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Perrotto: Under The Circumstances, Rowdy Tellez Worth a Shot

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Rowdy Tellez, Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s probably wise to add some context to this column right off the top.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are not likely to spend a significant amount of money on free agents this offseason. Or any offseason.

That is not how the Pirates roll under Bob Nutting. Considering it is highly doubtful he is going to sell the team anytime soon, it’s a fact fans unfortunately are going to have to live with.

The small-market Kansas City Royals spending over $100 million in free agents this offseason frustrates Pirates fans and justifiably so.

I don’t like it any more than you do. Even though I can’t be a fan in this job, I get tired of writing about losing teams as much as you get tired of cheering for them.

With that caveat, I kind of like the Pirates signing of first baseman Rowdy Tellez in free agency last week on a one-year, $3.2-million contract with $800,000 available in performance bonuses.

Yes, Tellez hit just .215/.291/.376 in 105 games for the Milwaukee Brewers last season with 13 home runs in 105 games. However, he did pop 35 home runs in 2022 for the Brewers.

That potential for longballs is what makes Tellez intriguing.

Despite their long history of great hitters, the Pirates have had a player hit as many as 35 homers in a season just 17 times. Five of those 35-homer years were by Ralph Kiner, four by Brian Giles and two by Willie Stargell.

A Pirates player has had a 35-homer season just five times since PNC Park opened in 2001. Giles hit 37 in the inaugural season and 38 in 2002 while Jason Bay belted 35 in 2006, Pedro Alvarez went deep 36 times in 2013 and Josh Bell had a 37-homer season in 2019.

For comparison’s sake, 14 players throughout the big leagues hit at least 35 homers in 2023.

Here’s another fun fact – well, fun might not be the right word – the Pirates have not had a player hit at least 40 homers in a season since Stargell connected 44 times in 1973. That is a half-century ago

The game certainly changed this year when Major League Baseball instituted rules that included a pitch clock, pitchers’ pickoff throws being limited to two per batter and the bases being made bigger. Speed and one-run strategies returned just as Commissioner Rob Manfred had hoped.

Yet home runs still matter. Seven of the eight top homer-hitting teams last season reached the postseason.

If Tellez hits 13 home runs next season, then he won’t make much of an impact because the hulking 6-foot-4, 270-pound left-handed hitter doesn’t provide much in any other facet of the game. However, if can get back to the 35-homer level – or even close – then it’s a great move by the Pirates. Tellez is also a funny and quirky guy, which never hurts in a sport increasingly devoid of personality.

General manager Ben Cherington takes plenty of heat from the fans for not making any major moves. However, he can only do what he can with the small budget allocated by Nutting.

Thus, Cherington must take chances on low-cost reclamation projects like Tellez, whose production last season was likely hindered by forearm and finger injuries.

Time will tell if the signing works out. However, power hitters cost big money and it’s worth Cherington’s while to take a shot at Tellez on the cheap.

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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