Potential Pittsburgh Pirates Trade Target Profile: Ryon Healy

The offseason is just days old, but an intriguing third base option is on the market. Could the Pittsburgh Pirates be suitors?

The 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates were stymied by the absence of their regular third baseman Jung Ho Kang in more ways than one.

Not only did it remove one of the team’s chief power threats from the lineup, it also forced David Freese into rigid regularity at third base. It became very clear very quickly that Freese could not withstand the workload required of a true everyday third baseman, and his play faltered.

With Kang’s status still unknown, it is incumbent upon Pirates brass to explore any and all options for the third base position, both internal and external. The signing of Sean Rodriguez and the presence of third base-capable Adam Frazier are stopgap solutions. With apologies to Rodriguez’s 2016 season, neither provide the steady power threat that Kang brought to the lineup.

As it just so happens, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Oakland Athletics are shopping slugger Ryon Healy.

Could Healy be the salve to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ irritating power issues?

Profile and Performance

Healy is a 25 year-old infielder who can play first and third. He was drafted by the A’s in the third round of the 2013 entry draft. He made his debut in 2016, slashing .305/.337/.524 across 283 plate appearances. This, after a quick ascension through the minor leagues that saw him jump all the way to the majors from Double-A in the first half of 2016.

Healy is a right-handed bat who will take his hacks — his strikeout rate topped out at 23.5 percent in 2017 — but does not draw a fair share of walks. His 3.8 percent walk rate in 2017 belies the type of respect that most power hitters cultivate. It would be tempting to come to the conclusion that Healy is still learning how to face MLB-level pitching. While that may hold water, the simple fact is that his walk rate declined year-over-year while his strikeout rate climbed from 21.2 percent the year prior.

This is not to say that Healy won’t be able to increase his selectivity at the plate — 2017 was just first full season after all — but the truth is that a book is starting to be written on Healy. Maybe it’s still in the prologue or Chapter One, but it is being written nonetheless.

Career-to-date snapshot

table courtesy of Baseball Reference

The case for Healy.

  • Slotting Healy’s 25+ home run power would fit nicely in the middle of the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. Alongside Josh Bell and Andrew McCutchen, Healy’s presence would also lengthen the entire Pirates lineup. A conceivable heart of the lineup with Marte at the two-spot, followed by McCutchen-Bell-Healy, freeing up Gregory Polanco to stay at the sixth spot looks awfully attractive on paper.
  • The club’s need for power cannot be overstated, so we’ll spend a second bullet point talking about Healy’s power stroke. None of his 25 home runs were cheap, and he has shown an ability to go down to get the ball and deposit it into the stands:
  • Healy is a unicorn in the sense that he is controllable through 2023. He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2020 at the earliest, making him a very affordable power threat.

The case against Healy

  • The fact that Healy is so affordable for such a prolonged time actually works against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Oakland will likely demand quite the haul for such a controlled, semi-proven slugger. More on that below.
  • We mentioned that Healy takes his hacks at the plate, but the types of swings he lets loose could be concerning. He posted a 37.3 percent O-Swing (percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone swung at by a hitter), a full 7.3 percentage points higher than the American League-wide 2017 rate. On those pitches he made contact with 58.9 percent, 4 points lower than the AL norm.
  • The low walk rate contributes to his wRC+ of 100, right on the accepted average run-creation rate. Healy has power, sure, but what might that matter if bottom-line run creation is average at best?
  • Lastly, Healy’s fielding can be generously described as a work in progress. It’s no coincidence that Healy spent a lot of time at the DH spot in 2017, with a Defensive Runs Saved rating of -2 in his 260 innings of third base play last season. There is no path for him to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates other than third base, and will give the club (and any NL club) serious pause.

What it might take

It’s going to take a whole heck of a lot.

Ok, to be more specific, we can start with a major-league ready or close to major league ready reliever. Slusser notes in her report that the club is seeking bullpen help. A package of Felipe Rivero plus a decent prospect would get it done.

That’s not going to happen.

In fact, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a dearth of tradeable major-league ready bullpen options. Oakland would balk at taking on Daniel Hudson‘s $5.5 million owed for 2018, and the A’s are looking further along than next year, regardless. If we leave out those two, the picture becomes one of quantity over quality — if there is a picture to be painted at all.

