Hours after trading Starling Marte to the Diamondbacks, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington told reporters at PNC Park that he’s hopeful of adding a new center fielder prior to Opening Day (Twitter link via Adam Berry of MLB.com). Doing so would enable the team to continue utilizing Bryan Reynolds in left field and allow Guillermo Heredia to occupy the backup role they had in mind upon signing him.
It’ll surely be frustrating for many Pirates fans to hear of their team voicing a need for center field help immediately after trading away a high-quality center fielder. But Marte has long stood out as a logical trade candidate due to his remaining two years of club control, his age and the general lack of talent surrounding him. Cherington and his staff could’ve tried to add pieces around Marte, to be sure, but contending in 2020 was always going to be a long shot for the Pirates given the payroll constraints put on the front office by owner Bob Nutting and given the questionable state of the big league roster.
Viewed through that lens, one could argue that the Pirates should further tear down. Players such as Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Keone Kela and Chris Archer could draw interest on the trade market, and none of that bunch is signed long-term. However, Cherington indicated that he doesn’t expect further subtractions from the big league roster for the time being. That doesn’t rule out some summer dealing — particularly if Archer enjoys a strong first few months — but it sounds as if the Marte swap will be the team’s big offseason deal, barring an unforeseen offer the Bucs simply can’t refuse.
So where might the Pirates be able to find a center fielder? Kevin Pillar is probably the top name on the market at this point, but he has a career .296 OBP and posted a .287 mark in 2019. The former defensive sensation can still handle center field but doesn’t grade out nearly as well as he did in his peak now that he’s 31 years old (seven years’ worth of gravity-defying dives and outfield wall collisions under his belt). Jarrod Dyson remains a premium source of speed and center-field glovework despite turning 35 this past August, and he’d form a natural platoon with the aforementioned Heredia.
On the trade market, there’s no shortage of options. The Pirates surely won’t be in the market for high-profile and/or high-salary players, so Red Sox fans can cross them off as a Jackie Bradley Jr. destination. But other organizations with less costly, more controllable options could be fits. Could the Padres, for instance, be ready to move on from Manuel Margot and part with the former top prospect? Michael A. Taylor doesn’t have a path to everyday at-bats in D.C., and Cherington’s former Blue Jays have plenty of center-field options, including Teoscar Hernandez. And the Pirates make sense as a change of scenery destination for any number of former top prospects (e.g. Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips), should their organizations be amenable to a swap.