For Pittsburgh Pirates, Longevity Will Come at a Price
By Gary Wallace
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
After the year the Pittsburgh Pirates had in 2013, one would think their sights should be set on a division title and another playoff run in 2014. But, the Pirates do not operate this way, nor should they. It is unlikely the Pirates will make the playoffs this year, and while most will view this as a failure in the organization, it will not be! The Pirates are more focused on the next five years, and as a result, will probably miss the playoffs in 2014.
Some of the issues that the team has to contend with in 2014 at the Major League level are the following:
- They are awful at first base. Losing Justin Morneau to free agency, and designating Garrett Jones for assignment (and being signed by Miami) do not help, but neither of those players were a long term answer anyway. Gaby Sanchez gives the team a good defensive option, but he has shown little signs of his bat coming back to the production of his 2011 All-Star year. There are no free agents that are affordable to the Pirates that are better options than Jones or Morneau would have been, and there is no major league ready help in the farm system.
- Jordy Mercer is an adequate short stop, but he is still too far away from the All-Star caliber player the Pirate’s need. Mercer’s WAR will not be the negative that Barmas’ was, he will be a contributor, but not to the extent that the Pirates will need him to perform to make the playoffs.
- The situation in right field is almost as bad as first base. A mid-season call-up of Gregory Polanco is to be expected, and will help the situation to some extent, but it is doubtful that Polanco will be a major contributor next year.
- The Pirates bullpen over-performed last year. Even if they do over-perform again this year, they are too over-worked to be effective down the stretch. The Pirates do not consistently get enough innings out of their starting pitching to protect the bullpen. It will likely cost them this year, as it is not reasonable to expect that every reliever will have another career year as they all seemed to have last year.
- The Pirates are paper thin when it comes to depth. Any sustained injuries to Marte, McCutchen, Alvarez or Martin will have significant impact on the team.
- St. Louis has addressed every one of their weaknesses this off season with All-Star caliber players. While the Pirate’s pitching neutralized the Cardinal’s in 2013, it is unlikely that the Pirates (or any other team in the Central) will contend with St. Louis this year.
The only way the Pirates can contend in 2014 is to make high profile trades that bring high quality players in to the major league level, and relinquish top prospects to other teams. But this is not likely to happen, nor should it! The Pirates singular focus is, and should be, to increase quality throughout their organization every year at every level, and eventually, they will be ahead of the curve.
The holes that the Pirates are going to fill at the Major League level are going to come from the minor leagues, or, through free agent after-thoughts that turn out to be gems. Trading Polanco, Josh Bell, or Alen Hanson for a 1 or 2 year rent-a-player would be a big mistake, because these are the guys that are going to be the core of the team that fill all of the holes in the next couple of years. Pitchers such as Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, and Brandon Cumpton are all within a year or two of being ready to come to the big leagues, and are collectively far better long term options than an expensive name pitcher who would take a large amount of valuable payroll dollars, and cost the organization a lot of prospects that are its lifeblood and future.
Patience is a commodity that few Pirates fans have, but as long term success is so tantalizingly close, it would be a shame to see the prospect of long term success thrown away to have a one or two year window now.