The Pirates announced this morning that they’ve selected the contract of infielder Todd Frazier, designated outfielder Dustin Fowler for assignment, placed righty Chad Kuhl on the 10-day injured list and recalled right-hander Geoff Hartlieb. Kuhl is dealing with right shoulder discomfort, and a timeline for his return was not provided.
Frazier, 35, inked a minor league deal with the Bucs over the winter and had a productive Spring Training, slashing .250/.343/.643 with three homers and a pair of doubles in 34 trips to the plate. He’s coming off a rough 45-game showing between the Rangers and Mets last season (.236/.302/.382) but was a productive hitter with the Mets as recently as 2019.
Frazier gives the Pirates some additional cover at third base in the wake of Ke’Bryan Hayes’ setback in his recovery from a wrist injury. He also gives manager Derek Shelton a right-handed platoon partner for Colin Moran, a career .236/.287/.361 hitter versus southpaws, at first base.
Fowler’s DFA comes just one day after the Pirates designated fellow center fielder Anthony Alford for assignment. The Bucs had hoped that between the pair of former top 100 prospects, they’d be able to unearth a late bloomer, but Pittsburgh center fielders have combined for an awful .170/.245/.261 output thus far in 2021 (including seven hitless plate appearances from Wilmer Difo in center).
The Pirates claimed Rule 5 pick Ka’ai Tom from the Athletics yesterday in conjunction with Alford’s DFA, and it now seems that he’ll have a clearer path to playing time in center. Left fielder Bryan Reynolds can also slide over to center if the Pirates choose, with Phillip Evans moving to left field and Frazier manning third base. Pittsburgh’s stance to this point has been that they prefer Reynolds in left field, but the departure of Fowler and Alford has obviously changed the equation. Prospect Jared Oliva may eventually get a look as well, but the Pirates’ announced an Oliva injury alongside their announcement of Hayes’ setback this morning; Oliva will miss around four weeks with a left oblique strain.
Turning to the 28-year-old Kuhl, he drew the Opening Day start for the Pirates this season but hasn’t looked right through his first four trips to the mound. He’s regained some life on his fastball after experiencing a post-Tommy-John dip in 2020, but Kuhl has also walked more batters (16) than he’s struck out (14) through his first 15 2/3 frames. He’s sitting on a 6.32 ERA at the moment and hasn’t lasted more than five innings in any of his four starts.
Kuhl is only controlled through the 2022 season, so with a return to health and a similar performance to his 2016-18 form — 4.37 ERA, 20.4 percent strikeout rate, 9.2 percent walk rate — he could be marketed as a trade asset for clubs seeking affordable arms to stabilize the rotation. He drew interest from a few clubs, including the Blue Jays, last summer. He’ll first need to get past this latest injury and string together some productive starts for that scenario to come together, though.