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.

Tim Williams

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.

Share This Post On
  • ginbear

    How about Jhonny Peralta? That would give you a guy that could play SS, 3rd or a corner OF position. The flexibility would allow him to be moved if/when younger talent starts producing (ie. won’t block Polanco).

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      He’s played three games in the outfield in his entire career.

      • ginbear

        Plus 6 starts in the post season this year. He’s also on record saying he’s open to signing (with the Tigers, at least) as a left-fielder. Just thinking outside the box here: he starting quality depth at short, a viable platoon option with either Alvarez or Walker (the latter meaning Mercer slides to second) and a guy you “could” plug in the outfield and not block talent.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

          I didn’t know he played there during the post-season. It’s an interesting thought, as there’s a lack of depth at third base or shortstop if Alvarez or Mercer goes down this year (or if Alvarez goes down in future years).

          • emjayinTN

            He had to play the OF because Detroit had signed another SS due to Peralta being on the PED 60 game suspension. When he was ready the SS they had gotten (I think Iglesias) was doing well and Detroit told Peralta that he had to go to the OF or the bench – I like their style!

    • Kevin_Young

      This falls under my Josh Harrison “Just cuz he’s played there, doesn’t mean he should” principle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

    Of Kubel and Morse, Morse is probably the better bet to bounce back. He dealt with injuries pretty much the entire season, tried to play through them and was dreadful. At least there’s the hope that, when healthy, you get the 2010-2012 Mike Morse, who would not only be a solid middle of the lineup hitter, but would provide positional flexibility at first base once Polanco is ready.

    That said, he was a butcher in the field this year – some of it likely owing to his injuries, but it’s not as if he’s ever graded out as even an average fielder.

    I really like Peralta as a super-U, since so much of his value is in the bat, but wonder if he’ll be affordable.

  • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

    What about David Murphy? The guy has been a pretty consistent player throughout his career but is coming off his worst season in the majors thanks in large part to a .227 BABIP. He may be looking for a one year deal to rebuild some value he lost due to the poor season and could platoon with Tabata in RF. He doesn’t have a lot of power but he doesn’t strike out a lot and is decent at getting on base. His defense is ok. Obviously not the most attractive option but I think he is a viable one that may take a one year deal.

    Then again he may get a two year deal but even then it probably wouldn’t be for a massive amount meaning it still might be manageable.

  • leadoff

    The Bucs can do a multi-year deal for a right fielder as long as they get a good player in that deal. You can always make a trade if and when Polanco is ready. If Byrd can be had for 11-15mil for 2 years, I would make that deal. You could keep him until Polanco is ready, then trade him, possibly to an American league contender, who knows we never figure injuries, but what would happen if Cutch went down for a month, it would pay the Pirates to have the depth that Byrd would provide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    “why not take a risk on Tabata and Lambo?”

    If not Byrd on a one year deal, that is my second option. However, I’d rather they try Lambo at 1b first.

    • leadoff

      You probably can’t get Byrd on a one year deal, but he still can be a value on a two year deal. IMO, when a team is one or two players away from a complete team, a player like Byrd makes sense, he can play anywhere in the outfield and is trade-able, trade-able is the most important fact, he can be a placesetter with a 2 year contract. Lambo is a gamble, a gamble I would take if Byrd is not available to the Bucs.

      • https://profiles.google.com/103770536589125998209 Michael Jackson

        Agree. He will be very tradable later in the year if another team needs an outfielder.

        We can pretty much give him away and save on the expense of the second year of a two-year contract.

        That would also make it more likely that we will trade him somewhere he wants to go.

        Also, make his second year a little less expensive but make it a player option. That gives both sides something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirk.vandergrift Kirk Lee

    What they should do is sign a 1B free agent, since there isn’t any immediate impact prospect available to fill in there, and then have Lambo and Tabata battle it out for the RF spot, with the loser being our first option off the bench. An ideal situation would be one in which we get a 1B who can play some RF if necessary, like Garrett Jones, but preferably a better hitter than Jones.

  • ChirpCity

    I wonder if byrd would be open to a 2 year deal that pays him like a starter in the first year and a 4th outfielder in the second year? Like 8-10 mil next year and 4 mil in 2015. That might make sense for the bucs going forward.

  • CalipariFan506

    I’m still holding out hope Snider figures it out. I’d give him a few more months before throwing him away.

  • IC Bob

    Unfortunately I am not sure we can afford to give him a few more months. The cost would be high since he is arbitration eligible. Additionally we are now going to start having a 40 man roster crunch with the depth we have in the minors. I would hate to expose a potential player to the rule 5 waiting for Snider to get it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      This.

  • blackmax

    “And if you’re going to take a risk on a one-year deal, why not take a risk on Tabata and Lambo?”

