PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates found the outfielder they were looking for.
Pittsburgh on Tuesday signed free-agent outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall to a one-year, $2.75 million deal. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday that Chisenhall's contract includes up to $3 million in performance bonuses based on the number of plate appearances he makes. The Pirates designated right-hander Alex McRae for assignment to clear a roster spot for Chisenhall.
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Chisenhall should be Pittsburgh's Opening Day right fielder, as Gregory Polanco is likely to start the season on the disabled list while finishing his recovery from September shoulder surgery. The Pirates' initial estimate stated that Polanco, who sustained a torn labrum in his left shoulder, could return as early as mid-April or as late as mid-June.
Until then, Chisenhall could help cover for Polanco and play alongside left fielder Corey Dickerson and center fielder Starling Marte. When Polanco returns, Chisenhall likely will serve as Pittsburgh's fourth outfielder. He has primarily been a platoon player, posting a career .757 OPS against right-handers, compared to a .699 mark against lefties.
"Lonnie Chisenhall adds an experienced, productive and versatile player to our Major League Team," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "When healthy, Lonnie has been a quality hitter while offering defensive flexibility. He also provides us an immediate option in right field while Gregory Polanco is getting healthy, and his abilities and versatility will make our club better once Polanco returns."
Chisenhall, 30, has dealt with recent injury issues of his own, however. The former Indians outfielder put together a .297/.368/.503 batting line over the past two years, but he's been limited to 365 plate appearances in 111 games. He missed time in 2017 with a sprained shoulder, a concussion and persistent calf injuries that also troubled him most of this year.
Chisenhall played in only 29 games last season and did not take the field for Cleveland after July 1 due to a severe left calf strain. He dealt with a right calf issue several times in 2017 and early this year. The uncertainty about his health and his lack of playing time the past two seasons likely contributed to Chisenhall's interest in a modest one-year deal, but it is a worthwhile gamble for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh has additional depth in the outfield, but nobody with the track record or upside of Chisenhall. Super-utility man Pablo Reyes could spell the left-handed-hitting Chisenhall, as could corner infielder/outfielder Jose Osuna or Minor League signee Patrick Kivlehan.
The Pirates traded Jordan Luplow, their most likely fourth outfielder/short-term right fielder entering the offseason, to the Indians in a five-player deal on Nov. 14. After making that trade, Huntington told MLB.com that the Bucs "felt that we had a better chance to get an outfield corner bat externally." Less than two weeks later, they got Chisenhall.
The Pirates selected Chisenhall out of high school in the 11th round of the 2006 Draft, but he did not sign. The Indians picked him 29th overall in '08 out of Pitt Community College in Winterville, N.C. Primarily playing third base and right field, Chisenhall has put together a career .268/.320/.427 batting line with 64 homers and 296 RBIs over the past eight years.
The Pirates could still use a veteran shortstop to take the pressure off rookie Kevin Newman, and they may continue to monitor the outfield market. But with the Winter Meetings still two weeks away, they have addressed several areas of need at a relatively low cost.
They re-signed third baseman Jungho Kang, a potential power bat, for $3 million plus performance bonuses. They picked up a sure-handed utility infielder in Erik Gonzalez, another former Indian. Now, they've plugged the temporary gap in right field with Chisenhall.
If Chisenhall stays healthy and plays on a regular basis, the Pirates should be able to keep Adam Frazier at second base. Frazier has bounced back and forth between the infield and outfield, but he seemed to grow more comfortable at second base last season while batting .306/.357/.533 in the second half.