SOUTH HILLS – The man hunt is over.
The Pirates finally found their left-handed hitting 1B on Friday, a search that had been ongoing since the team parted ways with Garret Jones and did not resign Justin Morneau back in October. The Pirates were connected Ike Davis way back on Dec. 17. Though the Pirates lost out in the bidding for James Loney, though they did not heavily engage in the Jose Abreu sweepstakes and initially settled on March Cinderella man Travis Ishikawaka for the lefty-hitting Opening Day roster spot, GM Neal Huntington indicated the search for an upgrade at first base had not ended.
Just as Huntington and the Pirates were patient in waiting for the price on Morneau to come down last summer, they were also apparently willing to wait for the ask on Davis to decline. And this time, the acquisition could be more than a short-term fix and Davis under club control thru 2016. The Mets had two left-handed first basemen and had elected to give Lucas Duda the bulk of playing time.
So the Pirates have found their lefty bat.
I think I like Ike.
The Pirates seem to like Ike.
Should you like Ike?
Campaign button from Ike’s first base competition this spring
THE IKE DAVIS RESUME
*Davis is a former first-round pick – 2008 – who hit a rough patch. The Pirates like to target pedigree with diminished stock. Progression-to-the-mean ideology.
*Davis has a career .828 OPS against right-handed pitching. That’s the key number. Pair that with Gaby Sanchez‘s excellent numbers against left-handed pitching and the Pirates should now have a platoon that effectively gives them above-average production from first base, which is one of their biggest issues entering the offseason.
Expect a cookie-cutter platoon.
“The word ‘platoon’ gets thrown around a lot,” Huntington said. “I think this will be where (manager) Clint (Hurdle) will use his judgment. I think this will allow Clint to use his bench a little more as a bench instead of a platoon bench as he’s had to do to this point.”
*The power is real. Davis had a career-high 32 homers in 2012, telling of his power, but he also struggled mightily in 2013 – earning a demotion to the minor leagues. He was also affected by injury in 2013.
*Upon his return to the major league club last season, Davis led the National League with a .449 on-base percentage in the second half of the season. He has a blend of power and patience with a 12.2 percent career walk rate.
*His swing has a hitch, it’s a long, and it’s going to require upkeep and make him subject to streaks. Davis was a 3.1 WAR player in 2010. But he produced 2.1 combined WAR over the last three seasons. There is plenty of risk and frustration laden in his profile.
*He’s getting more expensive. He has a $3.5 million salary in 2014. He’ll hit Arb 3 this offseason and Arb 4 entering 2016. He’s a free agent in 2017. But the Pirates are willing to pay those costs.
“Hopefully this is a move that solves our first-base needs for years to come,” Huntington said.
Davis is a flawed player but he fits what the Pirates’ need and he apparently comes at a reduced price: Zach Thornton and a PTBNL.
Thornton has put up some huge numbers as a reliever at Triple-A, but he’s going to be 26 in a few weeks and the Pirates have a surplus of relievers. Huntington has indicated the Pirates would like to trade from that surplus, which is wise since bullpen arms most subject to wild swings of performance and the Pirates’ major league roster and long-term plans are not effected. The PTBNL will be interesting but unless the Pirates are giving away Tyler Glasnow, the deal makes sense for both clubs. (The Mets received a borderline top 10 prospect in Dilson Herrera for a month of Marlon Byrd last year so the PTBNL could be significant.)
Davis reminds me a bit of former Pirate Adam LaRoche another streaky but effective left-handed first baseman. They have similar raw power, they have similar walk rates, they’ve each been subject to streaks, to good years and bad. LaRoche has had more productive seasons but he’s also 34. Davis could become LaRoche. He is 27.
The Pirates had no immediate help coming up the pipeline. Travis Ishikawa is a nice story and could be a useful bench bat but he shouldn’t be receiving the lion’s share of playing time. The Pirates needed help at first base. The searched all winter and they finally have it. So, do you like Ike?