PITTSBURGH -- Hours after trading Starling Marte to the D-backs on Monday, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington made it clear he was looking for a new center fielder.
“I think we’ll continue to look for opportunities to bring guys in, either a player or players,” Cherington said Monday night. "We’ve talked to free agents. We’ve talked to teams about other trades. So we’ll continue to work on that, and I’d hope that we can add to that between now and Spring Training.”
There’s not a lot of time remaining, however, before the Bucs head south to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. In two weeks, the Spring Training facility will be filling up with players. Who else might walk through those clubhouse doors? Let’s look at some of their options.
The 31-year-old free agent is probably the most obvious plug-and-play option available. Pillar is a more than capable defensive center fielder who slugged 21 homers with 88 RBIs and 14 steals last season, and he crossed paths with Cherington and manager Derek Shelton in Toronto. His .296 career on-base percentage negates some of his value, but if the Pirates want to fortify their outfield defense, they could certainly do far worse than Pillar.
Maybin doesn’t have the defensive track record of Pillar, but the 32-year-old is coming off a resurgent year at the plate. The 13-year veteran plays all three outfield spots, adds value on the basepaths and slashed .285/.364/.494 with 11 homers in 82 games for the Yankees last season. He hasn’t played more than 130 games in a season since 2015, but the Bucs could manage his workload by mixing in Guillermo Heredia and, eventually, prospect Jared Oliva.
Michael A. Taylor
Here’s one potential trade candidate. The 28-year-old is tentatively slated to be the fourth outfielder for the defending World Series champion Nationals, and it might be hard to imagine them parting with that kind of valuable depth. But they have three strong starters and a younger fourth-outfield option in Andrew Stevenson, so perhaps they’ll be willing to part with Taylor’s $3.325 million salary. He is a career .240/.294/.393 hitter who totaled 19 outs above average in center field, according to Statcast, when given regular playing time from 2017-18. Taylor’s bat peaked in ’17, when he slashed .271/.320/.486 with 19 homers in 432 plate appearances.
You would know what you’re getting here: strong defense, a whole bunch of stolen bases and not much at the plate. Unless, of course, the 29-year-old Hamilton could find a way to channel his career performance against the Pirates -- his 81 hits vs. the Bucs are the most against any opponent -- into production for them.
A lot like Hamilton: quality defense, speed on the bases and not as much value at the plate, though the 35-year-old Dyson’s career 78 OPS+ is superior to Hamilton’s 68 mark.
Perhaps you’ve discovered the theme here. Lagares is a Gold Glove Award-winning defender in center field who totaled five outs above average in 133 games last season, but he slashed just .213/.279/.326 with the Mets a year ago. He would help Pittsburgh’s pitching staff, but an addition like this would only increase the pressure on Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds, Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco to produce at the plate.
This is a real long shot, considering the oft-injured Ellsbury hasn’t played since 2017. In November, the Yankees essentially ate $26 million to release him. But any team willing to take a chance on Ellsbury can sign him to a Minor League contract with a minimum salary, so maybe Cherington -- who saw Ellsbury at his best in Boston -- would take that risk. Given Ellsbury’s extensive injury history, though, they’d have to put a reliable backup plan in place as well.
Pirates reportedly sign lefty Erlin
Pittsburgh signed left-hander Robbie Erlin to a Minor League deal, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, giving the club another bullpen option to evaluate in Spring Training. The club has not confirmed the signing, but sources indicated the Pirates have been pursuing depth options at several positions -- including left-handed reliever -- over the last few weeks.
According to Nightengale’s report, Erlin will earn $1.5 million if he makes the Major League roster, with an additional $100,000 available through incentives. He will report to Major League Spring Training, but he can opt out of his contract if he does not make the Opening Day roster.
Erlin will have a legitimate chance to make the bullpen, as Sam Howard is the only lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Lefties Miguel Del Pozo, Williams Jerez, Nik Turley and Blake Weiman will also be in camp as non-roster invitees.
Erlin pitched parts of six seasons with the Padres, going 13-20 with a 4.57 ERA in 106 outings, including 38 starts. He broke into the Majors as a starter, but he’s pitched primarily out of the bullpen the last two years. In 2018, Erlin posted a 4.21 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP with 88 strikeouts in 109 innings.
The 29-year-old's strikeout rate climbed last season, but he gave up nearly 12 hits per nine innings while recording a 5.37 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings over 37 appearances. Erlin’s offerings still come with above-average spin rates, according to Statcast, but his expected batting average against jumped from .254 in 2018 to .285 last year.