- Date of birth: December 5th, 1987
- 2017 line: 112 games, .266/.330/.471, .801 OPS, 466 PA, 103 wRC+, 35 BB, 71 K
- 2017 value: 2.1 fWAR, 2.9 bWAR
- 2017 salary: $6,750,000
- SnakePit rating: 7.28
2017 was supposed to be the season in which A.J. Pollock took the field healthy and made a case for being offered a contract extension. Instead, he suffered an injury to his right groin running out a routine single against Pittsburgh on 14 May and took several weeks to heal up, not returning to the Arizona lineup until the 4th of July. As a team, the Diamondbacks performed quite well in his absence, going 31-15, including a stretch where they were 23-8 with the best 30-game stretch in the majors. However, the team’s dynamic play on the bases was lacking, and the outfield defense was, to be polite, lacking.
Mike Hazen likened Pollock’s troubles to those of Boston Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, stating that a big part of the injury concern stemmed from Pollock playing every play of every game at 100%. While this resulted in high caliber, all-star performances in individual games, it also curtailed just how many games Pollock was available to make such contributions. The result was, Pollock worked with the coaching staff to find the happy medium, playing at a high level, but not going all-out on every play. This approach seemed to work, as Pollock was able to finish the season and provided a no-doubter of a home run off of Clayton Kershaw in the NLDS.
It is difficult to tell just what sort of season at the plate Pollock might have had if he could have just remained healthy. Still, despite all the time he missed and the time he spent re-adjusting to the league once he returned, Pollock was still a league average hitter, showing decent pop with his 14 home runs in limited play. Pollock’s trademark aggressiveness on the bases was still on display as well, as he regularly stretched long singles into doubles, compiling 33 of those. He also legged out 6 triples on the year. Pollock was also the team’s most aggressive runner when on base, leading the team with 20 stolen bases and keeping pitchers off balance when he was staying put.
In the field, the elite defense that came to be associated with Pollock seems to have evaporated. By both UZR and defensive runs, Pollock was only slightly above average as a defender. Some of that seems likely due to aging. Some also seems to be due to the new philosophy of shifting down a gear while playing, as his instincts were still excellent, and his normal range did not appear to the eye to be diminished much, if at all.
The future for Pollock as an Arizona Diamondback is murky at best. Clearly, he is still a productive MLB-regular, able to play a premium position at an above average clip. On the other hand, 2018 is the team’s final year of control over Pollock, and he is slated to make $8,500,000. As detailed many times over the past several weeks, Arizona is entering a severe payroll crunch, and Pollock’s salary, while entirely reasonable, would be a big chunk cleared off the books if the team traded him. At his performance level, there would be no shortage of suitors if Mike Hazen does decide to part ways with the soon-to-be 30-year-old outfielder.
On the other hand, Pollock is currently the only everyday outfielder the team has, with David Peralta and his poor handedness splits the next closest the team has to such a candidate. Furthermore, only Rey Fuentes provides anything close to Pollock’s center field defense, though Fuentes’ bat is so anemic he can hardly be relied upon as a lineup mainstay. IF the team parts ways with Pollock via trade, they will need to find his replacement via either another trade or through free agency. The free agent market for outfielders is rather limited in 2018. To replace even Pollock’s abbreviated 2017 performance would cost significantly more than what Pollock is slated to make in 2018, and would probably also require multiple years.
Because of the lack of a ready replacement for Pollock, and because the team appears to be trying to return to the playoffs again in 2018, it seems likely that Arizona will choose to retain Pollock and simply risk losing him with no return when he walks at the end of the season. If the team is in the thick of the playoff hunt in July and August, Pollock will almost certainly be a vital part of that. If the team is out of contention by that time, a healthy Pollock should be easy to unload to a contender looking for an instant upgrade to their outfield. As it is a contract year for Pollock, and the 2019 free agent market is slated to be far and away the largest ever, look for Pollock to try playing just a bit harder than maybe he should regularly to make a run at cashing in on a major contract next winter. If he stays healthy doing that, the Diamondbacks should reap some great benefits.