Last week, Alex questioned whether it was time to start considering if Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco should be a part of the Pirates moving forward. The general consensus of comments on various social media networks in response was “Stick with Bell, move on from Polanco.”
This is not at all surprising considering the background optics. Bell is still only in his 2nd full season, while Polanco has been around for a bit and has a longer track record of disappointing fans. Coupled with the amazing breakout of Austin Meadows and you start to see Gregory Polanco as a 4th wheel on a tricycle.
As I’ve been thinking about Polanco’s future, I’ve also been thinking of Jorge Soler. Soler was in the news last week due a fracture in his foot. In one of the earliest articles on TPOP from 2014, I compared the potential team-controlled salaries of the two right fielders that are only 5 months apart in age. If you didn’t read it, don’t worry, not many people did back in the early days. Feel free to catch up now. I’ll wait.
At the time of the article, Soler still figured prominently in the Cubs’ future. However, his career has been viewed as a disappointment, due to wild fluctuations in his performance from year to year. After his stunning 903 OPS debut in 2014, Soler regressed badly and spent large swathes of 2015 and 2016 in the minors and/or hurt. The Cubs finally moved him in December 2016 to the Royals in exchange for one year of Wade Davis in 2017. The Royals gambled on Soler’s immense upside for four relatively cheap years in exchange for one year of a player that they couldn’t afford to re-sign.
2017…didn’t go well for ol’ Jorge. In only 35 major league games, he batted .144/.245/.258 for a teeth-clenching 503 OPS and a wRC+ of 32. But Soler roared back this year with the best season of his career, at least prior to breaking his foot. He had a .265/.354/.466 triple slash line (820 OPS, 125 wRC+) and accrued a career-high 1.2 WAR to date.
Gregory Polanco and Jorge Soler actually have fairly similar career triple slashes — Polanco is at .247/.314/.402 (716 OPS, 93 wRC+) while Soler is at .249/.326/.424 (750 OPS, 103 wRC+). But Soler doesn’t do much on defense or on the basepaths, hence his inability to even reach the average-player threshold of 2.0 WAR at any point in his career. Polanco has twice had seasons of 2.3 WAR, in contrast to this year’s horror show of -0.6 WAR so far.
As of this writing, Polanco has $29.5M remaining on his contract for the remainder of 2018’s salary, the salary for 2019-2021, plus the $3M buyout in 2022 if his $13M option is declined. That’s a lot of money, but it’s not all dead money. Polanco is still useful and I guarantee that there is a GM out there that thinks he can fix him to get him to realize his full potential.
Last offseason was a nightmare for free agent position players, but outfielders (albeit ones older than Polanco) were still getting $5M AAV’s. If a team doesn’t want to go the full weight on the 3 yr/$29.5M owed to Polanco, his floor should still be 3 yr/$15M. The Pirates would only need to absorb $14.5M in a trade or via assets.
Trade For Existing Contracts
I’ve referenced Jorge Soler a few times in this article, so let’s look at his trade to the Royals. It was for Wade Davis straight up. For the 2017 to 2020 seasons, Soler was owed $15M. However, he had the ability to opt into arbitration if he desired once he reached the appropriate service time, so he could have potentially cost more. Davis had 1 year/$10M remaining on his very team-friendly deal that he originally signed with the Rays.
The salaries don’t quite match up, of course, but the Royals were willing to take on more money spread over multiple seasons in order to grab a potential building block for their pending rebuild. The Cubs got a standout closer for their defense of the World Series.
Maybe it’s easier to trade Polanco in the offseason when more teams are thinking they can win. If so, his salary commitment drops to 3 yr/$27.5M since the remainder of his 2018 salary is gone. I can easily say that Polanco would be considered a 1 WAR player on the free agent market and should be worth $8M/year, but I’ll still stick with the 3 yr/$15M floor mentioned above. The Pirates would need to absorb $12.5M in contracts in return.
If I were the GM, I’d be looking for a 1 year deal so that I could clear the books from 2020 and beyond from the Polanco trade. The Pirates need starting pitching so that’s where I’d be looking in any potential deals. A rebuilding team or a team that may be in a transitional phase, might be interested in offloading a large 1 year commitment in favor of a younger player with multiple years of control and smaller AAV’s.
Sweeten The Deal With Prospects
All right…let’s get this right out the way from Jump Street. The Pirates included minor league prospects in the Francisco Liriano deal, but neither Reese McGuire nor Harold Ramirez were blue-chip prospects. Rather, they were declining assets that Neal Huntington was able to use as fool’s gold with the Blue Jays. They used to be good and had name recognition, so they were used to buy down Liriano’s $13.7M salary.
So if the Pirates have to include $12.5M of prospect value in a deal, using our soon-to-be unveiled Scoutline tool on Fangraphs to convert Future Values to surplus prospect values, you’re looking at a 40 FV pitcher ($12.2M) or a 40 FV hitter ($13.5M). The Pirates (and every team) have those types of players in spades. We’re talking about Brandon Waddell/Austin Coley or Jordan Luplow types of players.
Fans see Gregory Polanco as worthless, but that’s not true. While I think he’ll never meet the lofty expectations foist upon him during his rise through the minors, he can be a useful piece in the right situation.
I don’t think he’s a starter of a team with playoff aspirations, but he’s more than capable of getting time for a team like the Rangers that is trying to build something. The two teams don’t match up well at first glance, but a Jurickson Profar-Gregory Polanco deal (plus pieces) could help both team. Profar is blocked by Andrus and Odor, both of whom have large long-term deals. The Pirates could use Profar at either SS or 2B right away.
It seems inevitable that Polanco will get moved. Whether that’s during this season or the offseason remains to be seen.