The Pittsburgh Pirates need a third outfielder

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

If the Pittsburgh Pirates truly have an interest in competing this season, the front office needs to address their current hole in the corner outfield. This void could be filled with a plethora of still available veteran players that are both affordable and value-producing.

Many people consider Monday, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, to be the unofficial start of the baseball season and the unofficial end of the off-season. Die-hard Pirate fans get their first glimpse of what the Major League club will look like for the upcoming season.

However, when the Pirates report to camp on Monday, many fans will be feeling unease and uncertainty instead of excitement and anticipation. Part of this unease can be put to rest by signing one of the many above-average corner outfield players still available in free agency.

Most of the uncertainty entering spring training stems from the lack of direction shown by the Pirates front office. Right after the Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen trades, Pittsburgh Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington stated:

"“Rebuild implies that you’re looking five years out and you’re going to punt the current season or maybe the next three or four seasons because you’re going to be good in the future. We are not rebuilding. We have a good group of core veteran players, we have a good group of core young Major League players, we have a good wave of players coming on the horizon and we feel like we’ve just added four guys that can help us win games at the Major League Level hopefully, potentially as soon as Opening Day, probably as soon as Opening Day and that’s not a rebuild.”"

Neal’s statement has been consistent with those made by Pirates’ president Frank Coonelly, encouraging Pirate fans that the team is ready to compete this year.

However, the lack of club-improving moves made during the off-season sings a different tune. Trading your best offensive player, your best pitcher, and failing to sign even a middle of the road free agent sends strong messages of a rebuild.

Neal Huntington is lucky, he can still rewrite the story of this off-season. He has an opportunity to improve the Pirates by addressing the gaping hole in an outfield that is currently occupied by only two players, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. The free-agent market is stock full of viable, veteran options at prices that even the Pirates should be able to easily afford.

Carlos Gonzalez

Coming off of a mediocre season with a strong finish, Carlos Gonzalez is on a short list of active players that has eclipsed both 40 home runs and 100 RBI’s. As Marty noted, Carlos could be a great fit in Pittsburgh due to his tendency to pull the ball paired with the Clemente Wall’s short fence. What excites me about Carlos is how he would fit right into the four spot in the Pirates lineup. This has traditionally been a trouble spot for the Pirates over the past few seasons. He would also help the Pirates power game which was second worst in the entire MLB last year with only 151 home runs. There is a lot to love here with this low-risk, high-reward signing.

Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera is a seasoned veteran who has already drawn some interest from the Pirates this off-season. Cabrera’s veteran experience shines through in his patient hitting that also produces decent doubles power.

Cabrera strikes out on average 78 times over the course of a 162 game season while also accumulating 46 walks. In addition, he has hit 30 plus doubles and at least 12 home runs each of his last five seasons. Compare these to the numbers produced by Pirates players last season and it is easy to see that Cabrera would be a major contributor in the lineup – likely slotting in the two spot.

Nick brings does bring up one downfall with Cabrera, his defense. He states, “[Cabrera’s] UZR/150 in the outfield last season was -11, -17.4 in right field, and -9.1 in left field.  He does not seem to be a good fit for PNC Park’s left field, and his numbers in right are even worse.  He also accounted for -20 defensive runs saved.”

Although these are very poor defensive numbers, I do believe Cabrera’s offense will make up for any defensive mishaps in right field.

Jon Jay

Jon Jay would be an interesting pickup for the Pirates at either a one or two year contract. Historically, Jay provides great on-base numbers with good defensive skills. Last year Jay hit .296/.374/.375 with a half dozen stolen bases and only two home runs.

The big value with bringing in Jay would be his ability to cover the large amount of ground in left field, which is without a doubt a place of concern for the Pirates entering this year. Gregory Polanco struggled last year while playing in left, and both Adam Frazier and Jordan Luplow are below average defenders at the position. In addition, Jay provides very consistent hitting and a great on-base percentage. See this article by Nick for more information on why Jay would be a good fit in Pittsburgh.

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It’s nearly impossible to find a good reason why the Pittsburgh Pirates would not sign one of the above three players or another quality outfielder if they are truly looking to compete in the 2018 season. Right now the Pirates are projected to be $10-20 million below their opening payroll last season, and none of these players will cost more than $8 million. In addition, the Pirates have a clear need for additional power in their lineup, or at the very least, a quality third outfielder that can cover PNC’s large left field. Give the fans something to be excited about Neal – a quality corner outfielder.

Let’s go Bucs!