The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be an organization in disarray at this point. After trading club ace Gerrit Cole and then following that up with dealing franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen, there’s a vibe that the Pirates are trying to rebuild. Veteran David Freese has remarked about how competitive the team will be this year. Other players have stated concerns with the ownership’s commitment to putting a contender on the field. While these concerns might be warranted, one could squint at what’s left on this roster and see some sort of contender there. There are questions to answer on this roster first.
Can they fill the holes left by Cutch and Cole? What do the new guys look like?
Pittsburgh Pirates 2018 Season Preview
Old Faces, New Faces on the Pitching Staff
One could make the argument that, given what Cole did for the Pirates last year, Joe Musgrove can give the Pirates something close to that production. Musgrove can strike guys out at a decent clip and has good control of his pitches. His main issue coming up through the Houston Astros system has been the long ball. That profile sounds pretty similar to Cole’s, although it’s not likely Musgrove can give the team the innings that Cole could
For all of Jameson Taillon‘s time gone last year with cancer, he might be able to fill in the gaps.
The rest of the rotation, while not awe-inspiring, will be solid innings-eaters, giving the Bucs something close to an average back-end rotation. Let’s not forget Felipe Rivero, who had an excellent season at closer. He gets Michael Feliz to set him up now, too.
Life After McCutchen
While losing the face of the franchise is hard, trading McCutchen may have been the right thing for the Pirates to do. He was in the last year of his deal, his bat has fallen off somewhat steadily the last few years, and his defense has been getting rough as well. But once the Tampa Bay Rays made Corey Dickerson available, the Pirates were more than happy to swoop in and make a deal for him. Being able to land an All-Star outfielder for a reliever (Daniel Hudson) and a Low-A bat (Tristan Gray) is always good, and letting Dickerson roam around in left instead of McCutchen maybe actually be good, or at least not as bad.
There’s one more element of the Cole trade to discuss. The Pirates also received third baseman Colin Moran in the deal as well. As a prospect, Moran always had an above-average hit tool, but not much power to go with it. Last season, Moran made changes to his swing, as many major leaguers have, to add more loft to the ball after contact. Astros manager A.J. Hinch was pleased with the results, but they had no room for him on the major league roster. Getting Moran in this trade may end up being a big deal for the Pirates. If he can come into the majors with an average to above-average bat, he could be at least an decent starter for the Pirates, deepening the lineup and making them that much more threatening offensively.
Can Marte and Polanco return to form for a full season?
With a lot of their holes filled in the lineup, and their rotation and bullpen looking solid, the team will need to be propelled by its star power. For that, they’ll look to their other two outfielders to lift up their offense. Starling Marte had a tough time last season dealing with his suspension. With that behind him, a fresh start can get him back to being the leadoff hitter they need.
Gregory Polanco had a shoulder injury that made him unable to finish his swing, sapping his power. One has to assume that led to the poor season he had at the plate last year. Looking at his off-season workout regimen, it’s easy to assume he is healthy again. If he can return to form, he should be able to give the lineup the punch it really needs to get back to being a top offense in the NL again.
The Pirates trades didn’t make them any better in 2018. But they didn’t really make them that much worse, either, and they made themselves potentially better beyond 2018 as well. These are the kind of moves teams like this have to make when they operate under the payroll constraints that they do. The good news is there’s enough improvements internally to dream of them having a better record this year than last. They just need everything to go just right. The bad news is that this is baseball. One wrong step on a base, or one wrong pitch, and a season’s hopes can go down quickly. Here’s hoping for the former.