PITTSBURGH -- This offseason, the Pirates must recreate their middle infield and find a short-term solution in right field. By completing a five-player trade with the Indians on Wednesday, they took a step toward addressing their infield openings but further clouded their outfield picture.Pittsburgh sent outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder
PITTSBURGH -- This offseason, the Pirates must recreate their middle infield and find a short-term solution in right field. By completing a five-player trade with the Indians on Wednesday, they took a step toward addressing their infield openings but further clouded their outfield picture.
Pittsburgh sent outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland in exchange for utility infielder Erik Gonzalez and Minor League pitchers Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza, both 19-year-old right-handers. The 27-year-old Gonzalez could be part of the Pirates' Opening Day roster, given their uncertainty at shortstop and second base.
• Bucs to continue exploring options at SS, RF
The Pirates will likely enter next season without shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Josh Harrison, both free agents. That leaves them with unproven rookie Kevin Newman at short and Adam Frazier at second, though Frazier could play right field while Gregory Polanco recovers from September shoulder surgery early next season.
To fill one of those keystone spots, the Bucs could plug in Gonzalez. A gifted defender blocked in Cleveland by All-Star infielders Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, Gonzalez has Major League experience at shortstop, second base and third.
"Erik Gonzalez is an athletic middle infielder who plays solid defense and has the potential to be a productive hitter at the Major League level," general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "He gives us another option to play shortstop or in the middle of our infield this year and into the future."
Gonzalez has struggled offensively in the big leagues since making his debut in 2016, putting together a .263/.292/.389 slash line with five homers and 27 RBIs in 275 plate appearances. The Indians used him as a utility infielder, giving him 30 appearances at second base, 20 at third and 16 at shortstop last season. He also has worked nine games at first base and played both outfield corners.
Gonzalez, born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, had spent his entire career with the Indians after signing with them on Aug. 26, 2008. He made his big league debut in '16, the same year he was named a Triple-A All-Star with Columbus.
"As our roster has taken shape over the course of the past few seasons, we have not had an opportunity for him to play regularly," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "So we feel this will give Erik an opportunity to play more with Pittsburgh and continue his career and potentially blossom into the everyday player we think he can be."
Thomas, who was the Indians' No. 30 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, signed out of the Bahamas in December 2016. He made his professional debut in '17 before posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 27 strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League this year.
"Tahnaj Thomas is a recently converted infielder who possesses a quality frame, athleticism, a clean delivery and arm strength to create a high-ceilinged prospect," Huntington said in a statement.
The Indians picked Mendoza out of Torrance (Calif.) High School in the 12th round of the 2017 Draft. Mendoza also put together a 4.58 ERA in the Rookie-level Arizona League this year while recording a 1.42 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings over 10 appearanes (three starts).
"Dante Mendoza is a pitching prospect who brings many of the traits we like in young pitchers, while adding to the depth of pitching prospects with upside in our system," Huntington said.
The deal cost the Pirates a pair of young big leaguers they drafted and developed, although Luplow and Moroff both struggled in limited playing time. The writing may have been on the wall for Moroff, who is out of Minor League options, when Pittsburgh did not call him up this past September even though he was already on the 40-man roster. Moroff should have a chance to claim a utility infield job in Cleveland.
It was more surprising that the Pirates parted with Luplow, who hit well in Triple-A and seemed to be in line for more playing time in right field early next season as Polanco completes his rehabilitation work. The Pirates could shift Frazier or super-utility man Pablo Reyes to right field, plugging in Gonzalez or Kramer at second base, or look for another temporary outfield solution through free agency or trade.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.