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Should the Pirates pursue Angel Pagan?

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Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Pirates probably will not sign longtime Giants outfielder Angel Pagan, and there are no indications whatsoever that they will. It is, as you’ll see, even debatable whether they should. But Steve Adams of MLBTR mentioned to me a few weeks ago that the Pirates are at least sort of a fit. I didn’t agree with him at the time, and I’m still not sure I do, but the idea starts to look more palatable the further we drift into spring training.

Here’s the question upon which the Pirates’ potential interest in Pagan might hinge: What happens if Starling Marte gets hurt? Andrew McCutchen’s recent defensive numbers suggest he’s no longer a good option in center field, and the Pirates’ decision to move him to right field despite his poor arm suggests that, even if they were to move Gregory Polanco to center in the event of a Marte injury, they wouldn’t be confident with McCutchen in PNC Park’s expansive left field, either. Long-term, the Pirates could simply play Austin Meadows at one of those positions, but they likely don’t want to promote him until June at the earliest because of Super Two considerations, and there’s a good case to be made that he would benefit from more time at Triple-A anyway, since he’s only had 145 plate appearances there.

For many years, Pagan was a pretty good defensive center fielder. His defense declined at that position until last year, when the Giants moved him to left field. Advanced defensive metrics ranked him as being within a few runs of average at that position. In the event of a Marte injury, Pagan might not be the best fit to take over left or center field, but he’s probably a better backup plan than the Pirates currently have.

Then there’s the fact that Pagan is still a decent all-around player. He batted .277/.331/.418 last season, producing 2.1 fWAR as a regular. He might be hard-pressed to do that again at his age, but a switch-hitter who can play left or center field, hit passably, and provide some value on the bases would be a pretty good bench player.

There’s still a good case that the Pirates don’t need Pagan. They currently have John Jaso on their bench, and while Jaso and fellow bench candidate Adam Frazier have limited experience in the outfield, there will probably be days when the Bucs give one of their regular outfielders days off by playing Jaso or David Freese at first base and having Josh Bell play right. It’s possible Pagan isn’t enough of an upgrade on the Jaso/Frazier/Bell combo to be worth pursuing.

The Pirates’ bench is also already pretty crowded, and you could argue that that they need middle infield help more than they need outfield help at this point. Jung Ho Kang’s status remains unresolved, which means there isn’t a logjam until he returns and is ready to play. Once he does, though, a Pagan signing shouldn’t be an excuse to send someone like Bell to the minors, and that’s where the Pirates might have to make some tricky decisions.

One of the key reasons Pagan might be worth investigating right now, though, is because his lack of an obvious market presents the Pirates with an opportunity, sort of like the one they had when they signed Freese at around this point last year. The Pirates also opportunistically signed Matt Joyce to a minor-league deal in late February, offering him what sounded like a handshake promise that he’d have the inside track on a big-league job. That move, of course, worked out brilliantly. There’s been little buzz on Pagan, and the latest is that the Braves have offered him a minor-league deal. That’s it. If the Pirates are willing to offer him a roster spot, that alone might be enough to pique his interest.

Pagan isn’t a perfect fit for the Pirates. But they arguably could find a role for him, and his situation could provide the Bucs with an opportunity to add a good player without giving up too much.