The Pittsburgh Pirates need to turn to free agency to address their need for a right fielder
After trading Andrew McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in need of a third outfielder. Starling Marte will move to center field in 2018 while Gregory Polanco will slide from right field to left. So, it is in right field where the Pirates need help.
Top hitting prospect Austin Meadows is capable of playing right field. However, due to a combination of the Pirates not wanting to risk paying Meadows as a Super 2 player down the road with the injuries he suffered in 2017 and Meadows will start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. This leaves a spot in right field.
In house the Pirates have options such as Adam Frazier or Jordan Luplow, but neither Frazier nor Luplow is the option. In order to address right field, the Pirates need to turn to free agency and the player they need to turn to is Carlos Gonzalez.
The past nine seasons Carlos Gonzalez has been the right fielder for the Colorado Rockies. For many of those seasons he was among the best offensive outfielders in the National Leauge. In 2017, however, his offense slipped. That offensive slip coming in a contract year should make Gonzalez available at a decently cheap price.
Last season Gonzalez had a .327 wOBA and a wRC+ of 84. Next to his injury riddled 2014 campaign, these two figures were career lows for Gonzalez. Also, his 22.3 percent strikeout rate was the third highest figure of his career.
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Despite these struggles, there were positive signs from Gonzalez in 2017 and reasons to expect he could be a productive hitter in 2018. First off, Gonzalez still got on base at an above league average pace owning a 10.5 percent walk rate and a .339 on-base percentage.
Secondly, Gonzalez was still able to find his power stroke. He collected 48 extra base hit, his ISO was .162, and he slugged .423. The Clemente Wall and its short porch could benefit Gonzalez and his power as well.
A third reason that Carlos Gonzalez could be successful in Pittsburgh is that he likes to pull the ball. In 2017 he pulled the ball 41.5 percent of the time and in his career he owns a 40.4 percent pull rate. As was said above, the Clemente Wall in right field could benefit Gonzalez greatly and that would be to his pull side.
The biggest problem for Carlos Gonzalez in 2017 revolved around his launch angle. While his average exit velocity 87.54 miles per hour was slightly above the Major League average, his launch angle 6.08 degrees was well below the MLB average of 11.83 degrees.
When a player’s launch angle is less than 10 degrees their odds of hitting a groundball increase substantially. So, it should come as no surprise that Carlos Gonzalez’s 48.6 percent groundball rate in 2017 was his highest since 2012.
If Jeff Branson can help Gonzalez fix his launch angle issue, he should be able to produce in Pittsburgh.
Now, you may ask, if the Pirates signed Carlos Gonzalez then what do you do with Austin Meadows? Frankly, nothing would change.
Meadows will start the season at Triple-A regardless leaving the Bucs looking for a right fielder. Carlos Gonzalez is a better option than the other in house options that were discussed above. If you get to June or July and Meadows is proving he is ready for the Major Leagues, the Bucs could look to flip Gonzalez, assuming he is producing, to contending team to add more young talent to their organization.
If the Pirates find themselves as a contending team in the summer with Gonzalez producing for the team and Meadows looking Major League ready, well, then that would be a good problem to have. All of that said, due to injuries and other factors, these things tend to work themselves out.
Despite a down year in 2017, there are reasons to believe that Carlos Gonzalez could be a productive hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018. By producing Gonzalez could help the Pirates in a more than one way. Make it happen, Bucs.