It was a rapid decline for the now 30-year-old Polanco, who was once among the game’s top-flight prospects and was seen as a key player in Pittsburgh. The longtime Pirates outfielder decimated Triple-A pitchers while moving up the minor league ranks and ultimately garnered praise as the No. 10 and No. 13 prospect throughout the game, respectively, in 2014 Baseball America and MLB.com rankings.
While Polanco has had a few solid seasons in the big leagues, including two with over 20 homers and over 10 interceptions (2016 and 2018), he has only ever had a season where he was a significantly superior offensive artist. the average (2018). The 0.254 / 0.340 / 0.499 (123 wRC +) slash from that year seems like a distant memory, as Polanco limped to a combined punchline of 0.203 / 0.270 / 0.364 in 723 home plate appearances since. His once minimal strikeout rate – he only hit a 14.6% clip in 2017 – has skyrocketed to 30.2% in the past three seasons.
In fairness to Polanco, injuries have undoubtedly taken their toll on his body and played a role in undermining his production. While he was in good health throughout the 2017 season, save for a few minor hamstring strains, the 2018 campaign marked the start of more serious physical problems. In September, while playing the final weeks of the best year of his career, Polanco both dislocated his shoulder and sustained a significant bone bruise on his left knee during an awkward slide to second base while by achieving a double.
The shoulder injury required surgery and was accompanied by a recovery time of up to seven months. Polanco missed the first three weeks of the 2019 season, but was clearly not right when he activated. He only played 42 games over the next seven weeks before returning to the injured list with an inflammation of that surgically repaired shoulder, and he never returned to the field that year.
Polanco continued to receive opportunities in Pittsburgh, in large part because of that pedigree as a previous prospect and the fact that he signed a five-year, $ 35 million extension at the start of the 2016 season. The Bucs had two club options that would have covered the 2022 and 2023 seasons, so there was good reason to give Polanco every chance to regain some of his form before surgery. That did not happen and Pittsburgh finally released Polanco following a DFA at the end of the 2021 season. He signed a minor league contract with Toronto on August 31, but did not end up playing. in the Majors with the Jays; However, he posted a massive 0.374 / 0.436 / 0.747 batting line in 101 home plate appearances with affiliate AAA Toronto, perhaps giving hope for more productive days to come.
If Polanco heads to NPB and manages to bounce back, he is still young enough that a return to the Major League is quite viable. (He won’t be 31 until September 14 of next season.) A solid year at NPB might also just open the door to a raise and / or a multi-year deal to stay overseas. At the very least, signing NPB would block a 2022 guaranteed salary for Polanco, something that was not likely to happen in Major League Baseball, where he would have presumably been in line for an unlisted deal with a spring invite. Training somewhere.