Mercifully, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season (78-83) ended Sunday afternoon after a 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Let’s be honest for a second, what reason is there for you to waste your time with another recap about how the bullpen didn’t hold up their end of the bargain?
None? That’s what I thought, too.
So, let’s take a look at what needs to change for next season.
This season has been over for some time now, arguably when the offseason ended and both Jeff Locke and Jon Niese were starting pitchers. Both pitchers took more lumps than anyone would like to admit, though Locke led the team in innings pitched. It’s highly unlikely Locke returns, ending an era where he was a lightening rod for most of his career.
As far as I’m concerned, this offseason, the closer role is a huge question mark. Tony Watson, who took over for the traded Mark Melancon, gave it as good an effort as he could, but a below-par-season and the timing of the move to closer couldn’t have been worse. The Pirates need to decide if Watson’s inconsistencies as the team’s closer tell the story or whether it’s worth giving him another shot. If Watson doesn’t earn that role, then either Felipe Rivero has to show he’s ready for the role or Pittsburgh needs to find someone in free agency.
As a whole, starting pitching is a huge reason why this team floundered. For example, Juan Nicasio was originally signed to be a starter, but he ended up in the bullpen.
Pittsburgh did pick up Ivan Nova midseason, and he was stellar in a Pirates uniform (5-2, 3.06 ERA). But the question remains whether the Pirates and Nova can come to terms and if the team learnt anything from last off-season’s J.A. Happ negotiations.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington admitted he needs at least eight starting options, and, right now, there are major question marks.
What does that rotation look like right now? Next season, Gerrit Cole (7-10, 3.88 ERA) will be coming off an injury-riddled season, Jameson Taillon (5-4, 3.38 ERA) won’t be monitored as closely and perhaps Chad Kuhl (5-4, 4.20 ERA) fits in.
But who else has a place in the starting rotation?
Tyler Glasnow (0-2, 4.24 ERA) still has plenty still to learn before he’s truly ready for the majors, and his outing against the Cardinals on Friday (an admittedly good one where he allowed one earned run in five innings) did nothing to change my mind. He still needs to work on pitching in the stretch, and doing that against the team with the second-fewest stolen bases accomplishes nothing.
If 2016 was indeed the bridge year for 2017 management claims it was, then money looks like it’ll have to be the answer here. While the youth movement was showcased this season, it won’t work going forward.
And finding the money might have to involve trading a key player. Namely, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whose slash line this season was .256/.336/.430. It’s been reported that Pittsburgh is going to shop him around this offseason.
Do I think they trade McCutchen this winter? No. I think the Pirates will certainly look and gauge the market, but making a move immediately after this season isn’t wise. It’s smarter to wait until the MLB Trade Deadline. McCutchen had a rough start to this season, but he played great ball toward the end of it. Pittsburgh should wait and see which McCutchen comes to play next year.
Recent history (see: Walker, Neil and Melancon, Mark) states the Pirates will get a deal done with McCutchen before his current contract runs out and is an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
What about other deals with hitters?
I believe the Pirates won’t bring utility man Sean Rodriguez back to Pittsburgh for a third season. He was a highlight late in the season, but he’s likely played his way out of town. The Pirates have cheaper options who can play a plethora of positions, namely Adam Frazier. Of course, letting Rodriguez go won’t be a popular decision, because of Rodriguez’s on-and-off-field example. But if the Pirates can use the money to address a bigger need, then that money is best served going elsewhere.
Also, if first base belongs to Josh Bell (.273/.368/.406) in 2017, where does that leave John Jaso? Does he become a more expensive bench option, or does he get traded for an area of need or some salary relief?
Matt Joyce may have also played his way out of a contract with the Pirates. This year, he was a fantastic bench at-bat and arguably the best pinch-hitter in all of baseball — and he also played a serviceable outfield when one of the three starters inevitably got injured.
And outfield depth will be needed as both Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco missed time this season with nagging injuries, and both were absent for a lot of the stretch.
Manager Clint Hurdle was hung out to dry a bit this season, but he certainly dug himself into a hole as well. Loyalty has served Hurdle well, but, this season, that same belief got Pittsburgh into trouble when the margin for error became less and less and as the number of injuries increased.
2017 needs to be a better year.
Because the Pirates’ management said as much.
Next year is a pivotal one. Right now, in the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs are head-and-shoulders a better team. And even the Cardinals bested the Pirates in the NL Central.
If 2017 isn’t better, then something major will have to change — and I’m not talking about the players. That anything would change is highly unlikely, but the narrative of the Pirates being labeled “cheap” is past tired.
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