Bucs release Polanco after eight seasons

Tucker called up as club looks to evaluate younger players

August 29th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The longest-tenured Pirate is no more in Pittsburgh, as the club released right fielder on Saturday.

By releasing Polanco now, the Pirates are giving him a chance to catch on with a contender before Aug. 31. By that date, a player must be on the 40-man roster or 60-day injured list to be eligible for the postseason.

“Gregory has been a true professional throughout his entire Pirates career, including in our conversation with him regarding today’s roster move,” general manager Ben Cherington said in a statement. “He has been a great teammate who always handled himself with class and took a great deal of pride in representing the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh. We wish him nothing but success moving forward.”

The Pirates continued to give Polanco every opportunity to improve throughout a 2021 season in which they were well out of playoff contention after the first couple of months. However, this late in the season, they want to prioritize time for younger players such as infielder/outfielder , who was recalled to fill Polanco’s spot on the active roster.

“I think it’s to the point that we’re getting into September, and we’re getting a look at some different people,” manager Derek Shelton said. “The rosters will expand, but they’re not expanding the way they have in the past. It’s a shortened roster, so we have to make sure that we maximize the opportunities and the innings or at-bats for guys, and this is why we deemed this to be the right time.”

Polanco, who was signed in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic and was at one point one of Pittsburgh’s most heralded prospects, appeared to be showing his potential in 2018, when he hit 23 home runs in 130 games with a career-high .839 OPS. But late in the season, he dislocated his left shoulder -- the side he throws from -- and required surgery, and he’s struggled to produce since.

Across 2020-21, Polanco hit .191 with a .606 OPS in 157. On defense, among 93 outfielders with at least max-effort throws (top 10% of throws in mph), Polanco’s 80.4 mph max-effort arm strength was the fourth-worst mark as of Friday.

For a team that is building toward a future playoff contender, the 29-year-old did not show enough to hold his spot and force the team to consider exercising team options over the next two seasons. His tenure in Pittsburgh ended after eight seasons, over which he had a .718 OPS with 96 homers in 823 games.

But one thing Polanco brought to the dugout every game was consistent energy and positivity.

Shelton said on Wednesday night, when Polanco had three hits in an 11-7 win over the D-backs, that the right fielder was always the first one at the top of the dugout to congratulate a teammate on a home run. Even as he contributed to some of the struggles record-wise the past few seasons, he made sure to be a good influence on the talent base and the culture the Pirates are trying to build.

“It’s one of the things that I respect the most about Gregory Polanco,” Shelton said Friday. “Every single day -- regardless of what he did at the plate, how he was going about it -- he was a true professional. Every day, he had the big smile on his face. He was a wonderful teammate.”

“Gregory meant a lot,” pitcher Steven Brault said. “Really sad to see him go, honestly. He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever played with. He’s an amazing guy. He’s upbeat. He’s funny. He’s just fun to be around.”