In this series, we’ll look at free agent pickups that would fit into each team’s budget, needs, and overall organizational goals. We’ll start at the bottom (by regular season record), with the Pirates, and go through each of the teams as we look at deals that could work out well for both team and player.
The Pirates have a strong offensive core, but one glaring problem. They were second to last in the league in outfield defense by UZR, with a –24.9 last season. A large factor in this is that their centerfielder of the future, Andrew McCutchen, hasn’t been much of a centerfielder. McCutchen put up a –14.4 UZR in 1290 CF innings last year, his poor numbers mostly due to his –12.1 run below average range. The only centerfielder worse than McCutchen, both in terms of range and overall, is Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. This could be a one-year blip, as McCutchen was a –1.3 run fielder in 2009, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Pirates may end up having to move him to right.
This is especially true when you consider the Pirates’ right field situation. Garrett Jones was the opening day starter, largely due to his 2.7 WAR season in 2009. However, in 158 games this year, Jones managed 0.1 WAR, so he wasn’t the answer. Ryan Church and Lastings Milledge got the next chance, but Milledge was good for only 0.7 WAR in 113 games, and Church was at –0.8 WAR after 69 games and was moved to Arizona in the Snyder deal. Delwyn Young was the next candidate, but he was also a below-average fielder and hitter, putting up a replacement-level 0.0 WAR. Ryan Doumit, the opening day catcher, took the next shot in right and proved to be an even worse option than the men who came before him, putting up a –5.1 UZR in 146 dreadful innings in right. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s the Pirates 5th regular right fielder of the season, and they haven’t had one with a positive UZR yet. John Bowker, a career minor leaguer with the Giants, came over in the deal that sent Javier Lopez to San Francisco, putting up –0.1 WAR in 26 games with the Pirates. All in all, six Pirates played more than 50 innings in right this season, none had an above-average UZR, and they combined for a –13.5 UZR overall. Moving McCutchen to right could be the answer, but that would open up a hole in center.
Complicating things further, the Pirates have Gorkys Hernandez, a strong centerfield prospect, waiting in the wings to take over. Hernandez is 22 and spent this season in AA ball, but his season ended when his right ring finger got hit by a pitch, so he only played in 92 games last year. I’m guessing he’s either a midseason callup or the Pirates will want him to get one more full season to polish his game in the minors. That means they’d need a short-term replacement in center, who could play for cheap and play decent defense. Also, on a young team like this, clubhouse leadership could be a pretty big factor, as the Pirates brass will be looking for a player who can mentor their younger hitters.
The patch-job that immediately comes to mind is Jim Edmonds. Edmonds, now a 17-year veteran, has continued to produce at a high level both offensively and defensively and could add short-term value for the Pirates in center. He’s a 5-time gold glover, and despite a bad defensive year in 2008, he’s come back this season and produced in center to the tune of 5.2 UZR in only 52 games (He didn’t play in 2009 because he couldn’t get an offer he found to be acceptable). Edmonds has also put up a 133 wRC+ this season, suggesting there’s something left in the old man’s bat. Though Edmonds has discussed retirement, he put together 2.8 WAR in essentially half a season, so with that kind of productivity left, I’d have to assume he’d consider sticking around to play another season, especially if the Pirates allowed him to rest his legs by playing at first on occasion.
Is it a sexy pick? Hell no. But if the Pirates are looking for a decent defensive centerfielder to patch the position until Hernandez is ready and mentor young outfielders McCutchen and Jose Tabata, Edmonds could be a great choice that wouldn’t eat up too much payroll. We’ll see whether McCutchen to right is even discussed as an option, but if the Pirates consider it (and they probably should, unless they truly believe he’ll have a strong bounce-back year with the glove), Edmonds seems like the best fit to replace him in center.