It’s time for the final Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag here at Rum Bunter before the start of Spring Training
How will the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield shake out? Are there more trades coming before the start of the season? And more in this week’s Rum Bunter mailbag!
As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions this week and participated. Now, let’s dive in!
These questions are similar so we’ll tackle them together.
After the Pirates traded Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, general manager Ben Cherington expressed his intentions to add a starting center fielder via free agency or the trade market before the start of the season. The best remaining free agents are Kevin Pillar, Cameron Maybin, Billy Hamilton, and Jarrod Dyson. Of those four, Pillar would appear to be the best option. He is also a player Cherington has history with from their time together in Toronto.
For as sensational of a hitter Bryan Reynolds was as a rookie in 2019, he struggled defensively when he played center field. While he was responsible for +1 defensive runs saved as a left fielder, his DRS in center field was 0 which is right at league average. However, his negative UZR and UZR/150 both suggest that with more innings in center field his DRS would drop below 0.
All of that said, it would be a surprise if Reynolds is in center field to start the season. You can still expect Cherington to add center field help between now and Opening Day on March 26th.
As for Will Craig and Jason Martin, expectations for both should be pretty low entering 2020. Both players struggled offensively at the Triple-A level in 2019, and Martin also struggled at the MLB level. It is unlikely that either will make the Opening Day roster, but if one does my money would be on Martin due to his ability to play center field. Odds are, neither will be very good players at the MLB level.
Also, do not forget about Gregory Polanco. After missing essentially all of 2019 with shoulder issues, Polanco is healthy and ready to go for 2020. When healthy, he has proven to be a lethal bat in the heart of the Pirate lineup. Combine this with him being under team control through 2023 and the Pirates will give him every opportunity to re-establish himself in 2020. Personally, I’d bet on Polanco having a big bounce back campaign this season.
It would not be a surprise to see the Pirates swing another trade before Opening Day. If anyone is moved before the start of the regular season, odds are it would be second baseman Adam Frazier or reliever Keone Kela.
Both players have garnered trade interest this off-season. By moving Frazier the Pirates can open up a spot for Cole Tucker to allow him to play every day at shortstop, while Kevin Newman moves to second base, in order to see if he is part of the long term future or not. As for Kela, he is set to hit free agency at the end of the season so an eventual trade seems inevitable.
For the reasons you mentioned, Chris Archer is a safe bet for the team’s most improved player in 2020. Yes, he is coming off the worst season of his career, but he still has the tools to be an above league average starting pitcher.
A big issue for Archer since coming to Pittsburgh was the old Ray Searage/Neal Huntington pitch to contact strategy that was two-seamed fastball heavy. This does not mesh well with someone like Archer whose best pitch is his slider.
Opposing batters slugged .778 off of his two-seamer and it generated just a 10.6% swing-and-miss rate. His slider, however, generated a 42.2% swing-and-miss rate and limited batters to a .359 slugging percentage.
Archer may never be the All-Star he once was, but he leans on his slider more in 2020 he can certainly pitch a hell of a lot better than he did in 2019.
With a new front office and new regime comes a new strategy for player development. So, yes.
Player development is what Cherington is known for most. He built the 2013 World Series Champion Red Sox, and he played a large role in assembling the cast that led the Sox to a World Series Championship in 2018. With the Toronto Blue Jays, he helped build the best farm system in baseball.
Fans need to be patient with Cherington as he is going to tear this down and build it his way. But with Cherington’s track record of player acquisition and development, fans should be confident in his ability to turn the Pirates back into winners again.
That will do it for this week. As always, if you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet each week asking for questions. Also, do not be afraid to ask question on Twitter or Facebook.