The Pirates are almost guaranteed a losing season this year. Unless they go on an incredible run down the stretch, they will end up with their second losing season in a row.
When you mention a losing streak — even a streak of two seasons — it brings up horrible memories in Pittsburgh. It also brings up fears of another prolonged losing streak, with no end in sight. This year already the feeling is there, with many fans in Pittsburgh wondering if the team’s two-year streak is the start of a decline, rather than just two years off from winning and making the playoffs.
That feeling isn’t shared outside of Pittsburgh. The two years of losing are viewed as just that — two years off from winning, with a team that can make it back to winning in 2018. In fact, that sentiment was expressed by Joe Sheehan on Friday evening.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) September 7, 2017
I agree with that sentiment. Agreeing with that is going to lead to a massive argument in the comments, no matter how much justification I give for my opinion. I’ll keep it short by saying that the Pirates had an offseason plan of Jung Ho Kang, Starling Marte, and Jameson Taillon playing big roles for them. A DUI, suspension, and cancer later changed that. You can’t expect perfect health or production from every player, but that combo is extreme. There are other factors that led to the Pirates losing, such as poor moves or poor performances. But this is a team that wasn’t far off from being a contender this year, even with their original plan totally ruined. (I will now wish for a hurricane to hit me so I can avoid the comments of this article.)
That doesn’t mean the Pirates can just show up with the same team next year and contend. I think that would put them on pace for the same type of result as this year — on the verge of being a top contender, but being just far enough out that you don’t want to make a big splash or commit fully one way or the other in the buy/sell debate. In other words: No Man’s Land.
I’ve likened this year to the 2012 season many times, and one reason is because I think with a few key moves in the offseason, the Pirates could get back to being a top contender. They added Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and Mark Melancon that offseason, which definitely led to their emergence. However, those three additions didn’t buy a 94-win team. They needed a strong core in place, which they had, and needed improvements from some of the younger players, which they received.
I see the same story this offseason. They need to have a good offseason with a few key moves to help put them back near the top. But it might be a challenge, due to their roster getting up there in age and cost. In 2012, they managed this by trading Joel Hanrahan and his contract away, getting Melancon back, and using the savings on Liriano.
I think they’re going to need to do the same thing this offseason, shedding some salary in one area, adding a replacement in that spot, and using the savings to upgrade the rest of the team.
They have a few candidates for this spot. They could deal Andrew McCutchen, hope that Jordan Luplow is a starter, and add a replacement for McCutchen until Austin Meadows is ready. They could deal Josh Harrison and let Sean Rodriguez and/or Max Moroff take over at second base (although Harrison could be an option at third, where they are weak). They could trade Francisco Cervelli and let Elias Diaz take over as the starter. I’d suggest trading a starting pitcher, although that requires a dig into their starting depth.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for the Pirates. I agree with Sheehan that they have a good core group. That group kept them in contention through late July, and is still showing some positive signs in September. They also have plenty of young players who can still improve their games going forward.
But it’s going to take some effort to get them back to being top contenders. I think they have some money left over from Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang, and other savings this year, but even with those savings, I feel they will need to get creative like they did in 2012, trying to find a way to shed some salary at a position, keeping the same production at that position, while using the savings to upgrade elsewhere.
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.