Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: October 1, 2019
By Marty Leap
Let’s kick off the off-season the best way possible… with a Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag!
Why was Neal Huntington retained as general manager? Who are managerial candidates? What does the future hold for Cole Tucker and Jose Osuna? And more in this week’s Pittsburgh Pirates‘ mailbag.
As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions and participated in this week’s mailbag. Now, let’s dive in!
We’ll start with the questions about general manager Neal Huntington.
Had it been my call, Huntington, along with manager Clint Hurdle, would have been relieved of his duties. However, that was not the case as Huntington will return for his 12th season as Pirates’ GM in 2020. This will make him the longest tenured GM in the National League.
Huntington being back indicates that Bob Nutting still has faith in Huntington. Right or wrong, he still believes Huntington can once again build a postseason team in Pittsburgh. Is this true? Only time will tell.
As for Tucker, his defense can be borderline elite. Plenty of players, especially at premium position such as shortstop, have had long, successful careers build off of this type of defense. That said, do not give up on what he could bring to the table offensively.
While Tucker finished the 2019 season with just a .211/.266/.361 slash line and a wRC+ of 61, he did finish the season strong. In his final 70 MLB plate appearances Tucker slashed .286/.348/.491 with a 118 wRC+. This included a 7.2% walk rate, 17.4% strikeout rate and an extra base hit rate of 15.9%. All of which are very good.
Tucker appeared to be starting to figure out MLB pitching. Hopefully, he will be given an opportunity in 2020 to prove if this was happening or not. If Tucker can provide even average offense he can be a 3+ WAR player for the Pirates due to his defense. If he can combine above average offensive production with what he can do defensively, then you are talking about one of the best shortstops in the NL.
As for Osuna, while he hit for a ton of power in 2019 his overall offensive numbers were pedestrian at best. Osuna finished the season with a healthy .456 slugging percentage and .192 ISO, however, his on-base percentage was just .310 and his wRC+ pf 97 was below the league average of 100. Combine this with his pinch-hitting prowess and Osuna’s MLB future appears to be that of a bench player.
Josh Bell and his defense continues to be… frustrating. During the 2017 season he appeared to be taking steps forward defensively at first base, but each of the past two seasons that defense has regressed. At this point it is difficult to envision his defense improving much and the Pirates may just have to live with it. Luckily, when you collect 77 extra base hits and get on base at a .370 clip poor defense is pretty easy to live with.
On Monday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Minnesota Twins’ bench coach Derek Shelton is a name worth watching for the Pirates’ open managerial position. Shelton is well thought of in baseball circles, was a finalist for the Rangers’ opening last off-season, has helped the Twins put together one of the best offenses in franchise history this season, and worked with Huntington when Huntington was with the Indians.
There are also other names to monitor. One is former Mariners and Phillies slugger, and current Dodgers special adviser, Raul Ibanez, who is currently the odds on favorite in Las Vegas to land the position. Former All-Star, postseason hero and current Yankees special assistant to the GM Carlos Beltran, Houston bench coach AJ Espada, long time Pirate coach/current front office assistant Jeff Bannister, and current Dodgers’ bench coach/former A’s manager Bob Geren are all names to watch as well.
As for Joe Maddon, Vegas currently has those odds at 5/1. So, it’s not impossible. However, do not get your hopes up. Maddon may be the most highly sought after managerial option this off-season, and, even though he has had a lot of success in a small market during his time in Tampa Bay, it is hard to envision Maddon wanting to work in a market like Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, nothing. I just pay them a lot of money with my season ticket package, going to games with my wife and kids, buying food and drinks at the game, and the amount of Pirate merchandise I own.
This could hinge on the off-season plan of the Pirates. Bryan Reynolds, Joe Musgrove, Kevin Newman, and Mitch Keller are slam dunks due to years of control. So is Gregory Polanco, who remains under team control through 2023, if he can get healthy. You can bet the Pirates hope Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes will be among this group as well.
If Huntington decides to make a run at competing in the immediate future than Chris Archer, Josh Bell, Keone Kela, and Starling Marte become core cogs as well. If he decides to go rebuild though, then most, if not all, of these four players will be traded sooner rather than later.
That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag keep your eyes peeled for our Tweet each week throughout the off-season asking for questions. Also, do not be afraid to ever ask questions on Twitter or Facebook.