By JED WEISBERGER
As spring training neared, the Pittsburgh Pirates were criticized by some frustrated agents and the Players Union because they were the only team that did not sign a major-league free-agent.
It made no difference, the reality was the Bucs signed their closer, Felipe Vasquez, to a 4-year, $22 million extension and made one of the key acquisitions just before the season began, outfielder Corey Dickerson.
The Pirates, who, after play Sunday, April 30, lead the NL Central with a 17-11 mark, acquired Dickerson from the Tampa Bay Rays Feb. 22 for reliever Daniel Hudson, minor-league outfielder Tristan Gray and a reported $1 million.
Dickerson, 28 (he turns 29 May 22), a 2017 All-Star, had been designated for assignment Feb. 17. All he has done so far is hit .316 (30-for 103) in 25 games with a pair of homers and 15 RBIs. He helped fuel Pittsburgh’s weekend sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I guess I wasn’t in Tampa’s plans,’’ said Dickerson, in Philadelphia with the Pirates recently. “It’s part of baseball and the business. I’ve been traded before (from Colorado to Tampa Bay between the 2015 and 2016 seasons).
“I’m just glad to be here. This is a great bunch of guys and a good clubhouse.’’
Dickerson’s salary for 2018 is $5.95 million. He is eligible for arbitration next season and is under Pittsburgh control through 2019.
“Right now, I’m not worried about any of that. I just want to get to know this team, help them in any way I can and win some games. Everybody has been welcoming.
“I know I will enjoy playing for Clint (Hurdle).’’
A native of McComb, Miss., Dickerson was drafted and signed, in the eighth round of the 2010 draft out of Meridian (Miss.) Community College, by the Colorado Rockies, who had previously selected him in the 29th round in 2009.
He debuted in the majors June 22, 2013, batting .263 (51-for-194) with five homers and 17 RBIs in 69 games that season. He had a breakout campaign in 2014, batting .312 (136-for-436) with 24 homers and 76 RBIs. He was on his way to another solid year in 2015, hitting .304 (68-for-224) with 10 homers and 31 RBIs in 65 games before he suffered broken ribs diving for a catch June 30.
Then came the trade to Tampa Bay Jan. 28, 2016, for pitchers Jake McGee, German Marquez and minor-league first baseman Kevin Padlo. Dickerson hit 51 homers on two seasons with the Rays, adjusting to American League pitchers.
“I’m happy to get this opportunity with the way this all actually worked out,’’ he said. “I’m glad to be back in the National League.’’
The Pirates felt Dickerson could slide right into the expansive left field at PNC Park and contribute defensively as well as offensively.
So far, the fit has been like a glove.
“The new guys, Corey and Colin (Moran) are really adding to our team,’’ said Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer. “They’ve brought some things we needed.’’
Dickerson is more than happy to fill that role.
“The guys in this clubhouse believe in what they can do,’’ he said. “I’m in a good spot.’’