Williams: The State of the Pirates at Every Position

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing the 2017 recaps of each position for the Pirates, looking at the results from the 2017 season, along with the future of each position. The combined result gives a picture of the team heading into the 2017-18 offseason and beyond. The quick, overall summary is that this is a team with some holes to fill, and some moves to make this offseason. Standing pat, or making small additions to the bullpen or bench won’t help.

This is also a team that could easily take the rebuilding route, trading away a few guys for a much better chance at contending beyond 2018. Their offseason moves will dictate the direction they go in. They are fortunate enough to be in a spot where they can add to the team and realistically contend, or do a quick reload and have a shot at contending as early as 2019.

Below are links to each of the positional recaps, along with my 140 character or less summary, and the state of each position going forward. This should provide a quick reference for what the Pirates need to do at each position this offseason, and what to expect from each position going forward.

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The Article: The Pirates Don’t Have an Easy Decision Behind the Plate Going Forward

Twitter Summary: Do the Pirates go with the better, but injury prone guy making $22 M in the next two years, or go replacement level and use money elsewhere?

The State of the Position: The Pirates have a choice this offseason between Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz. Cervelli is making $22 M over the next two years, but is also injury prone and saw that limit him to a 1 WAR player in 2017, which doesn’t provide any value on his deal. Diaz looks replacement level right now, so he’d be a downgrade, but the Pirates might be better off taking the downgrade and using the savings from Cervelli elsewhere. There is upside with each player — Cervelli if he stays healthy, and Diaz if he adjusts to the majors — but both provide obvious risks.

First Base

The Article: Josh Bell’s Power Surge and Defensive Improvements Were a Bright Spot

Twitter Summary: Bell saw improvements both offensively with his power showing up, and defensively at first. There’s also hope he can continue both trends.

The State of the Position: Bell is under control for five more seasons, so he’s the long-term option here. The 2017 season was a great sign that he can be a long-term option. His defense improved in a big way, to the point where it doesn’t take much away from his offense. The offense also improved, with big gains in the power department. That combination only amounted to a 1 WAR player in 2017, but there is hope that both sides of the game can continue to improve, giving Bell the chance to be a 2-3+ WAR player in the future.

Second Base

The Article: Josh Harrison Shows His Value, But the Pirates Now Have a Tough Decision

Twitter Summary: Harrison had a good year in 2017, but his cost going forward, plus cheaper alternatives, gives the Pirates a decision to make this offseason.

The State of the Position: This is similar to the catching situation, where the Pirates need to decide between a more productive, more expensive player, or a cheaper option who is a downgrade, with the money possibly having more value elsewhere. The drop from Harrison to the combo of Sean Rodriguez/Max Moroff would be bigger than Cervelli to Diaz. However, this might be a chance to see if Moroff is a starter, and with several other middle infield options on the way, the Pirates should be set at the position beyond 2018. If they’re going for it in 2018, it makes sense to keep Harrison. If they’re doing a rebuild, it makes sense to transition to younger options.


The Article: With Prospects on the Way, Jordy Mercer’s Time as the Starting Shortstop is Limited

Twitter Summary: Mercer was above average in 2017, but the Pirates have Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker in the minors, so his time as the starter is limited.

The State of the Position: The Pirates have Kevin Newman in Triple-A, Cole Tucker in Double-A, and they’ve started giving Kevin Kramer time at shortstop in the AFL. That gives them enough options at shortstop that someone is bound to take over for Mercer as the starter soon, possibly as early as mid-2018. He’s not a bad starter to have until one of the younger options comes around. At that point, the Pirates will be waiting for the best of the group to step up as the starter, with the other candidates competing for the second base job.

Third Base

The Article: Third Base Provides the Biggest Hole For the Pirates Going Forward

Twitter Summary: Kang missed the year with visa issues, and Freese showed he can’t be a starter at this age. The Pirates don’t have any good internal options.

The State of the Position: Jung Ho Kang will probably never return. David Freese showed this year that he’s not a starter. And the internal options beyond those two aren’t good. Josh Harrison could move over to third base, but the upside is an average starter. The Pirates could shift one of their many young middle infielders over to third, but most don’t have the bat, and some don’t have the arm strength. Ke’Bryan Hayes is the biggest standout third base prospect in the system. He’s making his way to Altoona next year, but is young, and has a lot of development left, making this a big need for the team in the short-term and long-term.

Left Field

The Article: A Sign of Hope That Starling Marte’s Problems Won’t Carry Over to 2018

Twitter Summary: Marte had a rough year with a PED suspension and poor stats, but late success and history suggests there is little concern going forward.

The State of the Position: Starling Marte didn’t have the best year in 2017, but did show positive signs in September that weren’t far off from his historical numbers. The Pirates have him under control through the 2021 season, and he comes at a huge discount if he can return to being a 4 WAR player. I’d expect that going forward, considering the past results, and the fact that he seemed to be getting back to that in September. He should be one of the leaders of the team on the field going forward, and right now looks to be their best long-term position player.

Center Field

The Article: Andrew McCutchen is No Longer Reliable, But Still a Key to the Pirates Contending

Twitter Summary: McCutchen can still be productive, but is no longer reliable as an impact guy. He’s got one year left, giving the Pirates a big decision.

The State of the Position: Austin Meadows isn’t ready yet, so if the Pirates trade McCutchen this offseason, they will be rebuilding on some level. McCutchen still has trade value, but the future value the Pirates get by keeping him isn’t going to be much. If they keep him, they need to make a big attempt to win around him in 2018. It’s unlikely that he will be extended, and he doesn’t look like a good candidate for an extension with skills already on the decline. The Pirates need Meadows to eventually replace him, but also need to find a way to get another impact player who can replace the value McCutchen had prior to 2016.

Right Field

The Article: How Gregory Polanco’s Massive Upside Has Been Limited So Far in the Majors

Twitter Summary: We have yet to see Polanco reach his impact upside, being limited to average production. Injuries derailed him in a big way in 2017.

The State of the Position: I don’t think we can rule out Polanco putting everything together and becoming an impact player in the future. However, at this point you’d have to question whether he can improve over his previous production, which has been around average. The biggest thing holding him back has been his injury history, and that really limited him in 2017. He is under control through 2023, and at a good price, even if he only has average production. The hope would be that he doesn’t repeat his injury problems at the same rate that we saw in 2017, and that he finds a way to make everything click finally in the majors.

Starting Rotation

The Article: This Season Showed the Need For Top of the Rotation Performances

Twitter Summary: The Pirates had a healthy rotation with five starters around league average production. They were sorely missing a top of the rotation guy.

The State of the Position: The rotation wasn’t bad for the Pirates in 2017, but wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the poor offense. They have everything they need for a good rotation going forward. They have top of the rotation options in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, plus potential future options in Mitch Keller and Tyler Glasnow. They also have plenty of depth to fill out the back of the rotation, with Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, and Ivan Nova in the majors, plus as many as ten starting options in the minors. They could use additional help, since you can’t have too many starters, and 2017 showed that you can’t rely on top of the rotation talent to always produce top of the rotation results.


The Article: Felipe Rivero Was the Highlight in a Poor Year For the Pirates’ Bullpen

Twitter Summary: Felipe Rivero emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball, and there is plenty of depth, but the Pirates need more in the late innings.

The State of the Position: The Pirates will once again go forward having one of the best relievers in the game leading the bullpen in Felipe Rivero. They also have plenty of depth, with a few solid middle relief options already on the 2018 team, and plenty of minor league starting options which should yield some relief pitching options soon. The problem they have now is that they don’t have a strong late inning guy to pair with Rivero. They have a few projects that will fill out the bullpen, and George Kontos stands out for the middle innings, but they will need someone else to bridge the gap to Rivero.

