The Pittsburgh Pirates had a solid, but slightly disappointing homestand. But the bigger picture is that it showed what their focus should be in this upcoming offseason.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a decent, but slightly disappointing homestand. They went 2-2 in the four-game series against the Atlanta Braves and then lost two of three against their divisional rival Cincinnati Reds.
While going 3-4 against the best team in Major League Baseball and a team currently in the running for the National League Central division doesn’t sound like a disappointment on paper, the fact of the matter is the Pirates easily could have, if not should have won both series. A big reason they suffered losses in games that were very winnable was due to some of the major weak points on this team were heavily exploited and shows what the Pirates will need to work on this offseason.
In truth, all but one of the seven games was very winnable. Of the four losses they took, three saw the Pirates with the lead, or the game tied in the 6th inning or later. That shows that some things are going right, but there are also flaws that were being taken advantage of.
The major flaw was the lack of pitching depth, specifically in the bullpen. David Bednar seems to be wearing down late in the season. He did have a quality outing against the Reds in game one of Sunday’s double header, but he also blew a save against the Braves, making it his second blow save in the last two weeks. The Pirates have done their damndest to keep him fresh and healthy, and I understand that close games require someone to come in and try and lock it down. But we are getting into the dog days, and many players are wearing out by this point.
I don’t believe that this is a long-term concern for the Renegade, but the Pirates were heavily reliant on the bullpen during this seven-game set. The Pirates really need to go out and add at least one stable right-handed and left-handed reliever. I believe that Colin Selby or Carmen Mlodzinski can be a solid force, but the bullpen was a major point of contention going into the year, as the Bucs would be relying on a handful of young and inexperienced arms to guide them after the starting pitcher. Some of the lack of experience is showing.
The bullpen market will be a deep market once again. If the Pirates can sign at least two players such as Matt Moore, Will Smith, Brent Suter, Phil Maton, Reynaldo Lopez, David Robertson, Joe Jimenez, Emilio Pagan, Jordan Hicks, or John Brebbia, they’ll have added enough bullpen depth to confidently go into 2024 with a stable pen, and not solely relying on young arms with little experience for a second season in a row.
The second thing is to add another reliable starting pitcher. Right now, the Bucs are relying on three starters to get it done in Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, and Quinn Priester. Bailey Falter is getting a shot, so the jury is out on him still. But the Pirates are bullpenning the final spot in the rotation as of right now. Osvaldo Bido has made it clear that he is a long reliever and not a starting pitcher. Andre Jackson may work best in a one inning role rather than be asked to take on two or three innings.
Unless multiple pitchers step up in September, the Pirates need to target at least one of the decent starting pitchers on the market. I’m not saying they need to go after Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, Aaron Nola, or even Julio Urias (even though that would be extremely fun). James Paxton, Jordan Montgomery, Michael Lorenzen, Lucas Giolito, or even re-signing Vince Velasquez would go a long way. The Pirates have more than enough pitching talent coming up through the system that they don’t have to go after the top tier names, even if it would be fun.
Now before you think “That will never happen, they don’t spend on anything”, keep in mind the Pirates spent just over $30 million in free agents last offseason. That’s nearly double what they spent in the 2021-2022 offseason. That doesn’t mean the Pirates will nearly double their off-season spending again and put $50-60 million into free agents, but they already set the precedent that they’re willing to put some money out there.
Either way, the most recent homestand exposed the Pirates’ need for pitching, especially in the bullpen. The Pirates might fix their issues with the rotation from within, as they have multiple top prospects like Anthony Solometo, Jared Jones, Jackson Wolf, and Braxton Ashcraft currently residing at Double-A and Triple-A, and both JT Brubaker and Mike Burrows will return in the second half. They have a lot more on the way. But adding more bullpen depth, especially ones that can take on higher leverage without issue must be the Pirates’ no. 1 priority this winter. It’s a major flaw that was exposed by two good teams and cost the Pirates what could have been a 6-1 homestand.