PITTSBURGH—The Pirates’ signing of Lyle Overbay to a one-year $5 million contract as a free agent on Tuesday was interesting on a couple of levels.
For one, the Pirates didn’t appear in need of a left-handed hitter or a starting first baseman as they already had Garrett Jones on the roster. Secondly, the addition of Overbay overcrowds the lineup and makes it almost certain that general manager Neal Huntington is setting himself up to make a trade.
The Pirates now have three potential right fielders in Jones, switch-hitter Ryan Doumit and right-handed hitting Matt Diaz, who was signed as a free agent last week. Unlike many teams, the Pirates aren’t opposed to platooning and Diaz gives them half of a platoon in right. However, that would still give the Pirates two hitters for one spot in the other half of the platoon in Doumit and Jones.
Doumit, on the surface, appears to be the most logical candidate to go as the Pirates have been offering him in trades for two years and are said to be willing to eat a portion of his $5.1 million salary for next season. However, sources close to the situation, say the Pirates no longer view Jones as an everyday player or even an ideal platoon mate after he had a sharp decline from his fine 2009 rookie season last year.
Jones matched his rookie home run total of 21 but it took him 158 games and 654 plate appearances in 2010 as opposed to 82 games and 358 plate appearances the year before. Furthermore, Jones’ batting average (.293-.247), on-base percentage (.372-.306) and…
slugging percentage (.567-.414) all took a tumble and he had major trouble against left-handed pitching, hitting .220 with six homers in 230 plate appearances.
Therefore, Diaz stands a good chance of receiving the bulk of playing time in right field in 2011. While Diaz has a deserved reputation as a lefty masher as he has a .335 career batting average against them with a .373 on-base percentage and a .535 slugging percentage, his line against right-handers is a decent .269/.327/.382 and the Pirates feel it could get better with more playing time.
The 33-year-old Overbay is looking to bounce back from a sub-par season in which he hit .243 with 20 home runs and 67 RBIs in 154 games with a .329 on-base percentage and a .433 slugging percentage. He did finish on a good, though, batting .267 with 16 homers in his last 105 games after hitting .197 with four homers in his first 49.
Overbay has a .274 lifetime batting average with 122 homers and 524 RBIs in 10 seasons and 1,138 games with Arizona (2001-03), Milwaukee (2004-05) and Toronto (2006-10).
One major-league scout who covered the Blue Jays extensively last season believes Overbay will be a good fit for the Pirates: “They need some power and he was driving the ball well in the second half last season. He’s not a star but he’ll hit .260-.270 with 20 homers in that ballpark. He’ll help them defensively, too. He’s got good range and good hands and he’ll save their infielders some errors by catching some throws that Jones wouldn’t.”
John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com