Thomas: No pulse for Pirates moving forward

Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief | PNC Park was filled to capacity on July 30, just one of two times the venue sold out for a game in 2022.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Oct. 6, 2022

The Pittsburgh Pirates are back to playing in October.

Of course, that is thanks to the preseason lockout that pushed a series scheduled for late March and early April to the first week of this month. The Pirates wrapped up their 2022 season on Wednesday afternoon with a win over the St. Louis Cardinals, finishing the campaign with a record of 62 wins and 100 losses, finishing all of one game better than in 2021.

It was their fourth-consecutive sub-.500 season, and their eighth in a row without a sniff at playoff baseball. Their record was tied for the third-worst in all of Major League Baseball, and the team finished in fourth place in the National League Central division, marking their first non-last-place finish since 2018.

There were rare bright spots on a roster plagued by constant turnover. Bryan Reynolds, Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes have all strung together seasons that give fans a reason to hold out some hope for the young guys. However, their accolades are mostly a credit to how bad the rest of the team has been.

Reynolds’ .262 batting average wouldn’t look so pretty if he were fit into a lineup that didn’t resemble a Triple-A roster. He is also 27 years old and approaching his ceiling as a hitter. Unless there is reason to believe Pittsburgh will be making a run next season, he could be traded.

That is likely to get the fanbase’s blood boiling. They worry that any player showing promise will be shipped out of town in order to avoid accommodating a large contract. However, there aren’t too many players on this roster that could be marketable at the trade deadline.

Still, that doesn’t give Pirate fans a free pass to blame every shortcoming at PNC Park on the ownership. They gave Hayes an eight-year, $70 million contract in April, and he rewarded them by posting a .244 batting average on the campaign. Even if they did spend money, the Pirates haven’t shown that they would put it in the right places.

Up the road, there is another team that plays in a “small market,” doesn’t like to spend money in the offseason, and yet finishes in playoff contention nearly every season — the Cleveland Guardians. A franchise like Cleveland needs to be the benchmark for Pittsburgh to be measured against. The difference between the two is that Cleveland’s prospects enter the league producing well above their expectations. On the flip side, Pittsburgh calls up prospects out of necessity, and the franchise sets a shockingly low bar for them.

For instance, Cruz has been the recipient of constant hype and praise from local fans for the velocity of his throws from shortstop to first base, and the speed at which the ball leaves his bat. However, that doesn’t happen too often, as the 24-year-old leads the league in strikeouts during the second half of the season.

The cycle of anticipation and disappointment is taking its toll on the fans. Pittsburgh fans are loyal and passionate, but the state of the Pirates is nauseating. The team sold out just two of its 81 home games this season, which came against marquee opponents (New York Yankees on July 5, Philadelphia Phillies on July 30) where droves of opposing fans filled the PNC Park stands.

Any optimists who claimed that they were two years short of playoff contention in April are now resigning themselves to another year of rebuilding a roster. They struggle to feel attached to a team that runs its roster over on a seemingly weekly basis. For example, the team has used 11 different first basemen this season. The man who started the season pegged as the first baseman moving forward, Michael Chavis, was designated for assignment last week.

The franchise has flatlined, from top to bottom. Ownership won’t spend, prospects are poorly developed and often fail to live up to their expectations. The team lacks identity, or even a general direction.

There is no reason to believe they will be playing meaningful games in the near future. It’s also very plausible that no player currently on the roster will play a playoff game for the Pirates.

After a season that was supposed to be predicated on improvement, it feels like there’s more questions than answers.