By Jared Lankes
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has acknowledged that they are looking externally for an outfielder that can fill-in for Starling Marte after he was slapped with a 80-game PED suspension. This need got greater once the Pirates had to place IF/OF Adam Frazier on the DL with a hamstring strain. Currently, the Pirates are using a combo of Harrison, Osuna, and Jaso in the OF (Frazier too when healthy). Bell, Gosselin, and Hanson can also play in the outfield as far as technicalities are concerned. The issue present is that none of these guys are true outfielders. The 3rd outfielder option for the Pirates currently comprises of: Three 1st basemen, three middle infielders, and a few utility players that can barely play outfield. Combined all this, and it is easy to discern why Neal Huntington has been hunting for an external option to fill that spot. Now, there are many options out there, so just who would the Pirates be interested in getting? I look into a few options here.
Chris Marrero: Chris Marrero was just recently let go by the Giants as they shook up the roster by adding Christian Arroyo and Drew Stubbs to it. Marrero, 28, has never been good in the MLB and has been a minor leaguer much of his career. I cannot see the Pirates even considering him even though he’d come as a player making close to the league minimum with years of control attached. However, he would not represent any sort of upgrade over what the team already has.
Jeff Francoeur: It seems like Francouer has been around awhile, hasn’t it? Well, this 33 year old just won’t go away it appears. Yes, he is a free agent that is vying for a spot on an MLB roster and one may have opened up for him. Francoeur has not been great but was akin to a solid bench player the last few years and could certainly provide himself as a good fill-in option. His defense is still rock solid, and you have to imagine his arm is still outstanding. His hitting isn’t great at this point, but he can at least hold his own at the plate. Additionally, he’d bring another nice veteran presence to an otherwise young group. He can immediately fill-in to right field and bats right-handed, which is more likely the route the Pirates are going towards when looking for outfielders.
Leonys Martin: Martin was shockingly designated for assignment by the Mariners. The 29-year old broke into the bigs with the Rangers in 2011 and showed off fine defensive skills, which is still there. He had some good years with the bat early in his career, but much of his value has always been defense. His hitting ability has not been there since going to Seattle, but the astounding defense and base-running skills are still there, which make him an intriguing option for the Pirates. His defense and base running are things the Pirates would desire as that has been two of the weakest aspects of the team so far in 2017. However, you look at the Pirates roster, and you see so many lefty bats (Polanco, Frazier, Jaso, and switch hitters Bell and Hanson will bat mostly lefty as righty pitchers will be seen more). Another lefty bat may be a little much, especially when Marte gets back and Martin would get placed on a bench that is already unbalanced in that direction.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: Nieuwenhuis was designated for assignment but quickly passed through waivers and ourighted by the Brewers to AAA. Nieuwenhuis has never really done anything with the bat and is known more for good defense. However, just like Martin, he is a lefty hitter that has really no bat and is great on defense and baserunning. What makes this unlikely, however, is that the Pirates could have had him on waivers for nothing. Pirates certainly wouldn’t trade anything for him when they could have had him for free. This is another reason to figure that the Pirates don’t want another left-handed hitter because they could have had one rather easily.
Angel Pagan: Pagan was looking for a contract for awhile and wanted a major league contract. No team was meeting his demands, so he quit with his ambitions and elected to stay at home with the family and take at least a year off. Maybe he quit too early though as a spot on the Pirates and an opportunity to start for a bit opened up right as he packed it up and went home (literally). The veteran switch hitter is most remembered here in Pittsburgh for not being able to hang on to an ball Erik Kratz hit last season that went for a homerun in a game where Locke outdueled Bumgarner and Kratz’s homer stood up in a 1-0 Pirates win (what a legendary game). It would have been ironic if he would have come to the Pirates after that happened. But alas, he is temporarily retired, and it looks like it will remain that way unless the Pirates majorly overpay.
Coco Crisp: Coco Crisp is another outfielder that just could not find any love this offseason in the free agent market. The 37-year old switch hitter has been a very solid hitter his whole career, and has proven to be a good bench option the last few seasons, even starting a pretty good bit for the AL Champion Indians at the latter portion of last season. What Coco Crisp can provide you, besides possibly the coolest name in the MLB, is consistency. He isn’t a great player either way, but he is solid enough to fill-in a spot in order to help a team stay afloat. In addition to that, you can never have enough switch hitters, especially veteran ones who have proven their ability to hit from both sides of the dish. Between that and the fact that he is still a good athlete in the outfield, I could certainly see the Pirates entertaining this idea.
It is difficult to figure out whether the Pirates even sign an outfielder externally, and if they would, which one they bring in. Would they want a consistent defender, an expert baserunner, a veteran outfielder with a cannon arm, or someone that does all these things at least decently. You also have to wonder whether they want a lefty batter, a righty batter, a switch hitter, or if it doesn’t even matter. There are a lot of factors that come into play here as to what the Pirates will do in the outfield until Marte gets back. Now, there are no superstars or even star players hanging out there for the Pirates to nab and expect production similar to Marte. However, there are some players out there that make you cringe less watching them play outfield as opposed to the guys currently on the roster.