Pittsburgh Pirates Creating More Questions Than Answers
By Marty Leap
It’s year three of the rebuild. Yet the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to act like it’s year one, giving playing time to journeymen veterans over young players
In recent days there has been a lot of talk on Twitter wondering why some fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates are so upset about the current state of the team. Specifically, some of the current issues with roster construction and management.
No one expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to be a winning club or compete this season. The fact they are 38-53 after yet another blowout loss on Friday night is not what’s frustrating. What’s frustrating is that in a season where the Pirates were supposed to be playing for the future as their rebuild supposedly winds down, that is not what they are doing.
The most exciting stretch of the season for the Pirates came over parts of May and a majority of June when a large group of their veterans, most of which are washed up or never weres adding via waiver claim for a reason, were on the injured list and the young Bucs got a chance to shine.
Pirate fans saw Jack Suwinski swatting one home run after another on his way to leading all National League rookies in home runs with 14 when he was optioned back to the minors. Oneil Cruz finally debut and, despite some obvious growing pains at the plate, has far exceeded expectations in the field and has flashed plenty of glimpses into the elite hitter he can be.
Bligh Madris and Cal Mitchell both turned heads at times in the outfielder. Liover Peguero got his first cup of coffee in the majors, going 1-for-3 with a walk. Despite a very poor start against the Milwaukee Brewers, one that could easily go down as the worst of his career, Roansy Contreras has looked every bit the part of a budding top of the rotation starting pitcher.
Former first-round pick Travis Swaggerty made his MLB debut, although he was never given a legitimate opportunity in the majors only receiving nine at-bats with six of them coming against left-handed pitchers before he was returned to the minors.
Tucupita Marcano did some good things at the plate and in the field, especially at second base. Rodolfo Castro was given an opportunity, but like Swaggerty was also wronged during his time in the majors. In Castro’s case, it was due to him being played out of position at shortstop instead of letting him play second base where he is much more comfortable and experience when Diego Castillo easily could have been at shortstop.
We saw young bullpen arms debut as well, including Yerry De Los Santos who appears to be developing into a reliable high leverage situation arm. But outside of De Los Santos the pitching youth movement has halted. Although, a lack of quality pitching depth in the farm system is a factor there.
Unfortunately, as many feared, the veterans have returned and the youth movement has essentially come to a grinding halt. Cruz continues to play at shortstop every day, and, hopefully, Mitchell who was recalled Friday will be in the outfielder every day. Otherwise, the Pittsburgh Pirates no longer look like a team playing for the future.
No, instead, the Pirates look like a team hoping that a group of rag tag waiver claimed veterans can turn things around. Sure, there is the argument to showcase players ahead of the trade deadline which is a little over three weeks away. However, outside of José Quintana and Ben Gamel do they really expect to get anything for any of these veterans?
Josh VanMeter has been a disaster in the field and at the plate. Yoshi Tsutsugo has as well. The two players have combined to be worth a -1.8 WAR this season. Neither will have value at the trade deadline and neither should remain on the roster.
Sure, Jake Marisnick has been hot at the plate since his return from the IL. But his career wRC+ and OPS+ are both 81, for reference league average for both stats is 100. Marisnick is what he is, a defensive first outfielder with little offensive value. Any trade deadline value he would have would be minimal.
Outside of giving some one like Cam Alldred another look, there are not many potential remedies on the horizon for the bullpen. Ben Cherington made the decision this past offseason to ignore the bullpen outside of waiver claims and signing a very clearly washed Heath Hembree in free agency. Believe it or not, that decision has not worked out. All it’s done is overwork the Pirates two best relievers in David Bednar and Wil Crowe, leading to the bullpen having an ERA for the season of 4.79.
With Bryan Reynolds on the injured list the outfield should be Ben Gamel, until he’s traded before the August 2nd deadline, with two of Suwinski, Mitchell, Swaggerty, and Madris. Marcano and Ji-Hwan Bae should replace VanMeter and Tsutsugo on the roster.
Playing Kevin Newman at second base is not the worst idea in the world. He has done a good job since returning from the IL and could be a decent bridge to Peguero at the position, but moving on from him to see what Marcano can do there on a daily basis would not be a bad idea either. The Pirates also need to find a way to keep getting Diego Castillo in the lineup, as the rookie infielder appears to be finding his power stroke posting a .542 slugging percentage, .325 isolate slugging, and have a 12.5% extra base hit rate in his last 88 plate appearances which stretches over a month’s worth of games.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in year three of their rebuild. The end should be in sight with young players getting the majority of the playing time in order ot help them develop further, while the Pirates determine which youngster do and do not have a long-term future with the club.
Instead, the Pirates are acting like it’s year one of the rebuild. Trotting journeymen veterans out there in a lineup card that appears to be that of a team looking to do one thing and one thing only – lose baseball games. If the Pirates are still trying to lose games at this point instead of giving young players vital developmental at-bats and reps, well, then, things are not likely to get any better any time soon.
This should have been a season in which the Pirates start to get some answers about their roster moving forward. Sure, there have been some, such as the emergence of JT Brubaker. However, for the most part, they now have more questions than answers.