Does a Free Agent Make Sense For the Pirates in Right Field?

One of the few positions of need in 2014 is right field. As I pointed out in the 2013 right field recap, the Pirates struggled throughout the 2013 season with their right fielders. That changed in late August when they traded for Marlon Byrd, although Byrd is a free agent this off-season and will likely be looking for a multi-year deal after his career year at the age of 36.

The Pirates may only need a replacement option for a few months, as Gregory Polanco is on the verge of arriving in the majors. Polanco is an advanced hitter for his young age, and is a future impact talent. He has been tearing up the Dominican Winter Leagues so far in the young season, and might not need more than half a season in Triple-A, depending on how quickly he adjusts to the pitching.

Finding such a replacement option might be tricky, since most of the upcoming free agents project to receive multi-year deals, while the one-year candidates are all risky. Here is a look at the free agent outfielders, via MLBTR, with the best players highlighted below, and some thoughts after that.

The Free Agents

Left fielders

Jeff Baker (33)
Jason Bay (35)
Trevor Crowe (30)
Mark DeRosa (39) – $750K club option with a $25K buyout
Raul Ibanez (42)
Reed Johnson (37) – $1.6MM club option with a $150K buyout
Austin Kearns (34)
Jason Kubel (32) – $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Darnell McDonald (35)
Nate McLouth (32)
Mike Morse (32)
David Murphy (32)
Laynce Nix (33)
Juan Pierre (36)
Grady Sizemore (31)
Delmon Young (28)

Center fielders

Rick Ankiel (34)
Coco Crisp (34) – $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Trevor Crowe (30)
Rajai Davis (33)
Jacoby Ellsbury (30)
Curtis Granderson (33)
Franklin Gutierrez (31) – $7.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Andres Torres (36)
Chris Young (30) – $11MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout

Right fielders

Jeff Baker (33)
Carlos Beltran (37)
Roger Bernadina (30)
Marlon Byrd (36)
Shin-Soo Choo (31)
Tyler Colvin (28)
Trevor Crowe (30)
Nelson Cruz (33)
David DeJesus (34) – $6.5MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout
Mark DeRosa (39) – $750K club option with a $25K buyout
Jeff Francoeur (30)
Mike Morse (32)
Grady Sizemore (31)
Casper Wells (29)

The One Year Candidates

Raul Ibanez – He had a good season, with a .793 OPS in Seattle. However, Ibanez was 41, which raises major questions of whether he can repeat that performance. Also, he’d be a bad defensive option.

Jason Kubel – I’ve been a big fan of Kubel throughout his career. He’s been a pretty under-rated outfielder, with an .811 OPS from 2007-2012. Last year he struggled with a .610 OPS. That raises the question of whether he just had a down year, or is starting to rapidly decline at the age of 31. I don’t have an answer for that, and I think Kubel will come under a one year deal with a team willing to find out (after his option most likely gets rejected).

Mike Morse – He’s in the same position as Kubel. Morse had an .861 OPS from 2010-2012, dropping to .791 during the 2012 season. Last year, at the age of 31, he had a .651 OPS. Because of the drop and the age, I could see him on a one year deal.

Marlon Byrd will probably sign a multi-year deal this off-season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Marlon Byrd will probably sign a multi-year deal this off-season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Multi-Year Candidates

Jacoby Ellsbury – He’s probably going to command a big deal, which doesn’t make sense for the Pirates since they have Polanco set to arrive soon.

Curtis Granderson – He was 32 last year and had a lot of injuries. There have been a few teams talking about going after him. The age and the injuries, plus the poor production when he was healthy, are all red flags.

Carlos Beltran – He’s 37 years old, but Beltran is coming off a year where he had an .830 OPS. I could see some team going after him on a multi-year deal, and that team could be St. Louis.

Marlon Byrd – He will probably be looking for multiple years coming off a career season at the age of 36. I don’t think the PED suspension in 2012 will concern teams, since there is strong evidence that Byrd was on medication that was banned and not actual PEDs. Also, he would have been tested more frequently, making it unlikely that his 2013 season was PED fueled.

Shin-Soo Choo – He’s going to cost a lot of money over a lot of years, plus a draft pick. None of that makes sense with Polanco set to arrive mid-season.

Nelson Cruz – He was busted for PEDs, but also had an .833 OPS. It will be interesting to see how his market goes. He might not get multiple years because of PED concerns, but then again the overall outfield market is weak.

Does a Free Agent Make Sense?

A lot of the guys available from the list above are just poor options. The handful of good options will probably be seeking multiple years. That doesn’t make sense for the Pirates with Gregory Polanco coming soon. If the suggestion is to sign a free agent then trade Polanco, then that’s a bad suggestion. The youngest of the multi-year candidates is Ellsbury. The best of the group is Choo, who is 31. The Pirates are going to be better off in the long-run with Polanco, rather than spending big money on someone who will see the decline of their career during the deal.

That leaves the alternative of a one-year stopgap. The problem is that the free agent market is so weak that there won’t be many one-year deals. The only guys who will come on one year deals are the bounce back candidates like Kubel and Morse, veterans like Ibanez, or the guys who shouldn’t be starting for any team. If one of the multi-year candidates came on a one year deal, it would make sense to sign them. Then you can use Polanco as depth in the second half, and if everyone is healthy and productive in 2014, then you bring him up in 2015.

Jose Tabata's strong finish to the season, plus Gregory Polanco's upcoming arrival might negate the need for a free agent right fielder. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jose Tabata’s strong finish to the season, plus Gregory Polanco’s upcoming arrival might negate the need for a free agent right fielder. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Because of the lack of options, I doubt someone on the multi-year list will be available on a one-year deal. That leaves some questionable options as one-year candidates. You’ve either got guys with past success who had a down year in their early 30s, or guys with no past success. Either way there’s risk involved. If you’re going to take a risk, why not take a risk with some upside?

As I mentioned in the right field recap, the Pirates saw Jose Tabata go on a hot streak at the end of the 2013 season. He had a .312/.357/.490 line in 157 at-bats over the final two months of the season. Then there’s Andrew Lambo, who hit 33 home runs last year between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors. It would be nice to see if he can translate some of that power over to the majors.

Gregory Polanco is a potential impact player, but he’s going to need some time in Triple-A before he’s ready. The Pirates will need to find someone to bridge the gap until Polanco is ready. A big, multi-year deal doesn’t make sense, as that blocks Polanco. And if you’re going to take a risk on a one-year deal, why not take a risk on Tabata and Lambo? See if there was something to Tabata’s end to the season. See if Lambo’s power was legit last year (and if it was, move him to first when Polanco arrives). Those two don’t pose any more risk than the other one-year candidates on the market, and there is reason to give both of them a chance.

In theory, a free agent makes sense for the Pirates if there was a good option on a one year deal. There won’t be, and the Pirates have two interesting internal options available to them. It would make sense to give Tabata and Lambo one final shot before Polanco arrives. It doesn’t make sense to sign a free agent to either block Polanco, or pose the same risk as Tabata/Lambo, with less long-term upside. A free agent right fielder just doesn’t make sense for the Pirates this year.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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