The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently looking for a center fielder. Let’s take a look at a potential trade to fill that void and add to the Pirates’ system.
On January 27th, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded star center fielder Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks, creating a hole in center field. Since then, general manager Ben Cherington has said on record that the team is still looking to acquire a player to play center field via the trade market or free agency.
Something that has become more popular in Major League Baseball has been the idea of absorbing a player on a bad contract in order to acquire another asset with him. For example, earlier this winter, the San Francisco Giants acquired Zack Cozart and his contract from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim along with highly-touted prospect Will Wilson in exchange for pitcher Garrett Williams.
The Pirates should strongly consider doing something like this, and a player that immediately comes to mind is Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier, who turns 30 in April, has three guaranteed years remaining on his current deal and is owed $35 million over that span. He also has a team option for 2023 for $13 million or a $2.5 million dollar buyout.
Acquiring Kiermaier along with one of Tampa’s prospects makes sense for a variety of reasons.
First, as mentioned earlier, the Pirates have a need in center field. The team’s payroll is currently projected to be around $45-50 million for 2020, so there is room to add a contract such as Kiermaier’s.
Secondly, the Rays have an abundance of outfielders. They acquired both Hunter Renfroe and Manny Margot from San Diego this winter in two seperate deals. The also acquired Randy Arozarena this off season from the Cardinals, and signed Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo as well. In addition to these new acquisitions, they also have old friend Austin Meadows and a few other pieces who can play the outfield.
Lastly, acquiring a prospect from the Rays’ deep minor league system would help in Cherington’s efforts to create a deeper and better farm system for the Bucs. A process he started by adding pitcher Brennan Malone and shortstop Liover Peguero, both of whom are now top-10 prospects in their farm system, in exchange for Marte.
Kiermaier, who has battled injuries the last few seasons, owns a career 98 OPS+ in his time with the Rays. He is best known for his elite defense and has won three gold gloves and has +117 DRS in his MLB career in center field. Playing in 129 games, the left-handed hitter slashed .228/.278/.398 with a wRC+ of 78 last season. Despite his offensive struggles, he still posted a 1.5 fWAR due to his defense.
In his six full MLB seasons, Kiermaier has posted a 17.5 fWAR. His career high was 4.3 in 2015, the first of back-to-back 4.0+ fWAR seasons for Kiermaier. For his career, Kiermaier owns a .249/.306/.416 slash line with a 97 wRC+.
Adding Kiermaier, even with what can be offensive shortcomings, would still make the Pirates better in the outfield in 2020 and beyond due to his elite defense. Taking on his contract could also help the Pirates add a worthwhile prospect.