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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.