Remember The Dream Outfield?
There was a period in time when the Pittsburgh Pirates looked set at all three positions in the outfield, potentially with impact players at each spot.
They had an MVP in Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte was emerging as a 4+ WAR player. And they had Gregory Polanco as one of the biggest prospects in the game.
McCutchen fell off from his MVP level after the 2015 season. Marte had his struggles not long after. Both were eventually traded, leaving only Polanco.
Polanco never really came close to the ceiling that people dreamed about when he was a Walking Toolshed in the minors. His best years were 2015-2018, when he had a 2.2-2.5 fWAR in three of those four seasons.
Since that 2018 season, when Polanco posted a 2.5 WAR, he’s gone downhill. He has combined for a -2.1 WAR over the last three seasons, with negative value in each year, all culminating in him getting released by the Pirates this year.
Polanco had a -1.2 WAR after hitting .208/.283/.354 in 382 plate appearances. He finished last among right fielders with 300+ plate appearances. That included finishing below Harold Ramirez and Robbie Grossman, two former Pirates outfield prospects who haven’t had better careers than Polanco, but who have been better options in recent years.
Prospects will break your heart. The Pirates had all of the makings of an All-Star trio in the outfield, and Polanco had all of the makings of an impact player. None of that ever came to fruition, and now the Pirates will seek out a new long-term solution in right field.
Right field isn’t the only place the Pirates are looking for a solution in the outfield. They have a need for two long-term outfielders to place alongside Bryan Reynolds, and three outfielders would be needed if they traded Reynolds this offseason.
The Pirates tried a few other players in right field, following the release of Polanco. Cole Tucker received 58 innings of work, but the Pirates would probably be better off trying Tucker in the infield, where they are seeking long-term solutions at second and short. Yoshi Tsutsugo played more time in right field down the stretch, and while his offense was a boost, his defense was horrible. The Pirates have been talking to him about re-signing, and if he does re-sign, it probably shouldn’t be for the right field job.
So where do the Pirates go from here?
The 2021 season feels like a closing of one chapter in the outfield, combined with a start to another chapter in the same book. Bryan Reynolds was acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade almost four years ago. Marte and Polanco are now gone. There are a good amount of outfield prospects in the upper levels of the minors, and today I looked over the right field options at Pirates Prospects.
The Pirates will probably need to seek out short-term help in the outfield until those prospects arrive. Or, they can give a final chance to guys like Tucker, Ben Gamel, or Anthony Alford.
What they won’t be doing is riding the rollercoaster of wondering if Gregory Polanco will finally have his breakout season.