It’s easy too look back the past couple years and be broken and defeated. You are not alone in this helpless feeling. But it is not all bad, while the past few years have been mostly disappointing there have been rays of light and the team is ready to make a serious go at it again if they’re willing.
Since the end of the 2019 season we saw Clint Hurdle, Ray Searage, Frank Connolly and Neal Huntington get let go. In someways they’ll be missed, Clint’s off the field contributions to the the community have been priceless. However they just were not getting the job done whoever replaces them cannot do much worse than they did in 2019 so that discussion will be tabled other than knowing who ever they get “should” be better.
The on the field team as it stands could and should be rather good with just a few holes to fill and most of them with some long term control.
At first base we got Ring the Bell, Josh Bell. He busted out in a big way the first half and really cooled down after the home run derby. For some players the derby is a curse. Over all he has improved every season. his 135 wRC+ is hard to beat. Every season his defense has dropped off further and further. Any sort of improvement at first would be huge. As long as he keeps hitting though, he’ll be out there.
Second base there is Adam Frazier. Adam gets a lot of flack from fans for some unknown reason. He has hit at every pro level hes been in, he dropped of a tiny bit over all offensively in 2019 but he still continued to hit and scored a career best 80 runs. On top of his bat, he was a Gold Glove candidate at second. This comes as a shock to most fans as one of the big complaints about him before was his defense. As long as he doesn’t regress he is more than fine there. If he brings his bat back to his 2018 level while keeping up the defense he could very well be an all star caliber player.
At the start of 2019 short stop looked like a hot mess with Eric Gonzalez getting the nod. After Eric got hurt Cole Tucker had a short stint there but Kevin Newman got a shot and ran with it. Newman’s 110 wRC+ and steady but unremarkable defense should have the position locked up in 2020.
In left field we have B-Rey, Bryan Reynolds. Bryan hit at every level of pro ball and continued to do so in his rookie season with the Pirates, finishing the season with an .880 OPS and a 131 wRC+. Bryan certainly was one of the highlights of 2019.
Center field doesn’t really need talked about but Starling Marte has been mister consistent. Last season his defense dropped off some but that is likely an anomaly. His bat and legs continue to play well with another 20/20 season. We will likely see more of the same in 2020.
Gregory Polanco in right field has been a love hate relationship nearly from the start of his pro career. When you can get a nearly full season out of him his bat plays pretty well. His defense leaves things to be desired and will keep him stashed away in right field. Should he be injured again it might be time to move Bell back to the outfield and see what Craig can do at first.
Catcher and Third base are the biggest issues. Elias Diaz had a horrible year and Colin Moran is not working out well offensively or defensively despite his 80 RBI’s. These are where the position player upgrades need to happen to compete.
Starting pitchers seems like a hot mess as well. With Jameson Taillon out for 2020 that leaves Joe Musgrove, Mitch Keller, Trevor Williams and Chris Archer with Steven Brault looking in. Looking at their ERA’s is pretty scary but looking further, it doesn’t look as bad as it seems but still not very good. With a new Pitching coach coming in things should improve at least marginally. If they can get the catching situation figured out, it should also improve as well.
The bullpen went from potentially the best in the NL to, “oh no!” almost over night with Felipe likely never seeing an MLB ball field again except from his jail cell. As it stands Keone Kela is the only “sure” thing with Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz standing somewhere in that void. Luckily for the Pirates pen pitchers who are not the worst are a dime a dozen. Getting Nick Burdi back 100% will solidify the back end. Resigning of Liriano would also be a good start.
EDIT: I forgot about Richard Rodríguez for some reason.
Now you say, “That’s all well and good Joe but how are we to fill those positions of need.” The answer is simple.. first hire a GM who won’t tear this decent core down. Second sign three players that will total $35/year in salary. Mike Moustakas, Jason Castro and either Madison Bumgarner or Jake Odorizzi. None of which are projected to be overly expensive. You go from a team that has an off chance to reach the even mark to a likely play off team.
Now you say, “Bob won’t spend that money!”. That could very well be true but consider the payroll has dropped a fair amount in recent years while the team continued to take in similar amounts of money which means there is likely a surplus and more wiggle room for what ever GM comes in. Even with this money spent they would still be about where the Brewers are in terms of payroll
There is also the added bonus that if it doesn’t work out at all you have even more quality talent to sell off to actually do a proper rebuild. If it came down to it trading Madison, Mike, Jake, Marte, Kela and Jason in mid 2020 would land you quite a few top prospects and even more lower end. The Pirates farm would go to “meh” to one of the top in a very short time.
All that said, the time is now with the added bonus of the time could still be tomorrow.