Pirates sign 'playmaker' Dyson in Marte's place

February 13th, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates found their new center fielder on Thursday.

A little more than two weeks after trading Starling Marte to the D-backs, the Pirates agreed to a one-year, Major League deal with veteran outfielder . Dyson will earn a $2 million salary, an industry source confirmed to MLB.com.

To make room for Dyson on the 40-man roster, the Pirates placed (out for the season following Tommy John surgery) on the 60-day injured list.

Dyson, a 10-year veteran, is well regarded for his speed and defense. He’s stolen 250 bases in his career despite making only 2,618 plate appearances in 858 games. Last season, he recorded six Outs Above Average, according to Statcast, the 26th-highest total among all qualified Major League outfielders.

“I’d just say I create havoc on the basepaths. [On] defense -- just a playmaker. That’s how I’d describe myself, as a playmaker,” Dyson said after reporting to the Pirate City complex on Thursday afternoon. “I try to go out there and do things that make people say, ‘Wow,’ and try to make it look easy while I do it.”

Dyson offers limited upside with the bat, carrying a career .247/.319/.338 slash line into this year, but he has nonetheless proven to be a fairly valuable player when given the opportunity to play regularly. From the Pirates’ perspective, bringing in the speedy 35-year-old will allow them to keep in left field and in right, with serving as a fourth outfielder or potential platoon partner for the left-handed-hitting Dyson.

“Obviously we were looking to add to the outfield after the Marte trade, [with] someone who can play center field and do a good job defensively,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “The left-handed bat, we felt, complemented the group we have here a little bit better than some of the other free-agent options. [We’re] excited that Jarrod’s here and looking forward to getting to know him.”

Dyson will assume Marte’s old position and his No. 6 jersey. Ironically, Marte is taking Dyson’s place with the D-backs. But Dyson said he didn’t want to approach this opportunity like he’s filling Marte’s shoes, focusing instead of being himself -- a veteran presence with dynamic speed.

“I’m just going to come out here and do what I do best, playing my game,” Dyson said.

Dyson recorded 3.2 Wins Above Replacement for the Royals in 2016, when he logged 337 plate appearances in 107 games. He accumulated more than 400 plate appearances for the first time in his career with the D-backs last season, and while he slashed just .230/.313/.320, he stole 30 bases, totaled 13 Defensive Runs Saved and finished with 1.3 WAR.

Nonetheless, he found himself waiting until Spring Training camps were opening to land a job. Why the Pirates?

“I feel like every opportunity is a great opportunity when you’re in uniform,” Dyson said. “You’ve just got to make the most of it. This is a great opportunity, a young club. I’m looking forward to spreading my wings around here, getting to meet the guys and picking their brains as well as teaching. It’s going to be a fun experience for me.”

Pittsburgh has outfield options behind its top four of Reynolds, Polanco, Dyson and Heredia. JT Riddle was signed to play the middle infield and outfield positions. Prospect Jason Martin has spent time in the Majors, and he’s capable of playing all three spots. Utility men Erik González, José Osuna and Kevin Kramer provide additional depth. And prospect Jared Oliva, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, could be ready for the Majors later this year.

Defense has clearly been a focal point of the Pirates’ handful of offseason acquisitions.

Heredia is a capable fielder with experience in center. Catcher Luke Maile joined the club with a reputation as a good defensive catcher and pitch-framer. Riddle was an above-average defensive shortstop for the Marlins. Now comes Dyson, who coined the phrase “That’s what speed do” during the Royals’ back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-15.

“We’ve got some deer out there that can go and get it. I’m not going to feel any sorrow having a ball go up in the air unless it’s over the fence,” closer Keone Kela said. “It’s going to be good. It’s going to be fun. We’ve got a lot of defensive guys out there. We have the tools that we need and the arms. It’s just being able to collectively come together and figure out how we can do this together, not be selfish with the labels or where guys are. Just go out there and have fun.”

Better defense is a necessity for the Pirates this year. Last season, they recorded the Majors’ second-highest error total (121) and the second-worst defensive efficiency ratio (.672). As a team, they ranked 25th with minus-8 outfield Outs Above Average and 27th with minus-17 infield OAA. Opponents hit .315 when they put the ball in play against Pirates pitchers last season, the second-highest mark in the Majors and notably higher than the league average of .296.

Pittsburgh’s pitching staff held plenty of responsibility for its 5.19 ERA last season, but better fielding undoubtedly would have helped prop up the injury-plagued rotation and bullpen. With most of the same pitchers set to return, the Pirates seem to be betting on improved defense playing a part in a collective bounce-back this season.

“When you have pitching, you want to catch the ball, whether it’s behind the plate or in front of them,” manager Derek Shelton said. “Especially with our pitching staff, the fact that we’ve identified guys who can catch the ball, I think that helps.”