Trading for Healy will also cause the Pirates to make some decisions on the upper-echelon of its prospects a lot sooner than they would like. For one, it would force the club to decide on 3B prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes‘ future. It may also force the Pirates’ hand in deciding on Chad Kuhl‘s future — should the A’s see him as a bullpen arm, he would make a fine one — as well as those of pitchers Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes, who would likely be seen as desirable targets.

Conclusions

Though his power is tempting, Healy profiles as a DH-type that can make cameos at corner infield spots. Without the athleticism to provide value at other positions, Healy simply is not a good fit for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Many would like to see Pittsburgh chase some power to add to their lineup, but Healy is not the answer, as tempting as he may be.

Photo credit – Keith Allison – Flickr Creative Commons 

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)
  • Bobby Ewing

    For the love of god stop with the advance stats they are confusing and rather stupid just give regular stats and Stop with these advance stats

  • redrage97

    he has no place in Pittsburgh. We recently had a poor fielding third/first basemen who could hit homers and strike out alot and not get on base… hopefully we’ve learned our lesson.

  • Ecbucs

    I can’t see that Healy has any where close to the value of Rivero let alone Rivero and something else.

  • Paul Thomas

    I’m an A’s fan, so take this with a grain of salt.

    I don’t think the team is going to be looking for dedicated relievers as trade returns. They can get that on the free-agent market, and almost certainly will based on past practice. Small-market or not, the team has a relatively huge amount of money to play with this offseason (potentially as much as $40 million) and is likely to see the bullpen problem as the easiest to just buy its way out of.

    The rotation is another matter. Following the Sonny Gray trade, there’s very little talent there and the team is likely to want SP prospects in additional deals. It’s highly unlikely that the A’s sign a big FA starter given their small-market status and the risks involved. This is another reason not to go for relievers, incidentally; the survivors of what will pretty much be a free-for-all competition for the rotation will end up in the ‘pen.

    The team is also in dire need of quality catchers (total black hole this season) and slightly less so, outfielders (Rajai Davis doesn’t look like a candidate for re-signing) and middle infielders (Jed Lowrie is on the wrong side of 30, in the last year of his contract, and might well be traded anyway; Marcus Semian profiles better as a utilityman than an everyday shortstop). Basically, there are needs all over the diamond except at the corners so the team will probably take a best-player-available approach.

    I also think you overrate Healy’s desirability. For precisely the reasons you state, he added very little value this season. If you trade for him, you’re hoping for significant improvement (which is possible given his age, but we all know how unreliable prospects can be). I think a couple of B-/C+ grade prospects are likely to be enough to get a trade done. I don’t know Pittsburgh’s farm well, but most teams can probably come up with a decent starting prospect at the A/A+-ball level and an OBP-first catching, middle infield or CF candidate at the same level, and I don’t think it’d take much if anything more than that to land Healy.

    • redrage97

      Nice to see an A’s fan point of view. Thanks for the insight!

      I think Healy is a firm ‘No’ from the Pirates side as he seems more like the DH type who could play the field in a pinch, just from looking at the stats anyway. As someone who has seen him play more than probably anyone here can you tell us if that is fairly accurate or are his stats distorted by a handful of fluke plays in his short sample? Keep in mind the team would most likely want to use him as a third basemen.

      *edit* I was just thinking a few days ago before Cutch’s option was picked up that if they didn’t pick him up that i would probably start following the A’s 🙂

  • wkkortas

    Frankly, I’m not sure why one would write this post–I’ve seen no one clamoring for obtaining Healy, and for the very reasons you outline. It’s essentially a review of the season of an A’s player that no one in Pittsburgh would even suggest the Bucs need.

    • Bobby Ewing

      I concur

    • Pirates Breakdown

      While no one is clamoring for Healy in particular, many Pirates fans rail against the team for being unable to develop power or to pursue those that have power

      • wkkortas

        Granted–but that’s a general, blanket issue. You could write a post about Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge, because they have that kind of power–but they aren’t realistic targets for the Pirates, and frankly neither is Healy, because his only realistic positions are 1B and DH.