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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Diaz was 3-25 with 0 XBH off of the bench in 2017. That is an adjustment he will need to make if he is going to be a backup for sure. He had a .621 OPS as a starter. Not good but it is interesting to me that he did struggle horribly in that small sample off the bench.

David Rosenberg

Could a reunion with Neil Walker be a solution to 3B? I imagine he doesn’t have a great market after his injuries. A switch to 3B may be good for him. He played there a lot in the minors and would offer position flexibility, switch-hitting and a power upgrade. Could he fall into a similar market as Freese two years ago? Although Harrison could shift to 3B his defensive value would be less there. Harrison or Freese could be traded.

Arik Florimonte

Of course I want them to win every year, and my heart wants McCutchen to miraculously return to greatness and retire as a Pirate, but my head says they should deal everyone making more than $4M a year, install the kids and let them play and aim for 2019.

Arik Florimonte

Mercer was below average in 2017, not above. Of qualified SS he was 15/21 by fWAR. Increase to 300+ PA, he was 21 out of 37. By baseball reference, the pirates were 0.7 below average at SS, which was nearly all Mercer.

Carl P

What’s the summary on Kang’s status? Why do you think he will never return? Is it mostly because his skills have declined (not sure how this can be known) or due to his legal situation?

Brandon Smith

Legal situation. There is no indication that he’ll be allowed back into the states in the next few years.


I think Kramer’s bat will be goon enough to take over 2B in the near future. Kevin Newman did not look like a future MLB player last year. I’m not sure his hitting profile will play against ML pitching. Tucker is still just 21. Mercer is clinging to league average status and his range at short is only going to get worse. There are a lot of FA options at short that will cost the same as Mercer and provide at least a bit more offense and defensive upside. (guys like A. Escobar and Hecchevaria or Cozart if they want to make a high risk, high reward play (Ron Howard voice “they don’t”). You can probably make a case that they should stand pat in the OF, I think it’s likely that Marte and Polanco provide decent production next year, and they also have Luplow and Meadows around to give at bats to. I don’t see any reason to try and upgrade the starting rotation, Cole and Taillon have super high floors and could be the two top of the rotation pitchers that they need.

I can’t escape the idea that upgrading 3B is the move to make. I think a guy like Moustakas will be expensive, but will provide consistent enough production to justify a 100M/5 year contract.


Moustakas’ numbers were trending down last season at age 29, and he is not worth the money it will take to sign him.

Daniel D

It seems like the 3B answer is to “trade” Harrison to 3B. The Pirates need to acquire a 3B and they could trade Harrrison… Netting it out, just “trade” him to 3B. I can’t see the Pirates giving up what it takes to acquire a better 3B than Harrison.
They might as well just move him there.


I think the worst thing they can do is not see if the young talent is any good. I say:
– platoon Cervelli/Diaz
– Bell
– platoon Moroff/S-Rod
– Mercer platoon him with Newman at mid-season
– Harrison
– Marte
– Cutch
– platoon Luplow/Polanco
– Bench would be Freese, the platoon guys, and whoever plays well in spring training next year (Osuna, Ngoepe, Bostick, …)

Zach Wolfe

I want to think that this will be the year we go big in the off-season to get a solid power hitting 2b or 3b (walker? Todd frazier?) And a top of rotation starter. To pay for them, i would trade cervelli, freese, and srod.
That being said, nothing the fo has done indicates that they would do so, particularly when attendance is plummeting. In that case, might as well trade cutch, cervelli, harrison, freese, cole, nova, mercer. Of course the fans will br pissed, but at least we would have a clearly defined direction.
Either way, sitting pat this off season is the worst outcome

Scott K

Does anybody think this juiced ball will help Pirates hitters next season? Or should I say help Pirates hitters more than hurt their Pitchers?

I consulted my trusty Magic 8-ball and it said, “signs point to no.”


Well if their HR totals are anything to go by, they sure didn’t get the memo this year:



Nutting and Huntington got the memo—They do not give a —-.

Blaine Huff

As far as the pitchers go, I’ll be interested to see what happens season with the core five.

My guess…Nova stays about the same, Cole gets much better, Williams and Kuhl give up more. Taillon will be interesting…his HR rate improved last season while his overall pitching declined. We’ll see if the pitching catches up to the HR or the other way around.

Blaine Huff

The catcher situation, I think, isn’t as simple as: “go with Cervelli, or trade him and go with Diaz?”

At a guaranteed $22M, injury problems, and 32 prior to opening day, I would think there’s a rather strong chance no one will want him. The Pirates would either have to take a bad contract in return (potentially a down and out 3Bman?) or cough up a prospect or two…again…to get out from under Cervelli.

John W

Well done Tim… and very depressing.

Todd Tomasic

With season ticket renewals projecting downword I still believe they will do next
to nothing during the winter. Everything will happen in June & July when they are
fighting the Reds to stay out of the basement



Robert J

“Jung Ho Kang will never return. ”



With a 15% attendance drop from 2016 to 2017, you can almost be assured either Harrison or Cervelli will be dealt, if not both. They know they SHOULD deal McCutchen but they are asking themselves which is worse, paying him and then letting him walk, or the additional hit to their attendance doing so would cause. They’ve already proven winning is secondary.


At the very least, if they are out of it at trade deadline time, all 3 might go?

2018 is going to be a very interesting (perhaps depressing?) season.


I don’t think they’ll wait that long. They would be paying the bulk of their collective $35 million salaries by keeping them. Look at it this way, they went the majority of 2017 with only two outfielders on their roster and sometimes even less when Polanco was hurt in addition to Marte being suspended. They could easily do it again in 2018 by dealing McCutchen.


On the other hand IMO it doesn’t get worse than the last two seasons and yes I realize they can lose more games – but qualitatively it’s the same to me.

Arik Florimonte

As someone who was a fan in the 80s, 90s, and 00s, I can assure you it can get MUCH worse. As in, no point watching after May 15 worse.


All I would say is haven’t we seen the quick and steep fall down


I agree with every one of Tim’s ‘Twitter Assessments’.

Unfortunately, that means that there lots and lots of questions going into 2018. Too many need to be answered positively for me to get excited about next season, but hope springs eternal.

dr dng

I’m so depressed that I’d consider letting
Pedro come back and play 3rd base
and I would agree to sit along the
1st base line.

Gunner Prince

NH better find a good external option @ 3B.

Robert J

This is the real key to the season.

But, are the affordable options better than the internal options?

Gunner Prince

If NH trades JHay, he’ll definitely need to bring in a legit MLB 3rd baseman.


GP….that might be the least of our 2018 problems?


Gunner Prince

Need a power bat at the hot corner in 2018.

Robert J

“Need a power bat.”


Gunner Prince

It sure would help the anemic 2017 offense.


Do you think that any of the young guys can be the set up man or move Kontos there by taking the ball in the 7th? No optimism here for Hudson to be more than last year right?

Tom S

Why is everyone saying Kontos is an answer. He was let go from San Fran who had a bad bullpen.


Same reason they keep saying that Max Moroff can potentially be a pro option when he is atrocious at worst and bad at best.


There is more to Moroff than just his overall stats so far though. He is an MI with power that plays solid defense…and he’s young with more upside…and he showed a lot of signs he was adjusting to MLB pitching in second half last year. A util INF that can field and has some HR pop always has a place in the MLB. Even if he hits .230-.240 with the HR and walks he looks like a decent piece.


I would argue that Nicasio at least had trade value, more so than Kontos. Nicasio, in what appears to be negligent disregard by upper management was let go for nothing. I like Kontos but Nicasio is better and thus more expensive….I guess that is why he wasn’t in the Pirates “plans”.

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