Kevin Newman bounces back in 2022, facing big offseason
Justice delos Santos
ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates will have a plethora of decisions to make this offseason. One of those decisions will revolve around Kevin Newman.
Newman, who reached base twice and made a diving stop in the Pirates’ 13-3 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday at Busch Stadium, will enter his second year of arbitration this offseason. The 29-year-old has rebounded from a rough season, but with Pittsburgh's middle infield taking shape, the Pirates’ brass will have to determine if Newman returns to the fold.
"At the end of the day, I really try to steer away from things that aren't my decision in terms of giving any thought and time to," Newman said.
Newman entered this season as the team's starting shortstop, a spot he had mostly held since his first full season in 2019. Around the season's halfway point, Newman's role began to shift.
In June, Oneil Cruz made his much-anticipated arrival and became the team's starting shortstop. Newman seamlessly slid over to second base upon Cruz's call-up, but in recent weeks, Rodolfo Castro has emerged as the team's starting second baseman. Castro has been one of the Pirates’ best players since being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis in early August, slugging 10 home runs in his past 46 games, and that performance has resulted in Newman seeing less playing time.
As things stand, Castro and Cruz could very well be Pittsburgh's 2023 Opening Day middle infield. Along with those two, the Pirates possess depth up the middle. Ji Hwan Bae and Diego Castillo are a pair of middle infielders on the active roster who have plenty of experience at second base and shortstop while Tucupita Marcano, who has played 22 games at second base this season, is currently on the taxi squad.
Additionally, there are also several prospects who aren't too far from the Majors in Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales, the Pirates’ No. 4 and No. 5 prospects per MLB Pipeline, respectively. Catcher Endy Rodriguez, who has forced his way into the conversation for the 2023 Opening Day with an absurd three-month hot streak in the Minors, started 17 games at second base this year as well.
Even with the youth movement, the Pirates don't necessarily need to part ways with Newman, who has bounced back from a forgettable season. A year removed from posting a .574 OPS, the lowest of any qualified hitter, Newman is posting a much more respectable .695 OPS.
Coming into play, Newman has been worth 1.1 fWAR across 74 games, a dramatic improvement from the -0.2 fWAR he posted last year. As someone who possesses a solid bat, above-average baserunning and the ability to play up the middle, Newman would be someone worth having in a utility role.
"It certainly feels good, and going into the offseason, it's going to be about taking another step forward, building on it, getting a little bit better on both offense and defense," Newman said. "It's definitely a good feeling to bounce back this way."
Of course, there's also the financial element of this equation.
Newman is set to enter his second year of arbitration. He made $1.95 million in his first year of arbitration -- MLB Trade Rumors projected Newman to make $2.2 million -- and he is in line to clear the $2 million mark this offseason. The question that the Pirates have to answer, then, is whether they would want to spend that money for someone who isn't starting.
The Pirates have two realistic options should they decide to move on from Newman. The first is to non-tender him this offseason. The second is to trade him. Given how Newman performed this season, there are a couple contenders who could use his services.
Newman said that the thought of wearing a different uniform next season has entered his mind, but he's kicking that can down the road for right now. The Pirates still have four games remaining, and those four games will be his primary focus.
"It's definitely a thought, but I’m pushing it off as long as I can," Newman said. "I definitely love being here. I love the staff, love my teammates, love everything."