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10-Year Major League Veteran Opts Out of Pirates Contract

First baseman Jake Lamb has exercised a clause in his minor league contract and elected free agency. Lamb had been toiling for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis. Although Lamb was invited to spring training with the Pirates, it was clear that he was viewed as an organizational depth option, with Rowdy Tellez having been signed to a $3.2 million contract to play first base for the big club.

Tellez struggled to begin 2024, hitting just .177/.239/.223 at the end of May. Meanwhile, Lamb began the Triple-A season on a hot streak, hitting .382/.486/.600 at the end of April. He dropped to .289/.380/.416 after a rough June. Lamb never got the call to join the Pirates as they remained committed to Tellez. Now that Tellez is hot and raised his batting line to .230/.289/.309, Lamb obviously saw no future with the Pirates, hence the choice of free agency.

10-Year MLB Veteran Jake Lamb Elects Free Agency

Whether Lamb has a path to the majors with another organization remains to be seen. His last good major league season was in 2017 when he registered 30 home runs and 105 RBI with the Arizona Diamondbacks and was named a National League All-Star. Then he saw a severe drop in production, which may have been due to shoulder surgery that ended his 2018 season prematurely. This caused the Diamondbacks to release him in 2020. Since then, he’s been with nine organizations in five years. He’s enticed them with good minor league seasons, only to fail at the major league level when given an opportunity. Across 2022-23, he hit .289/.409/.490 for three minor league teams, although two were in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He hit a combined .216/.297/.316 for three teams when promoted to the majors during those years.

Even so, the team that signs Lamb out of free agency will get a 33-year-old left-handed batter with postseason experience. At best, he would be a low-cost, low-risk option for a major league team looking for bench strength.

Lamb had to have been the most popular Pirate never to suit up for the Pirates. As Tellez continued to struggle, Pirates fans screamed louder for Lamb to be added to the major league roster. Now all is well between Tellez and the fans. Meanwhile, if the Pirates look to Indianapolis for help with their offense, Canaan Smith-Njigba has quietly emerged as a better option.

Where’s the Beef?

For those veteran Pirates observers wondering, Lamb is no relation to former Pirates pitcher John Lamb, who appeared in 47 games over 1970-71 and 1973. John Lamb was part of the Pirates’ “meat” pitching trio that included Bob Veale and Bob Moose.

However, on to more meaty matters, Jake Lamb’s departure will enable prospect Malcom Nuñez, who had been playing third base in Indy, to return to his more familiar first base. With Ke’Bryan Hayes anchored at third base under a long-term contract, there was no future there for Nuñez. The Pirates lack first base prospects, and after Tellez’s one-year deal expires, they’ll lack major-league first basemen as well. Whether and how Nuñez seizes this opportunity will tell much about his character.

In the shorter term, should Tellez suffer an injury and the Pirates need a left-handed-hitting first baseman, the call will likely go to light-hitting outfielder/first baseman Billy McKinney. As always, there are a lot of moving parts when analyzing the Pirates’ roster.


Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


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