Gregory Polanco had an up-and-down career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was his contract extension a mistake?
Gregory Polanco started the 2014 season as the Pittsburgh Pirates no. 1 Prospect and #13 in all of MLB. In front of players such as future perennial All-Stars Nick Castellanos, George Springer, Mookie Betts, and Corey Seager.
In 2014, after starting 62 Games at Triple-A Indianapolis, they finally called him up after hitting 7 home runs and recording 49 RBIs, along with batting .347. He was sent back down once and played in 7 more games. In the Majors in 2014, he hit .235 with 7 Home Runs and 33 RBIs in 89 games. In those 89 games, he was also able to control strikeouts while walking at 9.6% for an On-Base Percentage of .307.
In 2015, Polanco started the season with the Pittsburgh Pirates and showed he could be the next big outfielder in Pittsburgh. In 153 games, he only had 9 Home Runs and recorded 52 RBIs, but his average was at .256 with an on-base percentage of .320. While this isn't the best, he was showing his potential. This season he also was above-average in the outfield, making 13 outfield assists but had a problem with 8 errors.
Polanco started the 2016 season by signing a massive 5-Year $35,000,000 contract with $12,500,000 and $13,500,000 options. In 144 games, he slugged 22 home runs with 86 RBIS, along with a .258 average and a .323 on-base percentage.
In 2017, he recorded 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 108 games but struggled with a massive drop-off in walks along with a decline in batting average, finishing with a .251 average and .305 on-base percentage.
2018 needed to be a huge coming-out season for his contract to be seen as worth it, and boy did he. In 130 games, he hit a career-high 23 home runs along with 81 RBIs, while his average was only .254, it was stable every season to this point and with more walks, an On-Base of .340 was amazing. OPS+ is a scale to compare a player to the league average 100 being the average that season; his was 128, meaning he was 28% better than the average player.
In 2019, he struggled to stay healthy and started to be one of the worst players on the team. He finished the 2019 season with 42 games, hitting 6 home runs and recording 17 RBIs but struggled with an average of .242. While walking a lot less than last season, he also started to swing and miss a lot; many compared him to a golfer because he always went for the low balls.
The 2020 season was the COVID season, so things already weren't good but if you didn't watch him play this season, you got lucky. In 50 games, he had 7 Home Runs and 22 RBIs but only batted .153 with an .214 On-Base; his OPS+ was 44. The Pirates knew if he couldn't rebound in 2021 that he was gone because his contract options were unbearable to hold onto for a rebuilding team.
In 2021, he struggled and never returned to form, In the 107 games he played in he batted .208. On August 22nd, 2021, he was designated for assignment in the hope maybe a contender would pick him up, but no teams picked him up, he was added back to the roster but was released on August 28 before getting picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays on August 31st, 2021.
While he didn't play in the Majors with the Blue Jays, in 24 Minor league games, he hit .374 with 9 home runs and 24 RBIs. While the Blue Jays' minor league team is very hitter-friendly, it still showed he had much left in the tank.
At age 29, Polanco was officially out of MLB. In 2022, he signed with the Yomiuri Giants of the NPB, playing in 138 games. He hit .240 with 24 home runs and 58 RBIs. To start 2023, he signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the NPB. So far, in 102 games, he hit 23 home runs along with 66 RBIs. He has turned his career around with an average of .258 and an OBP of .327.
He's now almost 32 years old. While it's unlikely he will ever return to MLB, there's still a chance, while unlikely, still possible. He has career MLB earnings from the Pirates of at least $31,476,650.
Every player accumulates WAR (Wins Above Replacement). For this, I'll be using bWAR in this estimate. I value 1 bWAR at $7,000,000. His career bWAR was 3.9. This means his value was $27,300,000, meaning he had an overall negative value of $4,176,650. When he received this contract it included his rookie years and arbitration years, meaning the contract was supposed to pay him way less than he deserved but he failed to do that. In the 2023 season so far, Corey Seager has a bWAR of 6.0, which is more than Polanco had in nearly 3,000 career At-Bats. He was a bust of a contract, but for years after the Pirates, weren't competitive he was fun to watch play. While he wasn't a good player, he was always there for better or for worse, 'El Coffee' will be remembered by Pirates' fans for years.