    Because there are many reasons to believe that they are not very good. Tabata is a good 4th outfielder, but he is not a starter on a first division team. (the Pirates are such a team). Lambo had a very good season in the minors last year, which makes one in a row. It seems to me that the Pirates need to line up a few more left handed hitting options if they are going to open right field to the suspects next season. In my opinion, the Pirates would be making a big mistake, and aiming too low, if they were to plan on using the Tabata / Lambo tandem in 2014.

  • jg941

    2-year deal for sub-$15 mil for Byrd, keep Lambo and look to move Tabata while he still has any value. If Polanco arrives quickly, you have a great RH veteran bat off the bench in Byrd who is also (as someone said above) very trade-able. But Byrd would be a very valuable “insurance policy” to have if everything doesn’t click right away with Polanco.

    (I think Polanco clearly is a lock, just talking more about his projected arrival time, alleviating some pressure from thrusting him immediately into a starting job, etc.)

    I believe that Byrd would stay for that kind of two year deal, and at $7.5 per year, for a maximum of two years, it shouldn’t make anyone in the Bucs front office too nervous.

  • jon6er

    Save the money for other things. Tabata and Lambo till June and then Polanco. We have the pitching to keep us in it till then and money left over in case Tabata and Lambo bomb before the break which I don’t believe will happen.

  • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

    Everyone would like to think Byrd will be tradable but lets assume the Pirates sign him to a 2/16 deal and he reverts back to where he was in 2011/2012. During those two season he was a .260/.305/.358 player. How much value does a 36 year old player making 8 million a year have when is producing like that?

    People seem to ignore the fact Byrd is 36 years old, doesn’t have the track record of playing like this past season and in his two prior seasons looked as if his baseball career was over. Committing something like 2/16 or even 3/24 to a player like Byrd is exactly what the Pirates shouldn’t be doing.

    For years Huntington and his predecessors have been criticized for signing over the hill veterans who even at their peak weren’t really great players. Wouldn’t Byrd just be more of that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    It’s not wise to count on a 22-year-old who has had 9 plate appearances at AAA and posted a .761 OPS at AA last year.

    I like Polanco. I think he is a better prospect than Marte was. I hope he earns his way to Pittsburgh in July and has a great second half, but the Pirates cannot go into 2014 depending on that to happen. They need to sign either a 1B or a RF.

    James Loney and Justin Morneau would be good free agent targets for 1B. I like David Murphy as a free agent outfielder.

    • jon6er

      You have to give them a chance sooner or later before you ever know if you can count on them.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Well if we are going to sign Peralta, let him play short…..he’s better than barmes or mercer. That’d be a good sign and would allow mercer to sub at short and platoon with walker, i’d definitely take that chance. Anyways…..i’d take a one year flier on Ibanez, he’d come to a winner and if he can hold up would be a great veteran presence who still has talent, it goes well with our outfield and worse case scenario, an awesome bench bat that wouldn’t cost that much

  • Y2JGQ2

    Maybe even take a flier on Sizemore. THis is probably his last chance before he is gone from ML. If he does nothing, oh well, no real loss, but still a sizeable upside if he can recapture form. kinda like liriano

  • Kevin_Young

    Platooning Tabata, why is this a thing? It’s like people say it because they assume something that doesn’t exist. The guy doesn’t have a platoon split whatsoever and on top of that you’re less likely to find a partner in a platoon that mashes righties because that’s obviously a more valuable skill. I just think if you’re going to play him then why platoon?

  • CalipariFan506

    I think if the plan is to give Snider one last shot then his cost through arbitration isn’t much. It would be minuscule compared to signing Byrd or another free agent.

    As for the 40 man concerns, IMO Snider has more value than Harrison. In fact I doubt he would be claimed if DFAd. He could go back to AAA for depth.

  • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

    I don’t like the question. I would hope to get Lambo some time at 1b this offseason is some winter league. I would definitely consider trading for Bourjos, who’s still controllable though heading for arb. He’s had some back luck with getting HBP which skewed his 2013 numbers. He was an excellent leadoff hitter when playing full time last April-June and carries more value than Trumbo. Angels are looking for MLB-ready(ish) pitching. Bucs should be able to package something that’s not going to hurt too bad.

    I would then wait to see what Polanco has. Then, if Polanco is for real, I seriously consider flipping Marte for a need in 2015 – a quality SS or LH pitching as Marte will have incredible value but would be redundant here. The Bucs still desperately need a leadoff hitter. Marte isn’t that guy. I’d give him a year to see if he can become Vlad-lite, but if he can’t deliver consistent power or OBP, he can take dWAR elsewhere far as I’m concerned.