Connect with us


Perrotto: Odd Route to Pirates No Big Deal for Billy McKinney



Billy McKinney, Pittsburgh Pirates

Back in November, Billy McKinney had no idea he would be spending spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The veteran outfielder had re-signed with the New York Yankees as a free agent on a minor-league contract with an invitation to major-league spring training as a non-roster player. McKinney was comfortable with his decision even though the Yankees had dropped him from the 40-man roster last October.

Last season, McKinney appeared in 48 games for the Yankees, and he liked general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone. The 29-year-old McKinney thought he would be given an opportunity to make the team as a bench player this year.

Things changed during the Winter Meetings in early December. The Yankees acquired three outfielders in less than a week, trading with the Boston Red Sox for Alex Verdugo and then getting Juan Soto and Trent Grisham from the San Diego Padres in a blockbuster deal.

McKinney’s future with the Yankees had become almost nonexistent. Pirates general manager Ben Cherington, who had a relationship with McKinney going back to his high school days, decided to take advantage of the situation and called Cashman.

The teams struck a deal with the Pirates acquiring McKinney for $500,000 in international amateur free agent bonus pool money.

Free agents who sign major-league contracts can’t be traded until June 15 under Major League Baseball rules. However, because McKinney was on a minor-league deal, he could be dealt.

McKinney was a bit surprised about the trade. His agent had spoken only briefly with the Pirates while he was a free agent, and the team did not appear to have serious interest. McKinney, though, praises Cherington and Cashman for making what could have been an awkward situation a good one.

“The Yankees and the Pirates were both very cordial to me,” McKinney said. “They were both very gracious to me because of the unique circumstances. I was very appreciative of the Yankees giving me a better opportunity personally. I’m just glad to be in a new organization. Everybody has been great to me and I’m looking forward to being a Pirate.”

The left-handed-hitting McKinney is one of many players competing in spring training to be the Pirates’ starting right fielder. Among the other candidates are Joshua Palacios, Edward Oliveras, Connor Joe, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Gilberto Celestino.

The competition began to heat up Saturday when the Pirates played their first game of the Grapefruit League season.

Smith-Njigba started in right field and went 1 for 3 with a run scored in the Pirates’ 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla. Olivares, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in an offseason trade, played left field and was 1 for 3 with a two-run triple.

McKinney started in center field and finished 0 for 1 with a walk. Celestino went 2 for 3 as the designated hitter.

“I just want to put together good at-bats and help the team any way I can whether it’s right field or center field or left field or first base – anything,” McKinney said. “I feel comfortable at every position. I’ve been around. I know how the game is nowadays, where versatility really matters. If anything happens on any given day, I just want the team to know I feel comfortable and I enjoy playing wherever they need me.”

What McKinney would enjoy is a regular job in the major leagues.

Since debuting with the Yankees in 2018, he has also spent time with the Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics. He has played in 300 games during his six-year career but has rarely been a regular.

McKinney was also the Athletics’ first-round draft pick in 2013 following his senior high school season in Plano, Texas then was traded to the Chicago Cubs barely more than a year later.

“There have definitely been plenty of ups and downs in my career,” McKinney said. “Got to stick it, take it one day at a time really. Really got to not think about the past and not think about the future and just take it one day a time and keep taking good at-bats. You can’t approach it any other way.

“I love it, though. Nowhere I’d want to be than being a baseball player. It is difficult. It’s tough. It’s a mental grind, for absolutely sure. Not just one person goes through it. Everybody is dealing with problems, so you just have to meet them head on.”

Which is why McKinney isn’t fazed by his unconventional route to the Pirates.

Subscribe Today!

Subscribe today!

PBN in your Inbox

Enter your email address to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.

Copyright © 2024 National Hockey Now. All rights reserved. In no way endorsed by the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball.

Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (PA/IL) or 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN only) or 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA only) or 1-800-522-4700 (CO Only) or TN REDLINE: 800-889-9789.