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Finding Time For Chisenhall At 1B Could Open Up Options for Pirates

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The signing of Melky Cabrera yesterday raised more questions about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Opening Day 25-man roster, but one player’s flexibility could create some answers.

At first blush, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ signing of Melky Cabrera did not make much sense, even if it was just technically a minor league deal.

After all, the club had already signed Lonnie Chisenhall to a major-league deal to fill in for Gregory Polanco until his return. Then, Chisenhall would slide into the fourth outfielder role. Simple. Easy. Done.

Yet the Pirates felt it necessary to bring another bat into Spring Training with a pretty solid resume of competent production in Cabrera. Kicking the tires? Sure. But what happens if Cabrera shows that he still has something left in the tank as a fourth outfielder? How will the club shuffle around an already packed house? Of course, we are talking chiefly about when Polanco is ready to return here.

The answer might lie at first base.

Chisenhall has played just 77.1 innings at first base in his career, and none since 2017. When he has played there, he has been a slightly below average defender there, with a -3 cumulative DRS rating. In the 2014 season, in which he logged 57.1 innings at first, he posted a -2, with a UZR of -0.1.

So, yeah, he wouldn’t be a considerable over Josh Bell, but that’s not what this is about. What Chisenhall getting time at first would do is open up the club to the possibility of keeping both Chisenhall and Cabrera on the 25-man roster. Even then, the argument for doing so is somewhat suspect. Even if Chisenhall gets, say, a start a week at first base, the problem with finding time to warrant Cabrera’s 25-man inclusion remains independent from anything having to do with Lonnie. The club would still carry two players who are primarily fourth-outfield types.

Of course, Cabrera will have to produce to open the season on the club’s roster for all of this to even be possible.

To me, this problem highlights the logjam the Pirates have created by signing Cabrera. The now-14 year veteran still has great plate discipline and a solid-enough batting line. He is the prototypical fourth outfielder at this point in his career.

But so is Chisenhall. So, should the Pirates be tempted to keep both, getting Chisenhall time at first base could be a band-aid to the quagmire, but it would be far from an ideal solution.