2 questions Pirates have already answered in 2024, 1 that still lingers

Will anyone take control of a position the Pirates have struggled to fill in recent years?
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs / Nuccio DiNuzzo/GettyImages
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The NL Central seemed like a wide-open division heading into the 2024 season. The Cardinals were coming off a terrible season, while the Cubs and Reds were likely the favorites. The Brewers, for once, were expected to buck the odds and potentially round out the division's bottom after dealing a few key players (including staff ace Corbin Burnes). The Pirates seemed to be somewhere in the middle of the group, ranking as a young team not quite ready to break through just yet.

The team had a few question marks coming into the offseason and, given their mediocre budget, had to get creative to find and address those concerns. As a young team, they needed some young players to step up and answer those question marks for the Pirates, something that we will touch on shortly.

Unfortunately, when you are a team that consistently roles out one of the lowest payrolls in the game, you have to hit on most of your moves, or deal with the fact that you may have a few glaring holes due to the limited resources. That's the fairest way to assess this Pirates team that has been solid, but could surge into playoff contention ahead of schedule after answering just a few more questions.

3 burning Pirates questions: 2 they've answered, 1 they haven't

The Pirates have their answer at first base, and it's a familiar face

Coming into the offseason, the Pirates had some question marks at first base. They were able to get solid production for the first half of the year from veteran switch-hitter Carlos Santana. After Santana was dealt away, Connor Joe filled in well. How would they handle the position moving forward, though? Was Joe going to get an extended look there? Would they address the spot with a new face like Rhys Hoskins or Adam Duvall? Or maybe a veteran return from Santana, or a surprise name like Brandon Belt (still technically available)?

Well, the team resorted to a lesser-known commodity, signing Rowdy Tellez to a one-year deal, for a relatively low-risk $3.2 million. They sort of answered the question, but did they really? Tellez had a monstrous 2022 season with 35 home runs before a dud of a 2023 season made him a possible bounce back candidate.

As Tellez continues to struggle in 2024, the first base question has popped up again. However, the Pirates have their answer, and he is currently on the roster. He just needs to be playing at first base every day.

Connor Joe has been one of the better stories of 2024. A former first-round pick in 2014, Joe struggled to find his role, bouncing between the NL West with the Giants and Rockies before ending up back with the Pirates. He filled in after the trade of Santana last year, slashing .247/.339/.421 with 11 home runs in 133 games. He also had above-average walk (10.6%) and strikeout (23.3%) numbers; all of that was good for a 107 wRC+.

He has built upon that impressive stretch in 2024 by slashing .277/.345/.466 with six home runs so far in 2024. He has cut his strikeout rate down to 18.8% and his walk rate remains strong at 9.1%. Joe is obviously the Bucs' best option at first base at this point. They may need to find a long-term answer there, but for 2024 and likely 2025, the team has their answer at first base.