Williams: The Pirates Are Winners Again, But There’s More That Could Be Celebrated in 2019

There was a time not long ago when an 82 win season for the Pirates would have been cause for celebration. Times have changed.

It’s not wrong to celebrate 82 wins. It’s not wrong to want something more. Baseball would be a pretty miserable sport to follow if it was just “World Series or bust”, and part of the enjoyment of the sport is celebrating everything good that happens from game one and game 162. Celebrating win number 82 is part of that, but if that’s the end of the celebrations, it leaves something to be desired.

That something will hopefully come in 2019. The best part of the 82 win season for the Pirates is that it provides hope. The Pirates were projected to be a team around .500 at best this season, and a 100-loss team by pessimists. Reaching that 82 win total, and done so with a team that has its key contributors around for the next few years, gives hope that this is a team that can improve in 2019 and beyond.

But those improvements won’t come by just putting the same team on the field. The Pirates are going to need some improvements this offseason.

They already improved the pitching staff at the trade deadline, and that group is looking good heading into the offseason.

In the rotation, Jameson Taillon has turned into a top of the rotation guy. Chris Archer looked like the Chris Archer the Pirates expected to get during the month of September. Trevor Williams was a 2.5 WAR player with some of the best results on the team and in the league. Ivan Nova and Joe Musgrove also provided average or slightly above average results.

The bullpen looks strong, led by Felipe Vazquez, and with newly added Keone Kela providing a strong eighth inning guy. Breakout guys Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez give the Pirates two more solid options in the eighth inning.

If the Pirates add pitching this offseason, it would only be needed for additional depth.

Their key need is on the offensive side. The offense wasn’t the worst in baseball. They finished 11th in the majors in average, 17th in OBP, and 16th in slugging. They were 20th in wOBA and 16th in wRC+. There is clearly room for improvement there, and that doesn’t even consider that the Pirates could be without Gregory Polanco for two and a half months in 2019, which means they need to add to get back to this level.

Things started yesterday with the Pirates announcing that their hitting coaches — Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey — won’t be returning in 2019. It’s hard to say how much of an impact a new hitting coach, or hitting coaches, will have on the 2019 offense. And a new hitting coach can’t be the only change made for 2019.

The Pirates have very few positions that aren’t question marks. They are fine behind the plate with Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz splitting time. They have Starling Marte in center field, and Corey Dickerson in left field, with fewer questions for the latter after a strong finish to the year.

From there, you have questions at each spots, young players who could be options at each spot, but enough question marks that warrant outside additions.

First base and third base are similar stories. Josh Bell and Colin Moran have displayed more power in the past, whether it’s the majors for Bell, or the minors for Moran. I feel the Pirates should give each player a shot to rebound in 2019, with a backup plan needed at each spot.

The backup plan at first base could be Cervelli. Elias Diaz looks like a starting option behind the plate, and the Pirates could go with him as a starter at catcher and move Cervelli to first base if Bell struggles.

The backup plan at third base could be Ke’Bryan Hayes, if he’s ready by mid-season. Kevin Kramer could be another option, but this is another “if he’s ready” situation. Jung Ho Kang is another option as a backup plan, but it’s hard to say what kind of production he can provide after very little time playing baseball the last two years.

The Pirates might have some options at the middle infield spots internally. Kevin Newman didn’t have a great debut, but could be ready enough to take over the starting job, perhaps with the Pirates having someone like Jordy Mercer as a backup, or splitting time early in the season until Newman can fully claim the job.

Adam Frazier has done enough to earn a starting job at either second base or right field. The fact that he can play either position gives the Pirates an advantage this offseason, as they can look for outside help at either spot, and go with Frazier as a starter in the spot where they don’t add someone.

I don’t know who specifically would be options for the Pirates at any position. But it seems their best bet would be adding someone to either start at second base or in right field, adding an option for shortstop to split time with Kevin Newman, and maybe adding another infielder who can provide some depth or insurance for all of the question marks they currently have.

The Pirates are in a good situation financially heading into next season, with a lot of money projected to be available to spend. This past offseason saw the Brewers in a similar situation, and they spent that money wisely, which resulted in them winning the NL Central yesterday. The Pirates are set up to where they can do the same with the right moves.

They finished with 82 wins this year, which is a good reason to celebrate. But there’s plenty more that could be celebrated next year, and the Pirates have the ability to make all of that happen with their offseason plan.

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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