The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t an exciting team to preview ahead of the 2020 season. They lost 93 games in 2019 and while PECOTA predicts them to pick up an extra W in 2020, the outlook is pretty bleak.
Beginning a rebuild isn’t much fun for any fan base. In the Pirates’ position, it’s pretty unpleasant. They are lacking core talents that will be on their next contender, and the two best players on their roster – Felipe Vazquez and Jameson Taillon – are not going to take the field in 2020. Vazquez shouldn’t play baseball again.
Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia were signed in free agency to bolster the outfield after sending Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks. JT Riddle provides infield depth and Derek Holland will compete for a roster spot in Spring. Luke Maile will get plenty of starts behind the dish.
The Pirates haven’t won the division since 1992. They have been under .500 for four seasons on the bounce – that streak is going to get much longer. Their roster has more talent than several others, but with a farm ranked 17th by Bleacher Report at the end of 2019, work needs to be done before the long-term outlook is rosy.
Players to trade
It’s a roster without star power, but it’s also a roster with some half-decent players. Plenty of the 2020 Pirates are desirable to contending teams, and Pittsburgh should prioritise finding value for those assets. They only recouped a player to be named later and slot money for Corey Dickerson: this rebuild will be a long one if that’s the pattern.
Gregory Polanco, for all the promise when he was the third outfielder next to Andrew McCutchen and Marte, has become a so-so Major Leaguer. Staying healthy is always an issue, and he is projected to be barely above league average by ZiPS. With four years of team control, he may still have value.
Adam Frazier is only into his first year of arbitration, and doesn’t have big enough splits to be massively appealing. Again, though, the team control and versatility would likely tempt a contender or two looking to bolster their bench in July.
A Keone Kela trade is increasingly inevitable. ZiPS have him striking out over 30% of hitters in 2020 and pitching well above league average. He’s the sort of hard-thrower that teams will give up half-decent upside prospects for. Other relievers have the potential to get a return of note.
The Pirates need to be open-minded. Timing is key as a rebuild begins. Getting decisions right this year could change their fortunes in 2022 and beyond.
Top prospects arriving
Ke’Bryan Hayes and Mitch Keller are set for significant Major League time in 2020. They should both be on the next semi-good Pirates team. The pair had poor 2019 seasons, however, and Pittsburgh desperately need that to turn round in 2020.
Kevin Kramer will likely join them in the Majors this coming season. The pitching side of the system improved last season, but it’s a thin group. Fellow National League rebuilders have more at the lower levels than the Pirates, who are oh-so dependent on Hayes and Keller turning into key components.
A glance at the farm reiterates the need to add any prospects they can. A couple of trades and a few breakouts and it can quickly look very different.
Going back to the Andrew McCutchen deal and trading Chris Archer to the Rays, the Pirates have been in a muddle. This season is a chance to right some of the wrongs.
The Marte trade demonstrates an acceptance of their situation. Pittsburgh are heading into the depths of a rebuild. The Major League roster has enough talent to avoid a humiliating 100-loss-plus season. On that same note, they have the players to help restock the farm. Players who can get return prospects to be on the next good Pittsburgh team alongside Hayes, Keller and Bryan Reynolds.
It’s just the start of a long process. The reluctance to increase payroll makes it trickier, but it could be much worse. The Pirates’ future could be so much brighter in 12 months time if the front office navigate the 2020 season well.