These three players can make or break the Pirates' 2024 season

The Pirates likely won't be able to make a run in 2024 without significant contributions from all three of these players
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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With the start of the regular season just two weeks away, we have a pretty good idea of who will make up the majority of the Opening Day roster. This Pirates team possesses a plethora of both veterans and exciting young talent.

But recently, I found myself pondering this question: If [X player] were to either get hurt for an extended period of time or struggle badly, how screwed would the Pirates be? I kept filling in the blank with different players to determine whose prolonged absence or struggles would have the greatest negative impact on the Pirates' 2024 season, as well as the likelihood that said player might scuffle throughout the upcoming campaign.

This is what I came up with:

Honorable mentions: Bryan Reynolds, Ke'Bryan Hayes, David Bednar

I know, I know. Three pretty big names right off the bat that didn't make my list. I felt compelled to mention all three players based on their obvious talent and importance to the organization. But part of the logic of not including them in the top three is that I don't have as many concerns about the performance of any of those players.

Giving Reynolds a mulligan for the COVID season, he has a career .846 OPS, and has never posted a full-season mark worse than last year's .790. Despite no longer being a regular center fielder (and a now-diminished likelihood of him needing to slide over there this year), his floor is still very high.

The same applies for Ke'Bryan Hayes. Even if he can't quite duplicate his offensive improvements from a season ago - he ended play on May 30 with a .621 OPS but posted an .868 mark the rest of the way - his elite defense makes him a valuable player regardless. He still accumulated 6.6 WAR from 2021-2022 despite being a below-average hitter both seasons.

Bednar is also pretty safe. His 39 saves led the NL last year, and his ERA since joining the Pirates in 2021 (2.25) is bested only by Emmanuel Clase, Devin Williams, and Jacob deGrom in that span (minimum 150 innings pitched). Bednar also comes with the benefit of heading the Pirates' strongest unit, a bullpen that added Aroldis Chapman and his career 321 saves and 40.3 percent strikeout rate.