Ever since he made his Major League Debut for Pittsburgh back on June 10, 2014, at only 22 years old, Gregory Polanco has been one of the more polarizing figures on the Pirates. This mixed perception of Polanco is somewhat due to expectations versus performance, but also partially because of a famous meme of him misplaying a crucial fly ball and injuring himself on a slide at the end of 2018.
Prior to his time at PNC Park the young outfielder was listed as high as #2 in the system and #13 in all of MLB in 2013, so it is no wonder the outlook for his future was off the charts; and after shaking off some some struggles of his youth, he broke through in 2016 with 22 homers and a .258 AVG. Sure there was obviously still room for improvement, but the needle finally looked like it was pointed in the right direction. That along with the 5 year/$35 million contract, including 2 option years that would take the deal to 7 years for $58 million, he signed prior to the season, made many optimistic for his future with the Pirates; so much so that one Josh Bell made a full transition from right field to first base.
Then came what I call the the year of the left hamstring, which resulted in three separate stints on the 10-Day IL, a total of 108 games on the field, 11 homers and a .251 AVG. It was at this point rumblings concerning the need to trade Polanco, and cut their losses, began to circulate within the Pirates Fanbase. However, most of these were quickly quieted as El Coffee put together a career year for homers (23) and SLG (.499), only to have it snuffed out by an errant slide into second base on September 7, 2018; ending his season.
Following what seemed to be a more long term it was a bit of a surprise when Polanco reported to his first rehab assignment on April 7th of the following year, eventually returning to Major League action a couple of weeks later on April 22nd against the Diamondbacks; going 2 for 4 on the day. Even though he would play until June 16th, before being put on the IL and ultimately shut down for the season after a rehab assignment to Indianapolis, he never really seemed like himself and experienced difficulties with throwing from right field. All things considered he actually didn’t perform too poorly at the plate, slashing .242/.301/.425 with 6 home runs and 15 extra base hits.
When he came back for Spring Training in 2020, it looked he might be back on track batting .381 with a homer and 3 doubles; although as we know now it didn’t turn out out that way for Polanco. After the shutdown, he was delayed in returning due a coronavirus diagnosis; missing the opening series of the season and looking lost at lost at the plate most of the time, yet when he did connect-which wasn’t very often-it was pretty impressive. On the season he batted .153, hit 7 homers and struck out a ridiculous 37.4% of the time.
So, what does 2021 hold for Gregory Polanco, and more importantly what does it mean for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Well, the simple answer is trade bait, but even at that point it may be as a rental because his $12.5 million contract with a $3 million buyout might be too much of a risk; not that many Pirates Fans are worried about that and just want him gone; get anything you can and move on. But too me it goes beyond that because Polanco actually has another buyout in 2023 that is only $1 million, which might be a little more attractive to teams if he is able to put together more than just one streaky June or July.
Another possibility would be the Pirates picking up the option if he plays well and can’t be traded; a scenario that was posed on a recent episode of Gary Morgan’s Fan Forum on DK Sports Radio. This is a tough one to think about because many assume that good play equals an obvious trade, nevertheless it still needs to be considered.
In the end, these scenarios only become relevant if Polanco plays well, as any injury or poor performance more than likely results in him becoming a free agent after this season; and if that’s the case you would think every Pirates Fan would want Polanco to do well, but I bet you any money there are some out there who don’t.