Pittsburgh Pirates: Positions Where They Can Improve In 2021
By Marty Foster
Which positions will the Pittsburgh Pirates look to upgrade at this offseason, and which names could go?
Even after finishing with the league’s worst record, the Pittsburgh Pirates could improve during the 2021 season. The emergence of young star Ke’Bryan Hayes and a plethora of intriguing young arms has the Bucs in an interesting spot. While the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t ready to win just yet, there are a few spots where they could add an upgrade to the roster.
Going into the season, we weren’t sure what type of player that Jacob Stallings would be in a full time starting role. Stallings delivered with a solid season and ended up being a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award at catcher, and he should most definitely win it too. No need to add a starting catcher, but the backup spot needs addressed.
After an injury to free agent pickup Like Maile, it was John Ryan Murphy who received the playing time for the entire season. Murphy was given the chance and played very poorly, hitting .172 with 28 strikeouts over 58 at-bats. Ben Cherington should definitely be looking to add a catcher as the backup to Stallings, and I believe it’s a real possibility we see Maile return to the team, but I’m not sure that’s a real upgrade over “JRM”, defensively yes but offensively you’re getting a very similar player.
Will the Pittsburgh Pirates bring back closer Keone Kela? Kela is a free agent and should be able to get interest from other teams as he’s been a pretty reliable back-end bullpen arm for most of his career. Personally, I don’t see Kela returning, I see him leaving in free agency for a contender.
However, if he does return I see it being a one-year deal to prove to teams he’s healthy before returning to free agency after the 2021 season. Without Kela in the pen the Bucs would most likely slot some sort of combination of Richard Rodriguez, Nick Burdi, and possibly Edgar Santana (who hasn’t pitched in an MLB game in over 2 years). If the the team does have to move on without Kela, I would like to see Cherington add another reliever to the back-end of the pen, and with plenty of them available In free agency and a very low payroll this year, I think it’s reasonable.
There’s also arguments to be made that the team should look to upgrade the starting rotation as well as the outfield, after a very poor season from both groups. However, the outfield has a lot of depth so I’m not totally sure they’d do that. In the rotation, Derek Holland is a free agent so the team could definitely look to either bring him back or look for a similar pitcher to eat innings.
The rotation currently has Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl (who emerged as a very good starter for the team last year), Steven Brault, Mitch Keller, Trevor Williams, and a returning Jameson Taillon. Looking into it, the rotation really depends on what the team does with Williams and Chris Archer.
Williams is a real non-tender candidate, after posting a great 2018 campaign he’s been awful and didn’t show any signs of life last season, continuing to give up the long ball at an alarming rate. Archer, has an $11M club option for next season which will most certainly be declined, but with such a low payroll and expectations it wouldn’t hurt to bring him back on a new, cheaper one-year deal.
Also, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Cherington to trade Musgrove this off-season to clear up the log-jam of the rotation, it’s reported the Blue Jays were close to acquiring him at the 2020 trade deadline. With young arms like Cody Ponce, and J.T. Brubaker showing signs of promise during the 2020 season and prospect Cody Bolton near MLB ready, the loss of Musgrove and/or Williams wouldn’t be as bad for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In the outfield, the Pittsburgh Pirates plan to pencil in and hope for bounce back seasons from Bryan Reynolds and Gregory Polanco. The team has a variety of guys they can play out there in the third outfield spot, those guys consist of Cole Tucker, Jared Oliva, Jason Martin, Anthony Alford, Adam Frazier, and Phillip Evans.
Frazier has a fairly good chance of being traded this offseason, so I believe Tucker will most likely shift back to shortstop, leaving Reynolds to centerfield, and one of Oliva, Alford or Evans as the primary left fielder. If Evans retuns from injury and plays the way he did in his shortened 2020 season, he should be the guy they roll with. And while I don’t see it as one of the best options, I have to mention that Jose Osuna has a good chance of seeing time there if he isn’t non-tendered.
All in all, I don’t see the Pittsburgh Pirates being incredibly active in free agency however I do see them targeting upgrades at backup catcher, and in the bullpen. Also don’t be surprised to see Musgrove and Frazier traded for young assets, as well as Williams non-tendered.