The Pittsburgh Pirates have been quiet over the last few weeks while many other teams have shaken up their rosters, but outfield remains one position where the Bucs are still capable of a splash.
Though the Pirates have three capable starters in Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Travis Snider, only McCutchen is truly irreplaceable. Marte has a tremendous amount of potential and will likely get a long leash this year, but the Bucs showed last year that while they like Snider's abilities they do not feel that he has to play every day.
Throw in a potential Garrett Jones trade (leaving first base open) and the need for depth given Snider and Marte's recent injury woes, and outfield is definitely a position where the Pirates can upgrade. Many of the best available hitters are outfielders so a splash at the position starts to make a fair amount of sense.
There is a fair amount of outfield talent still available in the free agent market, even after factoring in the signings that have already taken place. Michael Bourn, the most sought after player, isn't a great fit in Pittsburgh as he provides most of his value in his glove, and the Pirates already have a very good defensive outfield.
But other strong options remain. Nick Swisher and his perennially high on-base percentage would be a great fit in right field for the Bucs. He could also move to first base if the Pirates do choose to trade Jones. Pittsburgh will likely not pay top dollar for Swisher, but if they can sign him to a short-term deal as the market dries up, as he is a player they should actively pursue.
A cheaper alternative is Lance Berkman. The concern with Berkman is that he is injury-prone and may not be able to consistently play the field, but if he is passable at first base he is more than worth a shot. Berkman remains a tremendous hitter who at the very least would make an excellent fourth outfielder, mitigating his injury risk. The Pirates could offer him a rich one-year deal.
As usual, the trade market for outfielders is flush with big names. I have already mentioned the biggest "fish" that the Pirates should target, though any trade for Giancarlo Stanton would likely take a fair amount of time to negotiate and complete.
Justin Upton is less of a sure thing than Stanton, but he contains a ton of potential and wouldn't cost nearly as much in a trade. That said, the Diamondbacks have indicated that he is currently off the market.
A more reasonable option is Josh Willingham, who as a bat-first player, would fit well as the Pirates right fielder and could also move to first base. Willingham has been mashing in recent years, and the Twins do not have much use for a 33-year-old outfielder. The Bucs would not want to give up a top prospect, but that likely wouldn't be necessary.
The Pirates have a number of outfield prospects in their farm system, but it is very unlikely that any of them will make a big impact at the major league level in 2013.
Top prospects Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell are still a few years away, and the Bucs traded their top upper-level outfield prospect (Robbie Grossman) to the Astros as part of a package for Wandy Rodriguez last July.
The biggest internal improvement to the Pirates' outfield should come from Marte, who has tremendous potential and will continue to grow as a player.
Who should be the Pirates' starting right fielder in 2013?
It is unlikely that the Pirates will make a big move to upgrade an outfield that cannot truly be classified as a team weakness. A few more Clint Robinson types may be added, but this doesn't seem like the area where the Bucs expect to make a splash.
With that said, the Pirates may be making a mistake. This is a team that should be exploring all possible market inefficiencies, and particularly in the free agent market it is more likely that outfielders will be overlooked than any other position players.
It's clearly a longshot for the Pirates to land a player like Stanton, but they should closely track the market for Swisher and pursue a short-term, low-risk deal with Berkman. This approach would shore up the outfield and open the door to trading Garrett Jones for starting pitching help. Landing Swisher might even enable Neal Huntington to consider dangling Marte for a young, cost-controlled shortstop or starting pitcher.