Williams: Evaluating the Pirates’ Rebuild Efforts, and What They Still Need to Contend

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates have had a busy week, to say the least.

They traded for Bryce Brentz. They signed Michael Saunders. They traded for Corey Dickerson. They released Michael Saunders. And today they signed left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist. Five days of moves, and in the end it amounts to three players who have a very good chance to be on the Opening Day roster.

This offseason has been slow around the league, which is why Spring Training games are starting and teams are still so active in adding players. The Pirates made some big moves earlier to trade away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. That had them taking a step back, but they followed that step back by saying that they were looking to contend in 2018. I previously wrote that the idea could work, as long as they added players. I don’t know if Dickerson and a few bench and bullpen options are enough, but they’re definitely adding players and trying for something this year.

After the addition of Dickerson, Neal Huntington talked about how the trades of McCutchen and Cole will also help the upcoming club.

“When we moved the two veteran players in McCutchen and Cole — one was one year away from free agency, one was two years away from free agency — we acquired six players, four of whom will play immediate roles or have a legitimate chance to play immediate roles on our major-league club and could be here to help us win for three years to come,” Huntington said. “We added to the two prospect outfielders. In [the Dickerson trade], we gave a really interesting prospect infielder, but we added an outfielder that has a chance to have control this year and next and also adds to our existing major-league club.

“So, it was quality in the door. We gave up two very good players. And we feel like we’ve backfilled our major-league club because it was our best available return.”

I’ve raised concerns about the Pirates’ long-term plan, writing about that in detail on Thursday. I think they’re going to get back to the point of being winners and contenders. The problem I see is that they have an approach of trying to remaining competitive for the long-term, rather than trying to go all-in when they’re in a window of competing. So while I think they’ll get back to winning and contending, I don’t think their plan will lead to more than a Wild Card appearance, and won’t lead to them being one of the stronger teams in the league.

But let’s ignore the long-term for now. Let’s look at how they’re doing in the short-term, specifically in regards to how close they are to contending.

I agreed with the idea of trading Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen this offseason. I also liked the returns in those deals for different individual reasons.

The Cole trade brought back Colin Moran, who made a pretty significant change to his game last year to add power. We haven’t seen whether that will carry over to the majors, or how much it will carry over to the majors. I’m optimistic about his chances of being a productive MLB starting third baseman at the least, and I think he has a chance to provide an impact in the lineup.

I don’t think Joe Musgrove will be more than a back of the rotation starter, but I could see him providing some value. ZiPS has him as a 1.7 WAR pitcher in 2018 over 117 innings, and that would be a good result for the rotation.

The bullpen received potential upgrades in Michael Feliz from the Gerrit Cole trade and Kyle Crick in the McCutchen trade. I’m a bigger fan of getting back Bryan Reynolds in the McCutchen deal, while acknowledging that McCutchen’s name value exceeds his trade value at this point. Feliz has already shown the ability to be a good middle reliever, and he could have a shot at being a late inning guy. I see a lot of similarities between his numbers and the numbers from Felipe Rivero when he arrived with the Pirates. If the Pirates get the same result, they’ll have a dominant late inning combo. Crick has the stuff to be a quality reliever, and joins a growing group of players the Pirates have brought in this offseason who have velocity, strikeouts, and can help boost the bullpen.

If you look at some of the problem spots for the Pirates last year, they definitely include third base and the bullpen as two of the biggest weaknesses. Adding Moran, and adding to the bullpen to the extent that the Pirates have done (Feliz, Crick, Siegrist, Jordan Milbrath, Josh Smoker, plus various minor league free agents, and the very real possibility of converting Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault over to the bullpen) has filled some major holes.

The Pirates created some holes in the trades if they want to compete in 2018. They created a hole in the rotation and in the outfield. They helped to fill the outfield hole with the additions of Dickerson as a starter, and Brentz as a potential lefty mashing guy off the bench.

I also like that the Pirates have collected a lot of higher upside guys to their team who can potentially exceed their projections. That’s through the addition of Moran, their bullpen options, or just with a lot of the younger guys already on the team. That’s something that worked for them in 2013-15, but something they got away from the last two years.

The biggest thing I see holding the Pirates back right now is the lack of a top of the rotation option. I’m high on Jameson Taillon to be that, but I think they need a second option in order to have a shot at making the playoffs. And even if they had a shot at making the Wild Card game right now, who would pitch that game? You’re banking on Taillon alone at this point, hoping that he becomes a top of the rotation guy this year.

I like the rotation depth right now, with Taillon leading the way, along with guys like Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, and Joe Musgrove capable of providing league average numbers or better. I just think a contending rotation needs another top of the rotation option.

I could see the Pirates having a shot at reaching the Wild Card game at this point. I just think their best shot of that happening involves adding another top of the rotation pitcher, either through an established guy, or by going back to their reclamation project ways.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Easy: sign Arieta!

Brian Z

I’m not sold on him, he lost a lot of velocity (oddly that started once he got called out for PEDs….) And he wants about $30 million per year. Pass!!!

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