Posted on November 27, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
An offseason of small, incremental moves continues for the Pittsburgh Pirates. On Tuesday, the Pirates announced the signing of outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall. The sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million plus up to $3 million in bonuses based on plate appearances. The 30-year old Chisenhall joins the Pirates after spending his entire big league career with the Cleveland Indians.
“Lonnie Chisenhall adds an experienced, productive, and versatile player to our Major League Team,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said in a statement. “When healthy, Lonnie has been a quality hitter while offering defensive flexibility.”
Chisenhall spent the early part of his career playing primarily at third base. However, he’s spent most of his time in the outfield over the last few seasons. He also has some experience playing first base. Flexibility is becoming a more desired commodity in baseball this days, which is part of the reason why Chisenhall was appealing to Pittsburgh.
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It’s worth noting that Chisenhall is coming off a down season. He spent most of the season on the DL after suffering a serious calf injury in April. He ended up playing in just 29 games for the Indians, although he hit .321 with an OPS of .846.
Prior to last season, Chisenhall was a frequent contributor to the Indians for several years. He became a more known commodity when the Indians made playoff runs in 2016 and 2017. He comes to Pittsburgh with a career batting average of .268 and an OPS of .747, making him a serviceable player, especially considering his defensive versatility.
The Pirates may need Chisenhall to play a lot early in the season while Gregory Polanco is out. Polanco had surgery last September after dislocating his shoulder. The injury could potentially keep Polanco out until June. Huntington mentioned that Chisenhall could be the team’s primary right fielder at the start of the 2019 season. Once Polanco is ready to return, Chisenhall’s versatility will ensure that he still has a role on the team.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have too many outfield prospects that are knocking on the door of the big leagues, so outfield depth could be an issue for them this season. One possible option, Jordan Luplow, was traded to the Indians a couple of weeks ago. The signing of Chisenhall will help to address that concern.
Of course, Chisenhall has been largely a platoon player for much of his career. He’s typically hit right-handed pitchers better than lefties. That could force the Pirates to use him in a platoon early in the season, perhaps with Pablo Reyes, who made his big league debut late in 2018. However, once Polanco returns, it could be tough for Chisenhall to split time with either him or left fielder Corey Dickerson.
Obviously, signing Chisenhall doesn’t move the needle that much for the Pirates. But with Polanco out for the early part of the season, they needed to add an outfielder this winter. With Chisenhall coming off an injury-plagued season, he comes at an affordable price for the small-market Pirates. Chisenhall also comes with a good track record and a fair amount of upside if he stays healthy. It’s a low-risk move that could work out well for the Pirates in 2019.