The Pirates have acquired outfielder Billy McKinney from the Yankees in exchange for international bonus pool money, reports Jack Curry of Yes Network. As noted by Curry, McKinney just recently signed a minor league deal with the Yanks. That means he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and won’t take a roster spot with the Bucs.
It’s an unusual trade as McKinney, 29, just signed that deal with the Yankees last week. The former first-round pick and former top 100 prospect hasn’t been able to put it all together at the big league level. In 311 big league games dating back to his 2018 debut, he’s hit .209/.284/.390 for a wRC+ of 81.
He got into 48 contests for the Yankees this year, walking in 11.6% of his plate appearances but also striking out at a 26.5% rate. His .227/.320/.406 batting line amounted to a 101 wRC+, indicating he was right around league average overall, but the Yankees outrighted him off the roster at season’s end. He elected free agency and returned on a minor league deal but will now jump to the Pirates’ organization.
It’s possible that McKinney’s acquisition is related to the Pittsburgh catching situation. Prospects Endy Rodríguez and Henry Davis both debuted in 2023, but Rodríguez got the majority of the catching duties as Davis spent most of his time in right field. The club has maintained that they still viewed Davis as a catcher and his path to doing so opened up when it was reported this week that Rodríguez will require UCL/flexor tendon surgery and miss the entire 2024 season.
If Davis isn’t an option for the outfield, then the Bucs will have an opening in right field, with Jack Suwinski in center and Bryan Reynolds in left. They have some options on the roster in Joshua Palacios, Connor Joe, Ji Hwan Bae and Canaan Smith-Njigba but McKinney will give them some non-roster depth.
In order to add that depth, they are sending some unknown amount of international bonus pool space to the Yankees. The current international signing period ends tomorrow, so it’s possible the Bucs had a bit of their pool left and weren’t going to use it, while the Yanks had someone in mind to spend it on. Most clubs spend large chunks of their pools right as the period opens, so the amount could be on the low side.
In the event McKinney gets a roster spot, he is out of options but has just over three years of service time. If he has his long-awaited breakout, the Bucs could keep him around beyond 2024 via arbitration.