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Should Bucs pay to unload Polanco?

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Now that the calendar has turned to February, it’s only natural for our interest in baseball to be ratcheted up a notch. After all, if we are to believe what we hear, pitchers and catchers will begin trickling into spring training camps in Arizona and Florida in another couple of weeks, although that’s all subject to change given the pandemic.

Much of the chatter in recent weeks has been spent on potential trades that GM Ben Cherington might make, and he hasn’t disappointed, pulling the trigger on several major deals that brought a bushel of prospects to help deepen the club’s farm system. Whether you like the deals or not, it’s hard to argue with Cherington’s approach, plumbing the Nationals’, Padres’, Mets’ and Yankees’ systems for prospects at various levels of development. Some, like Wil Crowe, David Bednar and Miguel Yajure, could at least compete fairly quickly for locker at PNC Park while others – Eddy Yean, Hudson Head, Endy Rodriguez and Maikol Escotto to name four – are years away.

When I switched gears, thoufh, and went to look at what could be this year’s big league club, that sent me on another trade tangent – one that likely never would come to fruition. Still, it might be worth pondering.

Many were stunned by the recent transaction that saw the Colorado Rockies shipping all-world third baseman Nolan Arenado AND $50 million to the St. Louis Cardinals for a handful of prospects. Although the deal is pending approval by MLB and the players association, reports have the Rockies receiving five minor leaguers, two of whom rank among the Cardinals’ top 15 prospects, according to MLB.com – outfielder Jhon Torres (No. 9) and right-hander Angel Rondon (No. 15).

In other words, the Rockies paid the Cardinals to take Arenado off their hands in exchange for a few prospects and St. Louis taking on the remainder of Colorado’s contract obligations – minus the $50 million, of course. According to cbssports.com, that would leave the Cardinals on the hook for about $149 million, although Arenado apparently has an opt-out clause of some sort.

It got me to thinking about the one contract the Pirates are currently on the hook for – the $11 million one belonging to Gregory Polanco. We all know Polanco’s recent history, and it isn’t good. He was a minus-1 WAR player in 2020 and fractured his right wrist while playing winter ball in the Dominican. However, he is expected to be ready for spring training. Although many Pirates fans have written him off as a lost cause, he did show the ability earlier in his career to be a productive big league outfielder. And as recently as 2018 he posted an .839 OPS in 535 plate appearances before tearing up his knee and shoulder on a ridiculous slide into second base.

Cherington said last September he saw no reason why Polanco could not rebound and “be a really good player again. I would expect him to be. I look forward to him doing that in a Pirates uniform next year.”

Cherington certainly could be blowing smoke; after all, why would he be critical of his own player? But maybe he actually believes it – and maybe there’s another GM out there who believes Polanco also is capable of finally getting his act together and turning his extraordinary physical gifts into results.

One common thought is that the Pirates might just be stuck playing Polanco in right field, at least to start the season, and hoping that he shows enough to warrant interest from some other team. But what if the Pirates chose not to wait, and instead sweeten an immediate potential deal by throwing in the majority of Polanco’s salary – like the Rockies did with Arenado, except on a far lesser scale – and hoping to land a lottery ticket prospect in return?

For example, say Pirates’ ownership is willing to pay $8 million of Polanco’s $11 million salary to Team X to take him off the Bucs’ hands. The club could then use the $3 million – and perhaps kick in a little more – to acquire one of the free-agent outfielders who remain on the market.

One player who caught my eye is Josh Reddick. The soon-to-be 34-year old left-handed hitter might find PNC Park’s short right field wall to his liking. He’s hardly been a terror in his career; last year he hit just .245 with a .693 OPS in 188 at-bats, and I’m not wild about him. But Spotrac.com estimates his market value at $3.5 million, which – when added to the $8 million the team might be willing to pay to unload Polanco – would leave them in about the same place financially as if they were running Polanco out to right field every day. And if Reddick proves to be of value, the Pirates could always flip him at the trade deadline to a contender in need of an outfielder or a left-handed bat off the bench.

It doesn’t need to be Reddick, though. It could be anyone in the $3 million to $4 million range who could be acquired to play right field, at least some of the time, for just one year while the Pirates evaluate Jared Oliva and Anthony Alford – or even run Adam Frazier out there on occasion if he’s not dealt. The question is, of course, if anyone would be willing to essentially bet $3 million to see if Polanco can finally tap his potential. If I were on the buying end, I would take that $3 million gamble. And if I were on the selling end, I’d move him and eat the $8 million, just to open up some playing time for the likes of Alford or Oliva – and eventually Oneil Cruz whenever he’s ready.

LABOR WARS: Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported Sunday that MLB had proposed a 154-game schedule that would be delayed a month and extend a week, and also would include expanded playoffs and a DH for the National League. As of early Monday, there was no word back from the MLB Players Association, but Brown said it seemed unlikely the union would approve that deal. So, as of now, Opening Day is still set for April 1.