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Perrotto: Pirates Bolster Roster But Need Final Piece

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BRADENTON, Fla. –  If pitching and defense win championships, the Pittsburgh Pirates are taking a step in the right direction in one of those two categories.

The Pirates have agreed to terms with veteran center fielder Michael A. Taylor on a one-year, $4-million contract, The addition of Taylor means that Jack Suwinski will move from center field to right field.

Though it wasn’t for lack of effort, Suwinski showed last season that he doesn’t have the chops to be a regular center fielder in the major leagues. He had minus-10 defensive runs saved in his first regular seasons in the bigs.

This is also a case of the advanced metrics matching the eye test. Suwinski never looked comfortable in center field and couldn’t reach enough balls in either gap.

Suwinski, though, can still be a valuable player.

He hit 26 home runs and drew 75 walks last season while playing in 144 games. At 25, there is still room for more offensive growth.

Yet the Pirates needed an upgrade defensively in center field if they were serious about their stated desire to contend this season. With a suspect starting rotation, the Pirates need all the run prevention help they can help.

Taylor, 32, can certainly play the heck out of center field.

He had five defensive runs saves last season for the Minnesota Twins. However, Taylor tallied 19 DRS in both 2021 and 2022 with the Kansas City Royals and his 43 DRS over the last three seasons are the most of any major-league center fielder.

The 14-run drop-off from 2022 to 2023 is a bit concerning. However, Taylor will be a significant upgrade if he can play at last year’s level.

How much Taylor can help the offense remains to be seen.

He set a career-high with 21 home runs last season and stole 13 bases in 129 games. However, Taylor’s batting average (.220) and on-base percentage (.278) were both and he struck out 130 times while drawing 26 walks.

The Pirates could hide Taylor’s low OBP by hitting him ninth. At the same time, Taylor could provide a little thump and speed at the bottom of the order.

Yet the Pirates need Taylor’s Gold Glove-caliber defense – he won one in 2021 – to help a rotation unsettled beyond Mitch Keller and left-handers Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales.

Manager Derek Shelton says he is happy with the spring training competition for the fourth and fifth starter jobs. However, the Pirates’ chances of being a bona fide contender in the weak National League Central would be bolstered by one more reliable starting pitcher.

Left-hander Eric Lauer and right-hander Domingo German have been signed to minor-league contracts as free agents during the last week. Both are worth low-risk gambles, but neither can be counted on as a sure thing.

While the Pirates won’t sign expensive lefty free agents Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, a right-handed free agent is unsigned, who would be an upgrade.

He is Mike Clevinger.

Granted, Clevinger won’t carry the Pirates to their first postseason berth since 2015. However, he went 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA last season in 24 starts for the 101-loss Chicago White Sox.

Clevinger is 33 so it’s reasonable to expect he could at least duplicate that performance this season. The fact there has been so little buzz about Clevinger in the rumor mill throughout the offseason and spring training is surprising.

General manager Ben Cherington has consistently said throughout his 4.5-year tenure that owner Bob Nutting provides the resources necessary for the Pirates to compete. Cherington is an honest man and I’ll take him at his word.

If Nutting is fine with the Pirates signing Taylor then he needs to also sign off on Clevinger and allow Cherington to complete the roster of a potential contender.

 

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