The Pirates have a huge void now in center field after Starling Marte was suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. The 28-year-old Marte is coming off a 2016 season in which he became an All Star for the first time in his career and a NL Gold Glove winner for the second time.
So, who is going to fill Marte’s spot? Let’s take a look.
Internally, the Pirates will look to major-leaguers Adam Frazier, John Jaso, Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Alen Hanson and prospects Austin Meadows and Jose Osuna. Each one of these players have played the outfield before in some capacity.
Frazier and Jaso are listed as the backup outfielders on the depth chart, but Frazier has shown he can produce when given the chance. Frazier has hit .308/.372/.487 this year in 39 at-bats and recently filled in as the starting left fielder for Gregory Polanco (groin), going 5-for-13 with three extra-base hits, three runs and four RBI in three games. Jaso is 0-for-17 with three runs scored while seeing time at both first base and left field.
Meadows is the Pirates’ top outfield prospect and who Ken Rosenthal tweeted as the “logical replacement for Marte.” However, the 21-year-old is struggling down at Triple-A Indianapolis, slashing .162/.220/.720 in 41 plate appearances. He is not expected to be promoted immediately, but could reach the majors before July 18, when Marte is scheduled to return.
The versatile Bell and Harrison start at first and second base, respectively, but the Pirates can free up one of them if there is a need in the outfield. After all, Jaso is the backup first baseman and Frazier can play second. Hanson has played only second base in the majors, but played in left and center last year at Indianapolis.
Osuna, who has hit .250 in 10 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, was called up to the majors Tuesday and will get a shot to serve as depth while Meadows continues to progress in Indy. The 24-year old is rated as the club’s 28th-best prospect, per MLB Pipeline.
Marte took over in center while Andrew McCutchen shifted to right and Gregory Polanco shifted to left at the beginning of the year, so Cutch will reclaim his preferred position in center while Polanco mans one of the corners. A combination of the other options— led by Frazier and Osuna for now and likely Meadows later—will control the other corner spot.
If the Pirates can’t find anyone inside their organization to do the job, then they could look to trade for a veteran outfielder at some point. Lorenzo Cain (Royals), Carlos Gomez (Rangers) or Jay Bruce (Mets) are all trade candidates who could help the Bucs make a push for the playoffs this season and would be especially valuable considering Marte is not eligible for postseason play.
As for free agents, veteran Angel Pagan is still available after spending all winter looking for a major-league deal at a certain price. The Pirates reportedly had an offer on the table to Pagan during spring training, so it would not be a surprise to see the sides pick talks back up in the wake of the Marte news.
Other available free-agent options include Jeff Francoeur, Sam Fuld and the potentially retired Shane Victorino and Coco Crisp. Alejandro De Aza, who opted out of his minor-league deal with the A’s at the end of spring training, is also out there and could make sense.