First Pitch: Is No DH Bad News for the Pirates?

MLB teams are being told to assume there won’t be a DH in the NL in 2021.  This isn’t the final word, but it never looked all that likely.  The players’ union would like the DH, but MLB isn’t enthused because it would probably push overall salaries up a little.  MLB wants concessions to adopt it and the union probably doesn’t see it as worth anything dramatic, so the issue will probably get folded into the looming 2022 work stoppage.

At first glance, this seems bad for the Pirates.  A lot of what minimal power they had in 2020 came from Josh Bell and Colin Moran.  With Ke’Bryan Hayes established at third base now, the natural fit was Bell and Moran sharing first base and DH.  I’m pretty sure nobody really wants to see either one of them in the outfield, right?

The truth is, though, we were probably going to see Moran in the outfield some anyway.  It’s extremely doubtful that the Pirates are going to spend the money to obtain a legitimate corner outfielder, i.e., somebody who can hit at least a little.  That leaves Bryan Reynolds and Gregory Polanco in the corners, with no real depth.

I don’t expect Polanco to last much longer.  I’m convinced his shoulder never came back adequately from the surgery.  I’m not a hitting instructor, but his swing just doesn’t look right.  He still has the bat speed to hit the ball incredibly hard on the rare occasions when he actually does hit it.  But he can’t seem to make the necessary adjustments to the pitch.  One site (sorry, I can’t remember where I saw this) a while ago juxtaposed clips of Polanco swinging before and after the injury and the “after” part looked stiff and awkward.  It’s awfully hard to see how else to account for the complete collapse of his ability to make contact.

Reynolds may not stay in a corner, either.  Depending on what happens with Anthony Alford and Jared Oliva, he could find himself in center.  That wouldn’t be a terrible thing.  Reynolds seemed to make some good progress defensively last year.  It’d be a plus to have his bat in an up-the-middle position.

So it seems inevitable that we’ll see Moran lumbering around in the outfield.  (Well, I won’t see it because I won’t look.)  As ominous as that sounds, does it really matter?  This team isn’t going anywhere.  Of course, there’s the very real risk that the Pirates will continue their whacko obsession with playing weak-hitting infielders in the outfield.  But they really need to get some offense from somewhere and Moran could be attractive in a trade with an AL team, so he should be in there.

When you think about it, the Pirates’ main concern should be maximizing Bell’s and Moran’s trade value.  That’s certainly more important than developing lots and lots of crappy-hitting utility players.  It’s hard to see any likelihood that either will be a part of the next contending Pirates team.  Bell will be a free agent after the 2022 season, if there is a season, and as a Boras client he’s gone for sure.  Moran will be eligible for free agency after 2023, so he’s likely to end up as the first baseman at least briefly, if Bell starts hitting again and re-establishes some trade value.  It wouldn’t hurt his value if he showed he can at least find his way to right field.  Nobody’s going to be fooled into thinking he’s anything but a liability in the field.  His bat is going to be the selling point, if there is one.

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