Polanco Extension, Outfield Prospects, and Trade Ideas
Let the trade ideas begin. The Pirates have extended right fielder Gregory Polanco. It is a deal that could extend through 2023 if his two club options are picked up. With this the outfield stands as: Andrew McCutchen through 2018, Starling Marte through 2021, and Gregory Polanco through 2021/2023. That is a great outfield for many years to come. This could be extended as their is much optimism about extended Andrew McCutchen beyond 2018. For now, let us talk as there is no extension for the Bucs and the Pirates. Where does this leave the Pirates outfield prospects?
The deepest position in the Pirates organization in terms of hitting prospects is the outfield. The position is so deep that the Pirates were able to move top 50 prospect Josh Bell to first base. The current group of prospects is headed by top 25 prospect Austin Meadows, the former #9 overall pick on 2013. Although he fractured his orbital, expect to see him in AA by May. Right behind him is 2011 international signee Harold Ramirez, who found himself in Keith Law’s top 50 prospects last year and showed why this spring while batting around .500 before being optioned to AA. The last outfielder in AA will be #20 prospect Barrett Barnes. Barnes has struggled to stay on the field since being a 2nd round pick in 2012 out of Texas Tech, but last year he played in 95 games and got on-base at a .352 clip. These are the headliners in the organization, but the Bucs do have other interesting outfield prospects. Willy Garcia is a power hitting prospect in AAA. Although he owns a poor BB/K rate at .20/1K, Garcia has attractive tools. Garcia is a career .430 slugger with hitting 15 homers in 124 games last year. He also has decent foot speed and what is
considered the best arm in the Pirates organization. Another intriguing outfield prospect is Adam Frazier. By trade, Frazier is a shortstop, but he also saw 31 games in the outfield last year. Frazier is a high OBP guy who is a career .291 hitter while batting .324 last season at AA. These are the guys who are in the upper minors and may be attractive to teams around the league. This is not including rising prospects in Tito Polo, Elvis Escobar, Jose Osuna (1b also), Michael De la Cruz, and Michael Suchy. Where do all these guys fit in the future?
Even if the Pirates do not extend Andrew McCutchen that leaves one spot for the five guys in the upper minors (Meadows, Ramirez, Barnes, Garcia, Frazier). What do you do with 5 players and one position that will not be available until 2019. Meanwhile all of these players will be MLB ready by June of 2017. You cannot keep guys like Austin Meadows and Harry Ramirez in AAA for 3 years, they will be rule 5 eligible, old for the league, and would make them disgruntled. The most popular answer is to trade them. It is easy to sit here and imagine what a package around Austin Meadows could get you. I have already seen suggestions of dealing him for Sonny Gray. However, the Pirates do not operate like that. We have never seen the Pirates take a super prospect with 6 years of cheap MLB control and deal them for an all-star MLB player. In general it is a risky move and you do not see big blockbuster like that often in the league. The next
option I have seen is moving Harold Ramirez at the deadline for the best option available. This could be James Shields or Clay Buchholtz if their teams are out of the race. This could be more realistic as the Pirates do operate at the trade deadline and Harry is not the caliber prospect Austin Meadows. Although, Harry is rising prospect who could find himself in that tier this year. The path we have seen the Pirates take is to trade the 2nd tier guys for serviceable players. Last year we saw the Pirates several second tier players in Jacoby Jones, Adrian Sampson, and later in the off-season in Keon Broxton.
One thing to look at is who will replace Andrew McCutchen? Many would like to see Austin Meadows, but I have a hard time seeing the 6’3”, future power hitting outfielder playing center field. The next suggestions is to move Marte to CF. My concern with this is that by 2019, Marte, will have been playing left field for 7 years. Not necessarily an easy transition after such a long period of time. Harry Ramirez projects more as your prototypical center fielder. He is a little smaller, fast, average arm, and can hit for a high batting average with some pop. Meadows projects more as a corner outfielder. If you look at it that way who is more expendable? It is a complex situation that the Pirate find themselves in. What it really depends on is what deal is the best deal at the right time.
There is really no clear-cut answer on how the extension of Polanco will affect the future of the organization. If the Pirates do extend Andrew McCutchen it will make the future more clear. If you have all three outfielders extended into the 2020’s then you have so much flexibility to move these outfield prospects. If you do not, you have to keep one or two of these prospects to replace Cutch eventually. Everyone wants to see trades and it is easy to throw around ideas, but trades are not as simple as we make them out. Small market teams have to rely on prospects to help with their budget and production on the field. Also, it takes two to tengo, and there has to be the right return available. However, with the extension of the Polanco, and the idea of extending Cutch seeming to be an actual possibility, the Pirates will not have to worry about the outfield prospects in the short-term. The Pirates may find themselves in a position to be aggressive on the trade front with some of their top prospects.