Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason: Fourth Outfielder Option
Editorial: The Pittsburgh Pirates positional players seem set among the 25 man roster, with only one bench spot open. The Pirates need to fill either a backup shortstop position or a fourth outfield spot.
Currently the Pirates outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco is set. The Pirates have fourth outfield type players in Adam Frazier, Alen Hanson, John Jaso is working out in right field, and starting second baseman Josh Harrison can always slide out there. At shortstop, the position is filled by Jordy Mercer, but Jung Ho Kang can always play short in a pinch, as he is on the Korean World Baseball Classic team as a shortstop. But Kang depends on his legal situations, which ultimately lead to a couple of holes.
Andrew McCutchen’s name has popped up in various rumors, primarily the Washington Nationals, and a trade would leave a vacant outfield spot until the arrival of Austin Meadows. Josh Bell can stand in right field, but outside of that he does not really provide anything defensively in the outfield. Furthermore, via Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Huntington said “the Pirates are focused on using Bell at first base.”
How important is this?
Very actually. In just 108.1 innings in the outfield, Bell posted a uzr/150 of -60.4 and he had -5 defensive runs saved… on 11 plays, 17 balls in zone, and 6 plays made out of zone. It is an extremely small sample size, but his defense in the outfield was noticeable by the eye in the routes he took. There was a look of discomfort for Bell.
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Leaving a Need
Assuming a McCutchen trade, the Pirates need somebody to start until mid June or so. John Jaso can’t hit left-handed pitching, looked to slow down as a regular in 2016, and his defense in right field will likely be horrid. Adam Frazier’s bat does not project him to be good enough to start, a .303 wOBA and an 89 wRC+ in 163 games by Steamer. His defense was also questionable. He will be best reserved for a bench role. Willy Garcia, who is on the 40 man, has a strong-arm, but his bat has been there. In his time in Triple A Indianapolis over the one and a half years, Garcia has posted a .302 wOBA and a wRC+ of 89. Garcia has been on the 40 man roster the last two seasons, and he still has not been on the major league roster.
This leaves the Pirates with a need that they need to fill. They can either by acquiring an outfielder in a McCutchen deal, or signing a free agent.
The best player to be the fourth outfielder is Franklin Gutierrez. The soon to be 34-year-old has had health issues in the past. He had hamstring issues in 2013. Then he missed all of 2014 with both ankylosing spondylitis and irritable bowl syndrome. He returned in 2015, played in just 59 games, but posted a .410 wOBA and a 167 wRC+.
In 2016, Gutierrez played 98 games and posted a .336 wOBA and a 114 wRC+. He’s not suited to be an everyday player, in with the need to just fill a stop-gap, Gutierrez should be the go to. He’s a right-handed bat projected to have a .325 wOBA and a 114 wRC+. His defense in 2016 was below optimal, posting a -8 runs saved and -16.9 uzr/150. But a move to a shallow right field at PNC should help, and at the worst, he and Jaso can split time out there until Meadows arrives.
The Pirates need to find an outfielder that can go play right field. Atleast one, for the first two and a half months of the season if they deal McCutchen. There are not many outfielders out there that have the ability to be cheap and be a spot starter. Gutierrez can, and a platoon combo of Jaso and Gutierrez will yield the best results. Both players project to be average to above average – Gutierrez one percent better than average and Jaso seven percent better. Unless the Pirates acquire an outfielder that can be close to league average with the bat and have the ability to play a slight below average to better defense in a McCutchen trade, they should sign Gutierrez. If no McCutchen deal does occur though, the team will likely target a backup middle infielder.
*Numbers from fangraphs