Status: No one really knows
The Pirates flirted with a wildcard push last season, but eventually dropped off to finish with an 82-79 record. A quiet offseason followed and another year in the near-.500 wilderness seems likely.
After trading for Chris Archer, Pittsburgh seemed like they might make some big moves this winter. Instead, they were one of the least active teams in Major League Baseball.
Jung Ho Kang has controversially returned to MLB and will compete for infield at bats. He’s most likely to be backup to Colin Moran at third and provides depth after Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer signed with the Tigers in free agency.
Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall was picked up on a cheap, one-year deal. He will, like Kang, be no more than a backup this season, though, providing injury and slump insurance against Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson.
Chisenhall and Kang add depth to an already solid offensive group.
Ivan Nova was traded to the White Sox for Yordi Rosario, leaving a roster spot open for free agent acquisition Jordan Lyles. Lyles pitched predominantly out of the bullpen for the Padres last season and will probably operate as a swingman.
The Pirates added another pitcher by claiming Aaron Slegers off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Slegers has struggled in eight career MLB appearances, but has been solid across 39 Triple-A starts in 2017 and 2018.
What to watch
Josh Bell was ranked the 27th best prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline in 2017. His 2018 campaign was pretty disappointing after finishing third in Rookie of the Year in 2017. A power drop off saw him hit just 12 bombs in ’18, a lowly mark for any first baseman. He’s got high upside and is a breakout candidate. Pairing his .466 slugging of ’17 with the 77 walk, 104 strikeout combo of ’18 would be something.
Not many 6.6 strikeout per nine pitchers flourish in MLB like Trevor Williams did last year. He overperformed his FIP by 0.75 of a run and a 3.11 ERA year is unlikely. If Williams can limit hard contact in a similar way, however, it will be a huge boost to the Pittsburgh rotation behind Archer, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon.
Injury means Polanco will miss the opening month of the season. His consistency once he returns, assuming he stays healthy, will be crucial. The Pirates’ rightfielder is a streaky hitter, flipping between below league average and All-Star level. Pittsburgh need a big year from him if they are to keep pace in the National League Central.
Being a small market team is hard. Even so, this winter has been underwhelming for the Pirates, who are projected by RotoChamp to finish bottom of the division.
The Archer deal opened a window. There’s enough on the roster, and plenty of upside, for Pittsburgh to be competitive. This was the time to spend a bit more and put themselves in the mix with the Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs, but finishing in the top three would be a shock, let alone making a playoff appearance.