting second baseman, which is good to have, but not as difficult to develop as other positions.

If Frazier were to be traded, the Pirates would have a chance to shift Kevin Newman over to second base to be a starter. Newman is also coming off a bad 2020 season, but had a 2.4 fWAR in his rookie debut in 2019, mostly fueled by his offense. Newman is better defensively at second, and could either give the Pirates the same production or an upgrade over Frazier.

You don’t need to trade Frazier to start Newman at second. Frazier has played the outfield, where his defense is also a plus in the corners, and where his normal bat is an upgrade over the internal options on the team. He’d be less likely to block a prospect in the outfield, competing with Gregory Polanco, Anthony Alford, and probably somehow Cole Tucker for playing time.

Since Frazier wouldn’t project to bring a big trade return, but still projects to be a league average starter, it might be best for the Pirates to keep him one more season. This would allow him to rebuild offensive value, while maintaining good defense at second or the corner outfield. I’d try to replace him with Newman for the long-term, starting with that transition in 2021 regardless of whether Frazier is still on the team or not.

I don’t think an extension makes sense for Frazier, as you’re buying out his age 31+ years, and it’s more likely the Pirates can turn one of their middle infield prospects into a league average starter.

What the Pirates do with Frazier this offseason will be an interesting litmus test for how Ben Cherington will operate. This isn’t a trade of Starling Marte, where the future of the franchise can be heavily altered. At best, you’re hoping Frazier’s low cost the next two years will boost his value enough to give a prospect in return that is more than a raw, lower-level project. In either direction, what the Pirates do won’t be a franchise altering move.

It might be a move that alters the margins, providing a small boost for a future team.

Is that small boost Frazier in a super utility role in 2022?

Or does it come from a prospect landed in return from a Frazier trade prior to hitting free agency?