Pirates agree to terms with Gold Glove center fielder Taylor

March 16th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pirates added to their outfield mix Saturday, signing veteran center fielder to a one-year contract. The deal is worth $4 million, sources told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Alex Stumpf.

An American League Gold Glove Award winner with the Royals in 2021, Taylor has established himself as one of the game’s top defensive outfielders over a 10-year career with the Nationals, Royals and Twins. He hit a career-high 21 homers for Minnesota in '23, batting .220 with a .720 OPS and 13 steals in 129 games.

That speed-and-power combination complements a glove-first profile for Taylor, whose +17 outs above average are tied for the fourth most among qualified outfielders over the past five seasons. Only three center fielders have matched that total over that period (Trent Grisham, Kevin Kiermaier and Victor Robles).

Taylor makes his living with his legs, glove and arm. Last year, he ranked in the 92nd percentile in fielding run value, per Statcast, and the 90th percentile in arm strength. Taylor, who turns 33 on March 26, also ranked in the 84th percentile in sprint speed.

For the Pirates -- a 6-2 winner over the Yankees in Friday night's Grapefruit League game -- the acquisition provides an outfield upgrade they’ve sought for some time, and it would seem to eliminate some roster questions that would have needed to be answered in the final two weeks of camp. Bringing Taylor into the fold allows Pittsburgh to push Jack Suwinski to right field full time, with Bryan Reynolds entrenched in left. Reynolds was a full-time center fielder as recently as 2022, while Suwinski started in center 112 times last season.

The Pirates have had several depth options competing for the fourth and fifth outfield jobs this spring, notably Edward Olivares, Joshua Palacios and Canaan Smith-Njigba. This signing makes their paths to the Opening Day roster narrower. It also probably means Connor Joe sees more at-bats as a backup to or possible platoon partner with Rowdy Tellez at first, rather than in right field.

As a team, the Pirates had their best defensive season in years in 2023, ranking 15th in MLB in team OAA, per Statcast, their highest mark since '18. They bolstered their rotation this offseason by signing Martín Pérez and Marco Gonzales, then in January made moves to upgrade the bullpen, such as signing Aroldis Chapman. Improving the defense behind those pitchers should help their run prevention as well. At the very least, their roster now features two elite defenders at their positions in Taylor and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes.