The Pirates traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen in the last week, finally putting themselves in an official rebuild, and changing the shape of the team for the 2018 season and beyond.
Well, maybe not an “official” rebuild. I’ve called it a rebuild, simply because that term can apply to many different scenarios. But the Pirates aren’t using that word, simply because, as Neal Huntington said on Monday, they don’t see this as a five-year turnaround, and expect to be competitive sooner.
Before the Pirates made their trades, I looked at the roster for every position, breaking down the short-term and long-term options. I saw a team that could contend as early as 2019, and should be back to being contenders by 2020. If we’re comparing it to the last rebuild, the 2019 season could be like 2012, where they were legitimately close, but a bad collapse in the final two months put them out of the race (hopefully if they’re close this time, they won’t repeat that trend). The 2020 season could be similar to 2013, allowing the window to open again.
So while I’m still calling it a rebuild, I can see Huntington’s point that they think the team will be competitive in a short amount of time. His comments about possibly having a shot in 2018 are another thing for another column. For now, let’s look over each position once again, seeing where the Pirates stand after the trades, and what we can expect for the remainder of the offseason.
This position was unchanged by the trades. I don’t think it will be changed going forward, since Francisco Cervelli’s contract will likely prevent him from being traded. That might be a good thing, as it would allow Cervelli to manage the younger pitching staff that the Pirates will have. He’s under control through the 2019 season, and a bounce back year could allow him to have some trade value next offseason. Elias Diaz will get a chance in 2018 to show whether he can be a starter in the future.
This position is unchanged, with Josh Bell under control for five more years.
The next trade to take place will most likely be Josh Harrison on the move. In fact, he released a statement on The Athletic saying that he wants to be traded if the Pirates aren’t going to be contending in the next year or two. I don’t think he needed the statement to get his wish.
Trading Harrison makes sense. The Pirates won’t be contending in 2018, and can use that year to transition to a younger player. They can first see if Max Moroff can be a starter in the majors. If that doesn’t work out, they can give Kevin Kramer a shot. If Kramer doesn’t work, they have Adam Frazier as a fallback option until someone else comes along, with the disclaimer that Frazier’s defense would be a liability and lower his value.
Really, nothing has changed here since the trades, but I’d expect the next change to come at this position.
This is another position that is unchanged. Jordy Mercer has one more year remaining, and Kevin Newman will start the season in Triple-A. I could see Newman arriving by mid-season. I wouldn’t trade Mercer, as I don’t think he’d have any value, and would provide the Pirates with more value working with Newman, similar to how Mercer adjusted to the majors with Clint Barmes when he first arrived.
Cole Tucker is right behind Newman, and could take over as soon as mid-2019, eventually pushing Newman to the second base mix. In the lower levels, the Pirates have Stephen Alemais, Adrian Valerio, and Rodolfo Castro as middle infield options.
This is the biggest area of change, as long as you assume that Andrew McCutchen opening an outfield spot was inevitable. Before the Gerrit Cole trade, the third base position had a big question mark. The only prospect in the system who could be a starter was Ke’Bryan Hayes, and he should be starting off in Double-A this year. They have some middle infield prospects who could make the jump over, if needed, but that won’t be needed anymore.
When the Pirates added Colin Moran, they filled the need for a third baseman. Moran recently made an adjustment to his swing, getting more power production as a result of a massive fly ball increase. If the power increase is lasting, then Moran will be a nice addition to the lineup. At the least, he will take over the third base position until Hayes has arrived, and might even make it so that the Pirates have to make a tough decision on which guy to go forward with. Or, he provides insurance in the form of another option if Hayes doesn’t develop as expected.
The Pirates don’t exactly have a guarantee at third base, but they’re far from the question mark they were at a week ago.
After the McCutchen trade, my guess is that Starling Marte will move to center field. I’m not sure where Gregory Polanco will end up, as the Pirates tried him in left field last year, but moved him back to right by the end of the year. Neal Huntington said that Jordan Luplow and Adam Frazier would be options for the other outfield spot. This could be Luplow’s best chance of being a starter in the majors, with his bat carrying his value.
Austin Meadows is still in the wings, ready to get another shot at Triple-A, with the chance to move up to the majors by the middle of 2018 if he’s healthy. He will eventually take over as the starter to replace McCutchen, although Luplow should get the first shot.
The Pirates did add a few outfield prospects in the recent trades, getting Bryan Reynolds for McCutchen, and getting Jason Martin for Cole. Both should go to Double-A this year, and of the two, I think Reynolds has the best shot to be a future starter. Those two, plus the young group in West Virginia consisting of Lolo Sanchez, Calvin Mitchell, and Conner Uselton, will give the Pirates some depth from the lower levels. That depth will either provide a backup plan for Meadows, or will provide eventual replacements for Marte and Polanco.
The Pirates didn’t get many starting options back in the trades, with the lone option being Joe Musgrove. I don’t see his upside as more than a number four starter. Trading Cole away means that the Pirates are left with Jameson Taillon as their only top of the rotation guy. That will eventually change when Mitch Keller arrives, which could be as early as the second half of the 2018 season, but would probably happen in 2019.
There are plenty of options to fill out the rotation, along with Musgrove. The current rotation includes Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams. The Indianapolis rotation includes Clay Holmes, Steven Brault, Nick Kingham, and the guys who will be making the jump from Altoona. There are also options who will be starting off below Indianapolis, but who could be up by 2019 or 2020, like Taylor Hearn, Dario Agrazal, and Luis Escobar. Shane Baz leads a group of lower level guys who could provide long-term depth.
The wild card here is Tyler Glasnow. If he can finally figure things out, he’d give the Pirates a top of the rotation option to pair with Taillon and Keller. Even if he only partially figures it out, he’d join that group of guys to fill out the rotation.
I’d expect to see Taillon leading the 2018 rotation, with Kuhl and Williams in the mix. I think Glasnow will get another shot to make the jump to the big leagues. The final spot would likely go to Musgrove, although he does have options remaining, so there could be some competition with Holmes, Brault, and Kingham. The question here is whether Ivan Nova would still be with the team. If he is, then Glasnow’s spot would likely be the one up for competition. I think it would be better if the Pirates parted ways with Nova, and went with the younger guys for the rotation.
This is another area that got an upgrade in the trades. The Pirates have reportedly extended Felipe Rivero, which doesn’t impact the 2018 season, but does keep him under control through 2023. They need a complement to Rivero in the late innings, and added two potential guys in Kyle Crick (McCutchen trade) and Michael Feliz (Cole trade). Both players are hard throwing right-handed relievers with control issues. Aside from the right-handed part, that is similar to the profile Rivero had when he was traded to the Pirates.
They have also added some other hard throwers this offseason. Nick Burdi was acquired in a trade after the Rule 5 draft, and is rehabbing from Tommy John. The Pirates should see in the second half whether he can return to throwing upper 90s with good strikeout potential. Jordan Milbrath is the other Rule 5 addition, showing a sidearm delivery with a lot of movement, and the ability to sit mid-90s and touch 99 MPH.
The Pirates have some internal options, led by Edgar Santana, who has the best chance to be a late inning guy. Dovydas Neverauskas could also start to factor into the 2018 bullpen. They’ve added left-handers Nik Turley and Jack Leathersich off waivers, and still have A.J. Schugel and George Kontos on the roster. Plus, there are all of the starting options in the minors, with some of them inevitably making the move to the bullpen this year.
I’d expect the Opening Day bullpen to include Rivero, Kontos, Schugel, and Feliz as the obvious choices. That would leave three spots for Crick, Milbrath, Turley, Santana, and others. The only one from the remaining group who is out of options is Turley. Schugel is also out of options from the previous group. The standout here is Kontos. He can be a good reliever, but is only under control through 2019, and it doesn’t really make sense to keep him around if they’re rebuilding.
One thing to consider here is that the Pirates haven’t shied away from trading relievers in-season, even when they were close. Kontos, who they got for free last year, is under control for the next two years. Feliz is under control for the next four years. If their values improve in 2018, and the Pirates aren’t looking like contenders for 2019, then they could deal one or both of those guys to assist in the rebuilding efforts.