Pirates part ways with longtime outfielder Gregory Polanco

Aug 28, 2021, 2:14 AM | Updated: 2:31 pm

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Gregory Polanco hasn’t been part of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ long-term plans for a while.

Now, he’s no longer a part of their present, either.

The Pirates released the struggling 29-year-old right fielder on Saturday, cutting ties with the last remaining player from the group that helped guide the franchise to three straight postseason berths from 2013-15.

Those days are long gone. Pittsburgh is less than two years into a top-to-bottom overhaul and is all but assured of finishing dead last in the NL Central for a third straight year.

Polanco’s age, declining production and onerous contract — his $11.6 million salary this season accounted for more than 20% of the team’s entire 2021 payroll — made him an ill fit for what the Pirates are trying to do. The team placed him on waivers last week and when no one picked up his remaining salary, they opted to let him go instead.

Polanco hit just .208 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs this season for Pittsburgh and had recently become a target for frustrated fans. He was booed relentlessly after a late error contributed to a loss to Arizona on Wednesday night.

Still, that didn’t mean the decision was easy. Polanco’s infectious smile and unbridled enthusiasm for the game made him popular inside a young and largely anonymous clubhouse. Manager Derek Shelton called the meeting he had with Polanco on Saturday to inform him of the decision was the most challenging he’s had since taking over in November 2019.

“To Gregory’s credit, the way he handled it was so professional and so understanding,” Shelton said. “He understands what we’re doing as an organization, how we’re moving forward. I had a ton of respect for him (before and) I have even more respect for him now, for just the way he handled himself because it was not an easy conversation.”

Polanco definitely heard the crowd reaction at his home park. A day after his costly error, Polanco fired back, saying the fans needed to remember he’s human, just like they are.

“I’m doing 100% every day to get better,” Polanco said on Thursday, a couple of hours before a key two-run double during a comeback win against St. Louis in what would be the last of his 696 hits for the Pirates.

“It’s been a hard year for me, obviously. This is my free agent year. I want to do good. I want to keep playing baseball until I can’t. I don’t want to retire. I don’t want to be home. I want to be on a baseball field. This is what I love. They don’t understand, and that’s sad,” he said.

Polanco made a splash upon reaching the majors in 2014, teaming up with Starling Marte and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to become what was known locally as “the Dream Outfield.”

With his long, loping left-handed swing, the Pirates envisioned a player who would take advantage of the short porch in right field at PNC Park for years. He drove in 55 runs and stole 27 bases in 2015 for a team that won 98 games, leading the organization to sign him to a $35 million contract extension on the second day of the 2016 season.

Yet consistency — and any sense of comfort while playing the field — proved elusive. His .258 average in 2016 remains his career best and the power that appeared effortless at times vanished for stretches.

Polanco’s best season came in 2018, when he hit 23 homers and drove in 81 runs. Those numbers would have been even better if not for a freak injury in September when an overzealous flop slide into second base while legging out a double eventually led to left shoulder surgery.

He was limited to just 42 games in 2019 when he struggled to recover from the surgery and hasn’t regained the form that once made him one of the most promising outfield prospects in the majors. Polanco is hitting just .203 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs in 199 appearances since tumbling into second against Cincinnati nearly three years ago.

The Pirates called up Cole Tucker to take Polanco’s roster spot. Shelton suggested Tucker — a shortstop as a prospect who has evolved into a utility player — will get some reps in the outfield.

Shelton indicated the revamped structure of September call-ups, now limited to just two players, played a factor in the decision to part with Polanco now rather than wait until the offseason.

“The rosters will expand, but they’re not expanding the way they have in the past,” Shelton said. “It’s a shortened roster, so we have to make sure that we maximize the opportunities and the innings or at-bats for guys, and this is why we deemed this to be the right time.”


More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers trains at The Grove in Chandler's Cross, England, Frida...
Associated Press

Rodgers eager to air it out in Packers’ 1st London game

WATFORD, England (AP) — Aaron Rodgers may need to have a little chat with Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur about the game plan for the Packers’ first game in London. After arriving in the British capital on an overnight flight, LaFleur was quick to tout the importance of the run game on Sunday against […]
1 day ago
FILE - Police officers and soldiers stand amid tear gas smoke after clashes between fans during a s...
Associated Press

Soccer’s worst disasters: Same mistakes by police, fans die

Police fire tear gas into a crowd of soccer fans, who panic and rush for the exits. There are so many trying to escape and some of the gates are locked. The stadium becomes a death trap. People are trampled in the desperation. Others suffocate, crushed by the weight of bodies around them. They are […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Iran forward Azmoun doubtful for World Cup with calf injury

LEVERKUSEN, Germany (AP) — Iran forward Sardar Azmoun is a doubt for the World Cup after picking up an injury while warming up for Bayer Leverkusen. The Bundesliga club said late Thursday that the 27-year-old Azmoun is expected to miss six to eight weeks after tearing a muscle in his right calf in the warm-up […]
1 day ago
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) walks out to greet teammates after a field goal durin...
Associated Press

Wilson shoulders blame as Broncos fall 12-9 to Colts in OT

DENVER (AP) — Russell Wilson had a chance to put the game away late. He threw an interception in the end zone. The Denver Broncos quarterback had another shot to win the game in overtime. He threw a game-ending incompletion on fourth-and-short while never looking at an uncovered receiver. Brought in for moments such as […]
1 day ago
Bryson DeChambeau looks at his club after hitting his tee shot on the fourth hole during the final ...
Associated Press

3 tied for lead after 1st round of LIV Golf in Thailand

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Richard Bland, Branden Grace and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra upstaged their more-illustrious opponents on Friday to shoot 7-under 65s and share the lead after the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational-Bangkok. Marc Leishman and Ian Poulter were a stroke behind while Kim Sihwan, Brooks Koepka and Morgan Jediah were among those two […]
1 day ago
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico powers his car during first practice session for the Japanes...
Associated Press

Verstappen set to win a second straight F1 season title

SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc knows it. So does anyone following Formula One; no calculators needed. Red Bulls’ Max Verstappen is set to win his second straight drivers’ title, and it’s likely to come on Sunday with rain predicted for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Friday’s two practice sessions were run in […]
1 day ago
Pirates part ways with longtime outfielder Gregory Polanco