Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: January 22nd, 2019

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

Welcome back to Rum Bunter’s weekly Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag

Should Pittsburgh Pirates fans be excited about the 2019 season? Will Jung Ho Kang be at shortstop on Opening Day? And more in this week’s mailbag.

As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions to this week’s mailbag. Now, let’s dive in!

People are upset with the Pirate offseason thus far, and that is understandable. General manager Neal Huntington has stated the team will look to contend in 2019, and the additions of Chris Archer and Keone Kela at the trade deadline this past July indicate as much.

The team entered the offseason in need of a stopgap in right field until Gregory Polanco gets healthy, a shortstop, and left-handed bullpen help. The team has addressed right field by adding Lonnie Chisenhall, and Tyler Lyons could be the bullpen lefty they need.

However, they remain in search of a shortstop. Also, by trading Ivan Nova to the White Sox the team created a hole at the fifth starter’s spot that they still have not address. A $68 million payroll is not pretty, either, and, as Nick wrote about over the weekend, is still an issue.

All of that said, this team still has a shot at contending in 2019. Despite question marks about the fifth spot, a strong argument can be made that the Bucs still have the best rotation in the National League Central. The same can be said about their bullpen as a whole, and they undoubtedly have the best 8th/9th inning combo in the division, if not the entire NL.

The lineup also has the potential to improve over last season. Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and Starling Marte are proven commodities. Polanco appeared to finally put it all together last season, and if the Pirates can get what Josh Bell gave them during the final four months of the 2018 season for all six months this season then the lineup will produce. And that goes without mentioning the potential of adding 20+ home runs from a returning Jung Ho Kang. New hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz should provide a boost as well.

No, he will not. Huntington has stated that Kang will not be an option for shortstop in 2019. Despite playing shortstop in the minors last season, he and the Pirates are both only comfortable with him playing at third base due to the 2015 leg injury.

I still believe that the Opening Day shortstop will be someone not currently in the organization.

Woah. Easy there. Don’t think too rationally!

The team’s biggest need remains shortstop. The big fish at shortstop – Manny Machado – remains on the open market. Other free agent shorstops, such as Freddy Galvis and Jose Iglesias, are likely to wait until after Machado signs to sign with a new team.

Once Machado signs the shortstop market will change. It could add new teams to the list of teams interested in the other free agent shortstops. Therefore, it would behoove these players to wait and see what new offers may come there way before signing.

An increase in payroll between now and Opening Day could come in a few ways. Some of that money could be spent on addressing shortstop or the final rotation spot. This includes taking on salary in potential trades.

They could also increase payroll by looking to sign players already on the roster to new contracts. The team and Jameson Taillon have been discussing a long term contract this offseason. They’d still like to extend Dickerson’s contract as well.

The odds of Starling Marte being traded are very, very slim. He is the team’s best player, they are looking to win now, and he is on a team friendly contract. Also, the smoke of a potential Marte trade are coming from a LA media member that has a less than stellar history with these things. After all, in the past two years he has claimed the Dodgers were going to trade for Felipe Vazquez about 10 times.

All of that said, if Marte were traded the Pirates would demand a massive haul in return. When looking at the Dodgers, any trade would likely have to include their top prospect outfielder Alex Verdugo. Verdugo is MLB ready, just blocked in LA, and could replace Marte as a starter for the Pirates. Starting pitcher Ross Stripling would likely come up in discussions, too. Stripling is emerging as a good middle of the rotation arm that would make a strong Pirate rotation even better.

Julio Urias is another name the Pirates would likely target. After making his MLB debut at age 19, and pitching extremely well, Urias has battled some injury and control issues the past two seasons. That said, the sky remains the limit for Urias. Outfielder Joc Pederson and prospects such as Dustin May and Galvin Lux could be discussed as well.

All of that said, Marte being traded would be nothing short of shocking and is not something anyone should be expecting to happen.

Next. Where Must Erik Gonzalez Improve?. dark

That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet asking for questions every week. But, you can feel free to ask them at any time on Twitter or Facebook, too!