The Pirates, who earlier this week traded center fielder Starling Marte to the Diamondbacks, are “considering” several free-agent replacement options, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Among them are Kevin Pillar, Billy Hamilton and Cameron Maybin.
That the Bucs are in the market for a new center fielder isn’t a surprise. General manager Ben Cherington revealed hours after the Marte swap that he’d likely be in the market for a new center fielder. Pittsburgh’s trade of Marte was more about selling a valuable asset at peak value (and, of course, paring back payroll) than opening playing time for in-house options. Bryan Reynolds could conceivably handle center-field duties in the short term, but it seems as though the organization’s preference is to leave him installed in left field, with a hopefully healthier Gregory Polanco patrolling right field at PNC Park.
Of the listed options, only Pillar played a full season as a regular in 2019. Traded from Toronto to San Francisco in what amounted to an early-season salary dump, the 31-year-old displayed above-average pop and baserunning abilities while also reminding of his typical struggles to get on base. Pillar swatted a career-high 21 homers, posted a .174 isolated power mark (slugging percentage minus batting average) and swiped 14 bases this past season.
However, Pillar also only walked in 2.8 percent of his plate appearances and recorded a .287 on-base percentage, which was the fourth-lowest among qualified MLB hitters. Defensive metrics continued to suggest that his once-elite glove has taken a step back (-3 Defensive Runs Saved; 0.3 Ultimate Zone Rating; +2 Outs Above Average). As Heyman points out, Cherington is plenty familiar with Pillar after spending more than three years in the Jays’ front office.
The fleet-footed Hamilton, meanwhile, again rated as an elite defender and baserunner. He’s still just 29 years of age, but at this point the ship on him ever being a passable hitter has likely sailed. Hamilton’s .218/.289/.275 slash through 353 plate appearances last season was the worst in MLB among players with at least 350 plate appearances. He’s still nearly unrivaled in terms of raw speed and defensive ability, however, making him a serviceable stopgap if the Bucs simply want to keep a seat warm for someone like 2018 first-rounder Travis Swaggerty.
Maybin, 33 in April, enjoyed a career renaissance in a limited role in 2019, hitting .285/.364/.494 with 11 homers and 17 doubles in 269 trips to the plate. He worked mostly as a corner outfielder, though, and hasn’t tallied more than 450 innings in center field in a single season since his 2016 run with the Tigers.