Gregory Polanco's rehab will cost him time in 2019, and it could shape the Pirates' offseason
Polanco underwent shoulder surgery earlier this week and could be out until June 2019
Although the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates are still mathematically alive, they will soon be eliminated from postseason contention and shift their focus to 2019. And the 2019 Pirates have already suffered a significant loss.
Friday afternoon the Pirates announced outfielder Gregory Polanco underwent surgery to "repair the labrum and regain stabilization" of his left shoulder earlier this week, and the expected recovery time is 7-9 months. That means he could be out until next June.
Polanco suffered the injury during an awkward slide earlier this month.
Earlier this year the Pirates had enough outfield depth that they traded Andrew McCutchen to the Giants, and then traded Austin Meadows to the Rays as part of the Chris Archer deal. Now they'll finish the season with some combination of Adam Frazier, Jordan Luplow, and Pablo Reyes flanking Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson in the outfield.
Injuries stink, especially major injuries like this, but if there is a silver lining here, it's the timing of the injury. It happened at the end of the season, which means the majority of Polanco's rehab work will take place during the offseason rather than cost him regular season games, and the team has the entire winter to figure out their 2019 outfield situation.
As always, there are a ton of outfielders scheduled to hit the free agent market this winter. Given their small market status, low-cost one-year stopgaps like veterans Curtis Granderson and Jon Jay figure to interest the Pirates more than big name players like Bryce Harper and Michael Brantley. Pittsburgh doesn't wade into those deep free agent waters.
Another thing to consider: Dickerson has struggled in the second half again. He hit .306/.340/.469 (122 OPS+) before the All-Star break this year and has hit .255/.268/.409 (83 OPS+) since the All-Star break. That follows a career-long pattern too.
- Dickerson in first half (career): .292/.340/.506 (107 OPS+) in 1,395 plate appearances
- Dickerson in second half (career): .270/.306/.480 (92 OPS+) in 1,193 plate appearances
The Pirates could go into the offseason looking for an outfielder who can replace Polanco in the first half, while he recovers from shoulder surgery, and then take some at-bats away from Dickerson should he struggle in the second half again. Had he not been traded, Meadows would've filled that role beautiful. He's no longer with the team though, so the Pirates have to adjust.
Given the nature of Polanco's injury and the surgery required, the Pirates have to not only prepare for a lengthy rehab, but also the possibility he will not be the same player when he first returns. There will be rust to shake off and the shoulder repair could create timing or mechanical issues. Polanco may not get all the way back to 100 percent until 2020.
This season the 27-year-old Polanco, who is owed $29.3 million from 2019-21, authored a .251/.340/.499 (128 OPS+) batting line with 23 home runs in 130 games, making this his best MLB season to date. Rather than build on that performance next year, he'll have to rehab from shoulder surgery, and the Pirates have to figure out how they're going to replace him.
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