Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: February 26, 2018

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Austin Meadows
BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Austin Meadows /

Welcome back our weekly Pittsburgh Pirates Q&A mailbag here at Rum Bunter

The Grapefruit League season is underway and Opening Day is now just 31 days away for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have now played three Grapefruit League games and currently hold a 0-2-1 record. Just a reminder, Spring Training games are completely meaningless and mean nothing.

With the Pirates ready to embark on their first full week of Grapefruit League games, let’s delve into this week’s mailbag Q&A. As always, thank you to everyone who participated this week on Twitter.

There is no denying that Jonathan Lucroy would make the Pirates better. A combination of Lucroy and Francisco Cervelli would be much better than Cervelli and Elias Diaz. Furthermore, you could conceivably split the catching duties up so that each catches 75-80 games this season to stay healthy and fresh.

The problem with this is that Lucroy undoubtedly wants to sign with a team where he will be the starting catcher and be behind the dish for 120+ games. After all, Lucroy has caught at least 123 games in five of the past seven seasons and at least 103 in six of the past seven.

In Pittsburgh, this opportunity will not present itself for Lucroy due to the Pirates having Francisco Cervelli under contract for $10.5 million this season. Before the end of Spring Training someone will sign Lucroy to catch 120+ games this season, and unless Francisco Cervelli gets hurt between now and Opening Day that will not be the Pirates.

I’ll be surprised if both Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow are not in the Pirate bullpen to start the season. Taking a bullpenning route, as Dave wrote about earlier in the offseason, would behoove the Pirates as their rotation is a huge question mark after Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams. Having both Brault and Glasnow in the bullpen as guys who can go multiple innings or be used for one inning outings is something that I fully expect the Pirates to do.

While both Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb would improve the Pirate rotation greatly and make the team a legitimate Wild Card contender, I would not be holding your breath for either.

From best to worst I’ll go with this:

  1. Bullpen
  2. Lineup
  3. Baserunning
  4. Defense
  5. Starting pitching

I am extremely high on the Pirate bullpen and believe it can be one of the best in the National League. The lineup, assuming Gregory Polanco stays healthy and Starling Marte does not get suspended again, should be better than last season, and this team should run pretty wild on the bases with Polanco, Marte, Josh Harrison, etc.

Now the defense and starting pitching, well, there’s a reason this team is expected to finish around 78-80 wins. The rotation has more unknowns than knowns and the defense will be average at best.

Going to put these two together as they both deal with top hitting prospect Austin Meadows.

No matter Meadows does this spring he will start the year at Triple-A. He legitimately needs more time at Triple-A after all his injury issues in 2017, the Pirates do not want him to become Super 2 eligible, and the outfielder is already set with Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco.

Now two or three months down the road, that’s where things get interesting. Meadows is currently 4-for-6 with three extra base hits this spring. If that continues and rolls into the regular season, the Pirates will have a good problem on their hands in the outfield.

As long as Dickerson and Marte perform to their career norms and Polanco is healthy and producing, the Pirates will not have a place for a healthy and productive Austin Meadows. But at the same time, teams tend to make room for players as talented as Meadows.

If Meadows is healthy and producing at Triple-A this summer and the Pirates are out of contention, I would look for the team to trade Corey Dickerson to a contender to make room for Meadows. Although, there may not be a lot of incentive to move Dickerson as he is under team control through 2019.

The Pirates may also look to move on from Gregory Polanco if his struggles continue, but that seems very unlikely as he is under contract through 2023.

Ultimately, if all four outfielders are healthy and producing that will be a good problem for the Pirates. If that happens there is also a good chance that the Pirates will be competing for a Wild Card spot.

Personally, I am not high on Kevin Newman. His offense has progressively gotten worse as he has worked his way through the minor leagues, he hits for little power, he struggles to get on base, and his defense at shortstop is not good. I do not believe he will ever be a long term fix at shortstop.

As for Cole Tucker, that’s a different story. Tucker’s offense continues to improve and he is a plus defender at shortstop. Tucker also brings a speed element to his game that Newman does not. In my opinion, Cole Tucker, not Kevin Newman, is the shortstop of the future for the Pirates.

Next: Pirates and Tigers tie at 8

That will do it for this week. As always, if you have a question for the mailbag watch for the Tweet each week asking for mailbag questions.