By Jason Shetler
The Pirates entered 2018 with a starting outfield of Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Dickerson had a productive first season in Pittsburgh, while Marte bounced back, after missing some time in 2017 because of a PED suspension. Polanco struggled in the first half, but really finished the year strong, before a shoulder injury in early September ended his season.
In mid-May, the Pirates called up their top outfield prospect Austin Meadows. Manager Clint Hurdle decided to go with a four-man outfield rotation, which would allow Meadows to find playing time in all three outfield spots. Hurdle’s weird fascination with Sean Rodriguez came into play, as Rodriguez found himself in the outfield, defeating the entire purpose of the four-man outfield experiment.
At last year’s trade deadline, Meadows was moved to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Chris Archer deal. Following the injury to Polanco, Jordan Luplow was expected to get most of the playing time in right field, but he scuffled, and Pablo Reyes rose to the occasion. Reyes had a very impressive September showing, hitting .293 and posting an .832 OPS.
During the first week of September, it was announced that Polanco had surgery on his left shoulder, with a recovery time of 7-9 months. More than three months after Meadows was traded, the Pirates dealt Luplow, along with Max Moroff, to the Cleveland Indians as part of a five-player deal that included Erik Gonzalez, who could be Pittsburgh’s Opening Day shortstop.
On November 27th, the Pirates brought in their right field replacement for Polanco, signing Lonnie Chisenhall to a one-year contract worth $2.75 million. Prior to joining the Bucs, Chisenhall spent the first eight years of his MLB career in Cleveland.
It’s been a frustrating career for Chisenhall, having to make frequent trips to the disabled list. When he is playing however, he can be a pretty good contributor in the lineup. Over the last three seasons, Chisenhall has played a total of only 237 games, but did put up a .354 wOBA and 113 OPS+. He has struggled throughout his career versus lefty pitching, with an OPS of just .699.
As I mentioned earlier, Pablo Reyes had a phenomenal September, and most of that great work came against southpaws, posting a stellar 1.213 OPS. Since the Pirates don’t have a ton of dollars invested in Chisenhall, it makes for an easier decision to have the two share time in right field, especially given Chisenhall’s injury past. While Reyes probably won’t be able to sustain those numbers against left-handers, he should still do better than Chisenhall in that regard. The potential of a Chisenhall/Reyes platoon in right field I feel would give the Pirates more production on the short-term until Polanco makes his return either in May or June.