We still have the better part of a week to go before the trade deadline, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have already been linked to no small number of right fielders around the major leagues.
From the White Sox’ Alex Rios to Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton to the Cubs’ Nate Schierholtz, corner outfielders of all types have found themselves in reports and rumors concerning the Pirates’ deadline desires. For me, Schierholtz is the most desirable of those three for a few reasons.
For one, he’s a lefty batter with a good platoon split against righthanded pitching (.893 OPS), an ideal replacement for the disappointing Travis Snider. Snider has a .621 OPS, which puts him below replacement level for his position. That level of non-production cannot stand on a playoff-caliber team, obviously.
Secondly, Schierholtz would be easily retained after the season, as he is in his second year of arbitration. However, if Pirates top position prospect Gregory Polanco takes the next step and is ready for MLB duty in the near future, he wouldn’t be blocked long-term. Schierholtz’ contractual status would be the best of both worlds: the club has control but it won’t be a huge commitment.
Finally, if Jose Tabata can at least maintain his .742 OPS-level offense, he wouldn’t be hurting the Pirates as the righthanded side of a platoon. Barring a total collapse from Tabata, it would be wise for the Bucs to get another extended look at his bat.
If Schierholtz proves too expensive or the Cubs simply choose to retain him, perhaps the Pirates can look west for a player of similar fit: Seattle’s Raul Ibanez. At 41, Ibanez is 12 years older than Schierholtz, but Pittsburgh isn’t looking for a long-term solution anyway.
The Bucs could use more power at a corner spot, and Ibanez provides that despite his advanced age. A large part of his .877 OPS is his .561 slugging percentage, boosted by 24 homers and 12 doubles. More impressively, the lefthanded swinger has played half his games at Safeco Field, where moving the fences a bit closer last offseason hasn’t made the park much more friendly to hitters.
Ibanez has played most of his games in left field, but he would have to move to right for the best defensive fit at PNC Park. No reason to break up what has been a very effective left-center tandem in Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, especially with right being the smallest part of the outfield in Pittsburgh.
PNC is also more susceptible to lefty power hitters than righties, another advantage for Ibanez. The Mariners have said they don’t intend to sell off veterans, but maybe another few days in fourth place will change the mind of Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik.