Williams: The Pirates Need to Look to the Future in the Remaining Games of 2017

Last September, the Pirates were technically contenders, but not really contenders. They were 2.5 games out of the Wild Card race on September 1st. A week later, they were four games back, followed by 5.5 games back a week after that, and finishing the season at 6.5 games back.

This also ignored the fact that if they made the Wild Card, and if they won the Wild Card, their rotation was not going to be good enough to beat the Cubs in a five game series.

But the Pirates continued playing for the Wild Card, and in my opinion, they pursued that for too long. This led to a few instances where they played veterans for too long, while benching young prospects who should have been getting a chance for the following season.

Some of this made sense in hindsight. My biggest complaint at the time was that they didn’t play Alen Hanson to see what they’ve got in him, and instead played Sean Rodriguez, who was about to be a free agent.

We later found out that the Pirates were trying to bring back Rodriguez as a free agent, so it made sense that they were playing him. And you could also argue that they already knew what they had in Alen Hanson. He didn’t get a chance this year, was lost on waivers to the White Sox, and hasn’t performed well with them, despite the chance he was given.

I still think it’s foolish to dedicate so much development time to a guy, then give him just 92 plate appearances over the span of three-plus months. However, he’s at a -0.6 fWAR with the White Sox, and hitting for a .595 OPS. Meanwhile, the Pirates finally got Rodriguez back, while getting much better results. I don’t know if that one outcome shows that the Pirates knew what they were doing, or if it shows that this situation worked out well for them.

The Pirates are heading for another similar situation this year. They are currently eight games out of the playoffs, so it’s a little more obvious that they aren’t contenders at this point. They do keep going through stretches where they battle back and pull to .500, only to slump and dash those hopes.

I’ve written before that I don’t think this team is far from being a stronger contender next year. Getting to that point will require some offseason spending to bring in someone to boost the team. But the Pirates can also work to get there by coming up with an internal plan, and seeing what they have in September.

They just called up Steven Brault yesterday, which was one day after Brian Peloza reported that their plans were to transition him to a reliever. Getting him adjusted to pitching out of the bullpen over the final five or six weeks of the season should help the team next year, as it could give them a lefty relief option. They have many other starting options in Triple-A, and eventually some of those guys will have to move to the bullpen. So they can also take this approach with other guys in September.

It’s an easy decision to have a guy like Brault pitching out of the bullpen, and getting more innings at the expense of someone like Joaquin Benoit. But there are some more difficult decisions.

One of those difficult decisions comes with Tyler Glasnow. He’s showing improvements in Triple-A, and should get another shot at the majors. That likely won’t happen until after August 26th, as the Pirates get an extra year of control if they wait to call him up on the 27th or later. But when he returns, he should be pitching in the rotation, spending the final month showing what he can do in the majors after some work in Triple-A.

The question is, who moves out of the rotation? You’re not going to remove Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, or Ivan Nova, as they are long-term starters. Chad Kuhl has been one of the best starters for the Pirates in the second half, and the team views him as a starter, not a reliever. Trevor Williams began the year as a reliever, but moved to the rotation and has pitched well most of the year, only showing some struggles recently.

The Pirates could go with six starters and ease the workload of everyone, although one of those starters will have to leave the rotation next year. Thus, the difficult decision here would just be delayed with a six-man rotation in September.

There’s another decision the Pirates should be making for the 2018 season, and that is what they will do behind the plate. Francisco Cervelli has seen his injury issues limit him to 303 plate appearances this season. He’s currently on the disabled list, with Chris Stewart and Elias Diaz splitting time behind the plate. Stewart has started five of the last eight games, with Diaz starting the other three.

If anyone from this current catching group would be the future of the position for the Pirates, it would be Diaz. He hasn’t put up offensive numbers yet, but he also only has 108 career plate appearances. The Pirates should be using the next month to give Diaz most of the time behind the plate, which will allow them to make a decision on whether to continue with Cervelli next year, or whether to go with Diaz as the primary catcher.

The Pirates are out of it. They need to start figuring things out for next year. They need to use the next month to decide whether guys like Steven Brault are relief options, or whether Tyler Glasnow has it figured out, or whether Elias Diaz is the guy they should be going with behind the plate. They don’t need to be giving time to Joaquin Benoit, Chris Stewart, or other veterans who aren’t going to play big roles, or any roles at all, in the future.

The road to contending in 2018 will require more than just adding guys like Brault, Glasnow, and Diaz to the mix. But this would be a good start, and a good use of the games during the final month of the season.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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LowOutsideCurve

And then Trevor Williams pitches out of his mind in last night’s win. I suppose the problem of having too many starters is a good one, but someone has to be left back in Indy, right?

BigB2323

Or Kingham, Brault and Glasnow all pitch out of Bullpen next year. They aren’t going to sign 5 bullpen arms. Hudson is under contract. Rivero is closer. That’s basically it for next year. Kingham and Brault will def be in next years bullpen. That leaves you 3 spots to fill.

Steve Zielinski

I would put two of Taillon, Cole and Nova on the DL or wait until rosters expand and just give them rest. I’d then put Glasnow and Kingman in their place. I might even make Brault a starter., shutting down all three. Let the rookies adjust.

Diaz would become the starting catcher. Unfortunately, 2017 has been step-back seasons for Meadows, Newman and Kramer. So, providing Newman and Meadows with a taste of the Major Leagues would only waste a bit of their service time. Meadows and Kramer’s struggles are tough blows to absorb because they will need to replace long-time starters in the near future.

justinblain1996

Totally agree with you Tim! Two lineups that bothered me pertaining to young guys playing, were last night and today’s. Last night, I’m ok with Freese getting a night off because his results show when he plays everyday how fatigued he is. But instead of playing Moroff and giving him a chance and moving Harrison to third, they played Jaso and moved Frazier to the infield. Tonight against the lefty they are playing Sean Rod in right over Osuna. I’m more ok with the Sean Rod one more than the Jaso situation but still young guys should be getting their chances, especially when playoffs are pretty much out of hand at this point.

Todd Tomasic

The innings have added up for Williams, Kuhl & Taillon has been awful of late.
Isn’t time for the September rotation to belong to Brault, Glasnow & Kingham?

John W

This is a bad baseball team. This much ballyhooed rotation has never come to fruition. Gerrit Cole is that much closer to leaving. NH probably doesn’t have the fortitude or the savvy to do it but this team probably should be blown up. Or make one last roll of the dice with Cutch here and cash in some prospects to add to the 2018 team. But the wisest move is to probably explore selling Cutch, Cole, Jhay etc and trying to build up for 2019 or 2020.

John W

Smh on Elias Diaz. This guy is a backup catcher AT BEST. 27 years old and his last 300 PAs in Indy has a WRC+ in the low 70s.

TNBucs

I agree with the principle, and would also add playing time for Luplow, Moroff, and Frazier. We need to know if Luplow can be a 4th OF, if Moroff can handle SS, and give Frazier as much work on defense as possible.

Also, though I think Kuhl and Williams are long-term members of the rotation, it wouldn’t hurt to see how they perform out of the pen.

Micbg77

It’s unfortunate that the season has come to this, but its the reality. I could see a scenario where Taillon is pulled from the rotation if they feel is is just worn down and needs to be shut down for the year (the guy could just be exhausted after all he has been through). Hopefully Benoit’s DL stint lasts the rest of the season as well.

William R. Maloni Sr

From your lips to….!
But, you know they won’t do what you, I, and most fans think.

It’s part of why the BMTIB (Not!) generates such disdain.

Get Meadows up and play him. I continue to think when they rebuffed him at the end of spring tarining–stickign him in Indy–he took it personally and then went underperformed. Show some confidence in him and let him play in the bigs.

capirate

The spring training part of your comment is silly. Meadows wasn’t ready for MLB no matter what he did in spring training. If he went to Indy and pouted and performed poorly for the reason you give, he needs more time to grow up. In any case, the Pirates had 3 outfielders they expected to be above average starters already.

joe s

Boy did you open a can of worms. Let me say this, none of the three current starting pitchers you mentioned deserves to be preserved and keeping those jobs. I would bench the entire staff and flip it with the AAA staff to see what they can do. I would trade Cole and they will trade Cutch. Hopefully, if they know Kang is not returning then one of those two should bring back a staring 3b. I would then move Bell back to the outfield and play Osuna at first where I think he is adequate, if not, then get a first baseman in the Cole or Cutch trades. God forbid they spend money on a free agent to help this team. Truthfully the current starting staff is a bunch of 3’s based on their performance. If they continue to pitch they all might have era’s in the 5 range. I guess pitching 5 innings and throwing around 100 pitches, walking 3 or more batters per game and exiting gives you a quality start and rates you a number one starter. And since this team is going to need to infuse youth, then Clint has to go.

EWS34

I think at this stage Osuna is a better OF than Bell. Bell has filled out and gotten slower since his days of playing OF.

NMR

Yes. It’s absolutely time to elevate young players. I would argue, however, that the manner in which they do so should depend on what direction Huntington takes the club next year. As Tim wrote, they’re at a crossroads. They cannot continue wasting away in this middle road of neither truly contending or building for the future.

If 2018 is intended to be a year of contention, then the undisputed weakness going into the season will be the bullpen. It’s not even close. With one good reliever on the roster and Hudson contract-committed, Huntington needs to fill five slots from scratch with at least two of them going to guys who can be counted on in leverage situations.

AJ Schugel is not one of those guys. Edgar Santana is clearly showing he’s not yet one of those guys. Dovydas may have an outside chance, but even he isn’t missing bats like high-end relievers do in this era. That means Huntington will have to look to the market, or look internally to his current starters. Glas, Kingham, Kuhl, and Holmes should all be in the discussion.

This org still doesn’t have a true 4th outfielder, either. On top of Diaz behind the plate, Luplow needs a chance to show whether or not he can be that guy next April.

juniorkrz

It will be an interesting offseason. Team needs back-end bullpen help, a third baseman with pop if Kang is stuck in South Korea, and a 4th OFer. The possibilities for the starting staff intrigue me: Cole, Taillon, Nova, Glasnow and Kingham I feel offer the most upside. Plus, Kuhl gives you a power arm that can miss some bats in the late innings. I like him setting up Rivera. Move Williams back to long relief and spot starter.

jaybell

Add in a dynamic shortstop. Could only get one through a trade though – hopefully from a Cole trade which would move Kuhl back in the rotation in your scenario.

Roberrto21

I suggest exploring trading Cole to the Yankees for Gleyber Torres.

Bucco99

Yes!!!
Thank you, Tim. Right on point.

Scott K

Tim, you obviously don’t appreciate the value of veteranosity! How dare you even suggest an able bodied veteran, no matter how low his OPS is, or high his ERA is, be sat for a developing player while the team is mathematically alive!

In all seriousness, I won’t be surprised if the rotation remains intact for the remainder of the season, despite the obvious benefit of giving Glasnow and Kingham some experience vs MLB players.

dave1231959

I missed the article about Brault moving to the bullpen….

angie0399
terrygordon30

John Jaso needs to be started at all times no matter what the circumstances are. And if he is not starting, he needs to be pitching. Young players do not matter. John Jaso is the future of the Pirates!!!

Robert J

They signed Cervelli to a three year contract when Diaz was 26. I think that speaks volumes about what they think of Diaz. With Stewart’s contract ending, I suspect Diaz will replace Stewart next year and play about 60-80 games, depending on Cervelli’s health.

Someone below mentioned Kingham being out of options. Need to see where he’s at more so than Glasnow. Both could be in the rotation next year.

As he’s out of options, he’s the only one you really need to worry about, in terms of playing the kids, to see what you have for next year.

Roberrto21

Tim I would be very curious to know how yo see this team as a contender in 2018. When you look at the infield the only player they have thta truly matches up with Bryant-Russell-Baez- Rizzo-Contreras is Josh Bell. JHAY plays with heart and passion and may be close to Baez, But they have a gaping hole at 3rd, Cervelli is constantly hurt and Merer is solid but not nearly as talented as Russell. The Dream Outfield is Cutch and hope that maybe Marte can learn strike zone discipline, not likely at this stage and that Polanco can stay healthy and maybe realise his potential. The bullpen has been an unholy mess this year and the rotation looks like high draft picks who aren’t aces. So how exactly do they contend without major free agent additions which willnever happen with this FO. They sure don’t seem to want to play Diaz which is mystifying!

Mike G

I wouldn’t count on Marte for anything. Steroid users tend to break down fast.

Ken

No evidence at all to support that.

beaverjp

This may be off topic but given that it seems Brault is moving to the pen and Glasnow slides into the next up status. Is it unusual for a guy like Clay Holmes to volunteer himself for the bullpen instead of riding his options out as a starter being towards the back of the mix and Keller closing in? And maybe Kinghams situation rules out that possibility for Holmes near term that is. Maybe some similarity to Tony Watson.

Robert J

I didn’t consider that! (Re Diaz)

Still, the fact they continue to play Stewart over him tells me they don’t think much of him, that he’s a future backup.

NMR

Remember, Clint Hurdle gave Ryan Vogelsong the last twelve starts of his Major League career while Glasnow, Brault, and Williams sat on the bench.

I don’t think Diaz is more than a backup either, but Hurdle’s proclivity for veteran playing time most certainly should not be seen as an organizational indicator.

emjayinTN

CH handed out a lot of PT to Ryan Vogelsong and SRod down the stretch which allowed them to earn contract incentives. I still remember his Sep 2016 speech that was sort of like – as long as we have a chance, I’m going to play who I think are the guys that give us the best chance to win. That was in answer to questions about playing the young guys.

I wish him well in the future, wherever it takes him – just so it is not as the Manager of the Pirates.

DangerWilRobnsn

Nick Kingham will be out of options next year. They need to know if he’s ready to take the next step sooner rather than later. If Glasnow has any options left, I would say Kingham has be be first on the priority list over Tyler in terms of pitching.

Y2JGQ2

well said Tim, can you forward this to Clint Hurdle?

angie0399

I think it’s time for us to give up even though those unexpected winning streaks keeps happening. But an optimistic view is that I really think we have a young, potent rotation and controllable cores that plays good games as a team at times, hence the winning streaks.

In September, I want to see Glasnow and Kingham given some starts. If they think it’s better for Taillon to go through the bad stretch and figure it out by competing, I’m all for it too. (By the way, checked his FIP and xFIP. They’re similar to last season. LD% up, but hard% down. BABIP very high. And doubled BB/9.) Also I honestly think Kuhl’s a starter and Williams is a reliever, but that’s just my personal taste.

aj21psu

I think the situation with the rotation is further clouded by Nick Kingham’s resurgence as well. Isn’t he out of options next year?

EWS34

I read that about Kingham too.

BlackBearFan

Pirates need to pursue trade options for Cervelli, Polanco, and Meadows. Too many injuries!

Ken

It would be beyond stupid to trade Polanco and Meadows.

BlackBearFan

Beyond Stupid? Please describe how players contribute when they are on the disabled list several times a season? Thanks for your insight.

Y2JGQ2

Well, I agree with Cervelli- I think you’d be selling low on Polanco and Meadows, dumb to trade them after injury plagued years, since they are impact bats that, when healthy, can provide much better results that the healthy player you’d get in return. We just don’t have enough impact bats in the org. to trade the few that we have because they are injury prone.

candyfan

Tim, Only item left off your excellent list is health of Polanco. Pirates MUST put the collar on him to get himself into shape after a wasted winter of celebrating his million dollar contract! He has put on weight since coming up and I believe it shows up in his various injuries including the pulled muscles. He needs to work All Star his potential says he should be!

Question is: will the Pirates do it and then, will Polanco do it? Otherwise next season is another bust due to his bat absolutely needed to help this pathetic lineup.

EWS34

I’d declare the RF job open. Make Polanco earn it. They have other options.

Y2JGQ2

Well, in defense of Polanco- he was expected to add weight and fill out. BUT- stretching and conditioning vs. weight lifting (or eating donuts) should be the plan for the offseason. That being said, I don’t really think we have the best medical team in the ML from an organizational standpoint. Way too many little injuries that should be extremely avoidable by focusing on the right things with Polanco and Meadows specifically, but obviously others that are less high profile.

piraterican21

I applauded the Cervelli signing now I feel that it was a mistake. Hope diaz gets the playing time that he needs to show what he is able to do.

EWS34

The Pirates just can’t catch a break. Other than Cutch do you get the feeling any of the long-term contract will work out? Tabata, Marte, Polanco, Cervelli and Liraino. Nova is even questionable.

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