3:29PM: The Pirates have actually released Polanco, as the team issued a correction to their initial announcement.
3:03PM: The Pirates have designated outfielder Gregory Polanco for assignment. According to the team’s official media release, infielder Cole Tucker “is expected” to be called up from Triple-A to take Polanco’s spot on the active roster.
The move comes less than a week after Polanco was placed on outright waivers, though he remained in the organization after no other teams claimed him. Today’s release officially cuts ties between Polanco and the Bucs, and the team will remain on the hook for the roughly $5.28MM still owed to Polanco — his remaining 2021 salary, and the $3MM buyout of his $12.5MM club option for 2022.
“Gregory has been a true professional throughout his entire Pirates career, including in our conversation with him regarding today’s roster move,” Pirates GM Ben Cherington said. “He has been a great teammate who always handled himself with class and took a great deal of pride in representing the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh. We wish him nothing but success moving forward.”
After rising through the minor league ranks as one of baseball’s top prospects, Polanco had some stops and starts in his efforts to establish himself as a productive Major League regular, though that didn’t stop the Bucs from locking him up on a five-year, $35MM contract extension in April 2016. Strong seasons in both 2016 and 2018 (the latter a 23-homer, .839 OPS campaign over 535 plate appearances) seemed to indicate that the Pirates had made a wise investment, yet shoulder surgery in September 2018 ended up essentially derailing Polanco’s career.
Recurring shoulder problems limited him to only 42 games in 2019. In 723 PA since the start of the 2019 season, Polanco has hit only .203/.270/.364 with 24 home runs. Between this dropoff and increasing annual salaries in the latter years of the extension, Polanco became something of an untradeable albatross as the Pirates entered another rebuilding phase.
Though Polanco is a veteran of eight MLB seasons, he still doesn’t turn 30 years old until September. It stands to reason that another team will take a flier on Polanco to see if a change of scenery could get his career back on track, since that new team would only owe Polanco the prorated portion of the minimum salary (the Pirates would pay the rest of the money owed).