Brentaro Yamane | Staff Writer
Aug. 26, 2021
Shortly after Gregory Polanco went 1-for-3 in Sunday’s road loss against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates wasted no time in putting him on outright waivers.
Despite the quick swing of events on Sunday, Polanco had not yet been claimed by first pitch on Monday, so he remained in the team’s starting lineup for a home contest with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Polanco went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the Pirates’ 6-5 victory.
Come Tuesday, Polanco had officially cleared waivers and remained on the team’s active roster. All 29 other teams had a chance to claim Polanco, but none did.
He did not start in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory, but came off the bench as a pinch hitter. He registered a single in his only plate appearance.
At season’s end, the ball is in the court of general manager Ben Cherington, who has the opportunity to exercise or decline Polanco’s team option for the 2022 season, thus determining whether Polanco will remain with the franchise where he’s spent all eight years of his big-league career.
This was a floater move by the Pirates. They reportedly wanted to give Polanco the opportunity to be claimed by a postseason contender prior to the Aug. 31 roster deadline. After Aug. 31, players can be acquired by teams via the waiver wire, but are ineligible to be added to the team’s postseason roster come October.
Simultaneously, the Pirates were trying to shed the remainder of Polanco’s owed salary (about $2.1 million) for this season by allowing a team who would claim him to take on that salary.
They were unsuccessful in facilitating such a move, as no team felt it necessary to take a chance on a 29-year-old outfielder with a .199 batting average and a well-documented injury history.
In just the past four years, Polanco has suffered from setbacks such a dislocated shoulder, a left hamstring strain and even a positive Covid test during the 2020 season. Regardless of these ailments, in addition to his struggle to produce at a consistent pace, Polanco has always managed to come back and have an upbeat attitude, showcasing his authentic love for the game.
There was lots of hype surrounding Polanco when he made his MLB debut in 2014. He recorded a hit in his first game and produced a five-hit game (including a go-ahead, extra-inning home run) in just his first week in the big leagues.
Struggles became apparent within his first few months, however, and he was optioned to the minor leagues to straighten things out. He played well enough to make it back to the major league roster by season’s end, but was not the starter in right field when the Pirates were defeated by the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game.
Since then, Polanco has failed to simultaneously stay healthy and be a constant offensive threat. His best season came in 2018, when he hit 23 home runs and recorded 81 RBIs. However, on Sept. 7, Polanco dove into second base and dislocated his shoulder, forcing him to miss the remainder of that season and a good chunk of the 2019 campaign.
Things have never truly been the same.
In just 157 at-bats across a truncated 2020 season, Polanco struck out 65 times, while registering just 13 extra-base hits.
Entering play on Wednesday, Polanco had just 65 hits across 326 at-bats in 2021. By comparison, he’s struck out 101 times.
Several ex-Pirates, including Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte and Tyler Glasnow, have recently enjoyed successful campaigns in other teams’ uniforms; it’s not a regular occurrence for a Pirate to spend their entire career with the franchise. Polanco is the only player that remains on the roster from the 2015 team, the last team to make it to the postseason.
In just six years, the franchise has had that much roster overhaul. In all likelihood, Polanco may be one of the next moves in the aforementioned overhaul that is still ongoing.
While anything is possible, placing Polanco on waivers is a crystal-clear signal that the Pirates are just about ready to move on from him. Newer players and prospects are becoming ready to fill the void ‘El Coffee’ is leaving behind after nearly a decade’s worth of inconsistency.
With outfield prospects like Hoy Park, Matthew Fraizer, Travis Swaggerty and Hudson Head on the way, Polanco’s opportunities are dwindling by the day.
With a little over a month of games yet to be played, the Pirates can use the remainder of the schedule to test out players — like Polanco — to see if they have any value for the franchise moving forward as the team prepares to enter its next era of contention.
Alas, it seems as if Polanco’s chance to prove himself in Pittsburgh will be nearing its inevitable end within the coming weeks.