David Borne | Staff Writer
With baseball season right around the corner, it’s time to address something. Something that the average Pittsburgh sports fan may consider a “hot take.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t be that bad. They are even going to compete for one of the National League’s two Wild Card positions. Any idea that this team could lose 100-plus games is ludicrous.
Yes, I’m talking about those Pirates. The ones that traded away their worshipped center fielder and the ace of their pitching staff this winter. The team with the cheap owner, and its third baseman trapped in South Korea due to ongoing legal issues. Those Pittsburgh Pirates.
To clarify, I’m not a Pirates fan. That being said, memories of the miraculous 2013 or the 98-win 2014 season mean little to me. It’s understandable for fans to be upset with how quickly that magic was lost.
But that success is long gone, and at some point a team has to move on.
Watching a player like Andrew McCutchen get traded is tough, but it was time. McCutchen is a depreciating asset with one year left on his contract. He was by no means “untradable.” There are only two players in the league that one could argue have definitely reached that status, and their names are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
Sentimental value is only worth so much, and a team can’t let that get in the way of how it does its business. If they didn’t move McCutchen now, he likely would’ve been dealt at the trade deadline or accepted a lucrative deal elsewhere that the Pirates would not have matched in free agency.
Acquiring an unproven reliever in Kyle Crick and outfielder Bryan Reynolds, San Francisco’s No. 4 ranked prospect, wasn’t exactly a massive haul for the former National League MVP. That doesn’t mean it was a bad return, though.
Reynolds still has quite the journey ahead of him before he reaches the majors, but Crick is a fireballer with a high ceiling.
Crick managed a 3.06 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 32.1 innings last season, and can be counted on as a valuable arm out of the bullpen this year. With veterans George Kontos and Felipe Rivero on the staff as well, the Bucs have a number of quality relief options.
If either Dovydas Neverauskas or Edgar Santana can show improvement, as well, the Pirates’ bullpen suddenly becomes an issue for other teams.
Obviously, a solid relief staff is worthless unless you have a number of starters that can keep you in ballgames. Even with the loss Gerrit Cole, the Pirates have those.
Cole certainly hasn’t lost his stuff completely, but numbers show that his best days are behind him. Replacing him as Pittsburgh’s ace will presumably be Jameson Taillon, who has shown flashes of what the Pirates expected of him when they selected him No. 2 overall in the 2010 MLB Draft.
The Pirates bring back Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl behind him. It’s pretty easy to predict what Nova will bring to the table, but Kuhl is interesting. After getting off to a shaky start, Kuhl really settled in following the All-Star Break. He posted a 3.65 ERA in the season’s second half.
Add Joe Musgrove, acquired from Houston in the Cole trade, as well as Trevor Williams into the mix, and this staff isn’t too bad.
It is not a group of starters that comes with much, or any, huge names or star power. There is no reason to believe it can’t be competitive, though.
The same can be said for the batting lineup: With the exception of McCutchen, the Pirates’ lineup looks pretty similar to last year’s outfit. Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have all proven to be quality players.
Third basemen Colin Moran, acquired in the Cole deal with Houston, has the potential to be a huge upgrade over David Freese at the hot corner.
Then fill the gap left by the McCutchen trade with left fielder Corey Dickerson, who put up nearly identical numbers to ‘Cutch last season with Tampa Bay. In fact, Dickerson finished the year with a 2.7 wins above replacement measurement, compared to McCutchen’s 2.5.
The Pirates don’t have a glamorous bunch by any means. However, the idea that they could be one of the league’s worst teams is crazy. Last year’s very similar roster finished with 75 wins. There’s no way to suggest that this team can’t achieve a similar total.
It will take some luck, and a number of fortuitous bounces, but this Pirates team could even end up making a playoff push. Don’t be too surprised if they do, despite a tough NL Central Division.
The Pirates were guaranteed for another season of mediocrity if they put last season’s product on the field again. At least this fresh look can help the Pirates remain competitive while shedding salary, as they habitually aim to do.