With the Starling Marte suspension, the Pittsburgh Pirates are handicapped in the outfield. There are internal choices, but these external options could also fit.
The first game of 2016 without Starling Marte on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ active roster provided a look at the future without the two-time Gold Glover.
Andrew McCutchen returned to his natural position of center field and Adam Frazier got the start in right. Gregory Polanco remained in left field, where he has spent the entire season so far. Additionally, Jose Osuna was called up as another right field option.
Yesterday, I detailed the club’s numerous options to replace Marte in the field and at the plate. However, all of those options are players currently within the organization. There is no guarantee that any of those options will succeed as the everyday right fielder.
What if the best option to fill the team’s’ right field hole is not a member of the organization?
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has already said that a trade is unlikely. He has also stated that the club will look to internal options first, and that external options have to be a significant upgrade over those options. This as reported by MLB.com’s Adam Berry.
Here’s three players not currently on the Pirates who could potentially improve the team’s outfield depth.
After nearly penning a contract with the Baltimore Orioles this offseason, Angel Pagan finds himself still without a team a couple weeks into the season. Pagan failed a physical and the Orioles nixed any plans of signing the 35-year-old outfielder.
Pagan makes sense for the Pittsburgh Pirates because he is a speedy outfielder that can get on base and could be had at a cheap price. He has posted a career .330 on-base percentage and is a lifetime .280 hitter.
The only problems are his age and his lack of game conditioning. Yes, Pagan played in the World Baseball Classic, but he did not get a full Spring Training to prepare for the season. Just to show how missing Spring Training can affect a player, take a look at David Freese. Last season, Freese hit over .290 in April and May, but saw his average drop each month from there on out and ended the season at .270.
Pagan reportedly denied two contract offers this past offseason and seems to want starting player money. With Marte out, the Pirates might be willing to offer that. Last season, Pagan made $11.25 million, but the Pirates can use him staying on the market as long as he has as leverage to work out a lower one-year deal.
UPDATE: Multiple outlets are reporting that Pagan has issued a statement that while he is not officially retiring, he is planning to take 2017 off to be with family.
If Pagan is out of range financially, then the Pittsburgh Pirates should pursue Jeff Francoeur. The 33-year-old free agent has smacked 15 or more home runs five times in his 12-year career. Francoeur fills a power void in the Pirates’ lineup and also has 1,290 appearances in right field to his name.
The biggest problems with Francoeur in the last few seasons have been his average and strikeouts. Francoeur has hit .250 or less five times in his career and has struck out in 19.1-percent of his career at bats. At 33 and without a contract on Apr. 20, he is without a contract for a reason.
Defensively, Francoeur has only gotten worse with time. He went from a career-high 20.6 ultimate zone rating in his third season in right field to five seasons with a negative UZR in the nine years since. However, the Pirates realistically only need 70 games out of Francoeur in right field. If he hits 10 home runs and posts a positive UZR, it’s a successful tenure.
In 2016, Francoeur made $1 million. With Starling Marte losing $2.47 million due to his suspension, the Pirates have some extra cash to make a move. Paying Francoeur a million for production similar to last season (.254, 7 HR, 4.1 UZR) is worth the investment for 80 games.
Replacing a PED user with a two-time PED user may not be the best public relations move, but it would fill the void.
Marlon Byrd has a history with the Pirates from 2013. In only 30 games, Byrd hit .318 with three home runs. In the only postseason of his 15-year career, Byrd hit .364 in six games.
That was almost four years ago, though. Byrd has not hit over .270 in the three seasons since and is 39.
To even consider signing Byrd, the Pirates likely have to talk him out of retirement first. After being suspended 162 games for his second PED usage last season, Byrd told his Cleveland Indians teammates that his career was over.
The Pirates could convince Byrd to come back for one more year as a shot to end his career the way he wants it. Additionally, he could be had for a cheap deal. He would have a bit of time left in his suspension as well. But consider, Byrd signed a minor-league contract in 2016 with the Indians, but made the team. He made need to start the 2017 season in the minors, but Byrd could be up back up in the majors in no time to make a difference in right field.
Jose Osuna, Austin Meadows or Adam Frazier may be the perfect option to fill the void Marte left, but maybe they won’t. If one of them or another internal option fails, the Pirates still have options in the free agent market to choose from.
Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar