PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added to their infield mix on Wednesday by acquiring utility man Erik Gonzalez in a five-player trade with the Indians, but they're not done looking for a shortstop or a short-term solution in right field.Pittsburgh dealt outfielder Jordan Luplow and out-of-options infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added to their infield mix on Wednesday by acquiring utility man Erik Gonzalez in a five-player trade with the Indians, but they're not done looking for a shortstop or a short-term solution in right field.
Pittsburgh dealt outfielder Jordan Luplow and out-of-options infielder Max Moroff to Cleveland for Gonzalez, who is also out of Minor League options, along with 19-year-old pitching prospects Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza. Gonzalez was used infrequently as a utility infielder for the Indians, but he could play a bigger role with the Pirates.
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"We felt that he and Kevin Newman provide us with an interesting pair of options at shortstop," general manager Neal Huntington said Thursday in a phone interview. "It does not mean that we'll stop looking, but we felt we've added a quality option to Kevin Newman as we look at our shortstop position this year and even as we look down the road."
Gonzalez, 27, posted a .263/.292/.389 slash line in 275 Major League plate appearances over the past three seasons. There are some encouraging indicators, like his 89.6-mph average exit velocity and 42.2 percent hard-hit rate last season, according to Statcast™. However, Gonzalez has worked only nine walks while striking out 79 times in the Majors, and he's recorded a 57.3 percent ground-ball rate.
Huntington said the Pirates like Gonzalez's defensive ability and cited irregular playing time as the root of his offensive struggles. It's a common challenge for young players, but the Pirates think he can improve in a new environment.
"You can see a transition in his swing and a transition in his approach as he's tried to figure out how to be an effective offensive player while playing sporadically," Huntington said. "There's impact. He has a feel in the box. He can manipulate the barrel. He's been effective in the Minor Leagues. We believe that with additional playing time, a new opportunity, that he can be a productive offensive player."
As the roster is constructed, Gonzalez would compete (or share time) with rookie Newman to fill the shortstop spot left vacant by free agent Jordy Mercer. But Huntington didn't rule out another signing or acquisition.
"He will have every opportunity in the world to take our shortstop job and run with it if we do nothing else," Huntington said of Gonzalez. "Having him and Kevin Newman internally is, in our minds, a solid starting point."
If the Pirates do sign or trade for another shortstop, it's worth noting that Gonzalez can play anywhere in the infield and Newman spent some time at second base last season. But second base currently belongs to Adam Frazier, who played well enough last season to earn an everyday job.
The Pirates have also pointed to Frazier as a possible replacement for recovering right fielder Gregory Polanco, who could miss a few weeks or months following September shoulder surgery. Huntington mentioned that option again on Thursday, listing Kevin Kramer or Newman among options at second base in that scenario.
If Frazier begins the season at second base, the Pirates' internal options in right field would be Pablo Reyes, Jose Osuna and Minor League free-agent signee Patrick Kivlehan. The leading candidate probably would have been Luplow, but the Pirates parted ways with him to get Gonzalez and a pair of pitching prospects. That would seem to make another acquisition more likely.
"We felt that we had a better chance to get an outfield corner bat externally that fills the need more than we did getting another quality option at shortstop," Huntington said. "We will continue to explore the trade market, and we will continue to explore the free-agent market to see if there's someone out there that makes us better than our internal options."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.