Should the Pirates focus on first base or outfield at the trade deadline?

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a mild winter in terms of adding to the offense. Edward Olivares was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in December, around the same time the team signed Rowdy Tellez. They would go on to re-sign Andrew McCutchen and then sign Yasmani Grandal and Michael A. Taylor to major league deals. These were the only major league additions made to an offense that ranked 22nd in fWAR in 2023, none of which exceeded $5 million.

The Pirates have certainly paid for their lack of offensive additions, ranking 28th in fWAR to this point in the season with many of the winter additions struggling to help the lineup in any capacity. The group above has combined for -0.6 fWAR, with McCutchen the only one batting above league average with a 111 wRC+ this season. Tellez has been bad and Taylor even worse at the plate, while Olivares has been mediocre as well.

Only 1.5 games out of first place despite being three games under .500, the Pirates are still in the race at this point in the season and, unless a couple teams begin to take off, figure to be around the race heading into July and the impending trade deadline. The team has solidified its starting rotation with three staple starters, and the bullpen has the makings to be dominant, though without as much depth as you'd like for a playoff team. While a reliever should certainly be targeted, the highest priority for GM Ben Cherington and his team should be the offense.

This begs the question: Where should the Pirates prioritize their search for a bat? There are several areas on the diamond where the bats have been lack-luster, but some positions are more barren than others. Take catcher, for example, or third base. The Pirates aren't going to usurp their gold-glove first baseman in Ke'Bryan Hayes, nor will they be likely to add a catcher to take at-bats away from Henry Davis.

Second base has seemingly been solved by Nick Gonzales, who's been the best hitter on the team to this point in the season, and shortstop is obviously locked down by Oneil Cruz. This gives us two main areas for the Pirates to focus their search: first base and the outfield. Which should they prioritize?

As MLB trade deadline approaches, should Pittsburgh Pirates add power to first base or the outfield?

It has been rough to watch Tellez at the plate this season, as he's put together one small stretch of good baseball over two and a half months of play, and doesn't give the team much value in the way of baserunning or defensive value. Taylor, on the other hand, has been much worse at the plate, but plays some of the best center field in the game and would likely win another Gold Glove if he played a full season.

However, beyond Taylor there have also been some struggling players. Olivares has given the Pirates below average offense as well as bad defense in right field, and Jack Suwinski has been in a rut all season on both fronts, regressing across the board from a 2023 season where he put up 26 home runs and a 112 wRC+. Bryan Reynolds and Connor Joe have been the only consistent outfielders for the Pirates so far, with Joe also splitting time at first base.

While Tellez has been the Pirates' worst player in terms of fWAR, Joe has helped hold up the Pirates' platoon at first base, where the Pirates only rank 20th in fWAR despite being -0.2 at the position, and 18th in wRC+ at 92. On the other hand, the outfield as a whole has ranked 25th in fWAR and 20th in wRC+, with center field being the Pirates' worst position, ranking 29th in both fWAR and wRC+.

This season, first base has been a crapshoot across baseball with some of the worst production at the position in terms of OPS since 1916, during the Dead-Ball era. There are very few options for the Pirates to explore and the bigger names that could be on the market, such as Vladimir Guerrero jr. and Pete Alonso, are sure to cost a fortune.

The Pirates only need a bat who can hit right-handed pitchers to platoon with Joe, and there's only so much value to be recouped there versus the rest of the league. If the Pirates wish to find an advantage, focusing on the outfield can certainly provide that, with an abundance of options available across baseball. The Pirates can push Taylor into more of a defensive 4th-OF role and replace Olivares and/or Suwinski with better-producing options such as Taylor Ward or Jesse Winker.

The Pirates need to add bats to lengthen the lineup and they should focus that search on the outfield before anything else. While the Pirates may not go after a headlining type such as Luis Robert Jr., there are still plenty of other options available to strengthen the roster that the Pirates can go for. A couple additions could be all they need to take that extra step to the postseason.