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Pirates Roundtable: Where else do the Pirates need to add for the 2023 season?

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The Pittsburgh Pirates added veteran infielder Chris Owings on a minor league deal, which we learned about yesterday.

Prior to this move, I asked Pirates Prospects writers where else the Pirates need to add for the 2023 season.

With all due respect to Owings, I’m not sure that anyone had a backup middle infielder as the biggest need. Then again, in keeping with the theme of this article, I’m making that assumption without having read what everyone else had to say.

As usual for Roundtable, all responses are submitted blind, so no one knows how anyone else is going to answer the question.

Where else do the Pirates need to add for the 2023 season?

JOHN DREKER

This question can be answered at least two ways. I’ll start by saying I see the Pirates winning around 76 games this year, with a little bit better performance during the second half. If they decide to keep all of the impending free agents like Rich Hill, Carlos Santana, etc, then maybe they can do a little better if the group of top prospects at the upper levels don’t fall flat.

You would need to add something to that group to give them a playoff shot if everything went right, but it doesn’t mean you’re a really good team if you just sneak into the playoffs under the new system with more playoff teams.

So this question is, do you want to block some prospects in order to possibly sneak into the playoffs? Or do you want a legit playoff team that can go somewhere? I don’t think they have the resources for the second part, and I really don’t know if those difference makers are available right now.

Answering the first part, the outfield still looks like it could add a starter. There seems to be room for improvement, especially with Andrew McCutchen likely to play DH most of the time. You basically still have Bryan Reynolds and a bunch of question marks. I don’t know if I’d be willing to add someone over giving legit shots to guys like Cal Mitchell and Jack Suwinski a chance to see what they could do with regular playing time now that they have MLB experience.

Assuming they could add a legit outfielder, then I’d want to see a better catcher as the backup than any of the available players already in the system. It’s another spot where I’d be hesitant to add because I think Endy Rodriguez will end up in a platoon role by mid-season. If we are adding players though, then I’d want a legit backup. Those two additions would move the needle on those slim playoff chances from almost zero to an actual full percentage number.

ETHAN HULLIHEN

To me, this is fairly easy. Not to say that the options are all the best, but most of the roster is set at this point.

The bullpen and rotation are overflowing with options, there are too many outfielders that need to be sorted through, and most of the starting infielders are set. If anything, backup catcher could be better, but either Tyler Heineman or Jason Delay will keep Endy Rodriguez’s spot warm until he’s ready. That leaves backup shortstop as the only glaring hole, at least in my opinion.

Currently, the options vying for second base are the options to backup Oneil Cruz. Hopefully Cruz can be a mainstay there this season, but any of the other players in the mix can hardly play the position well enough to give Cruz a day off, much less if he goes down with an injury.

Rodolfo Castro has proven not to be the best option at short, while Ji Hwan Bae doesn’t really have the arm for it. I guess the other player competing for a bench spot in spring is Tucupita Marcano, but he’s not exactly the best fit for shortstop either. With neither seeing time in Triple-A yet, I personally don’t think Jared Triolo or Liover Peguero are options at this point.

Based on how Ben Cherington has talked, I think any option at this point in the offseason is going to be a Non-Roster Invite. Bae and Marcano may be in direct competition for backup utility infielder/outfielder, but a veteran middle infielder who can play shortstop wouldn’t hurt this team going into the season.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above response was submitted on 2/1, a day prior to the Owings signing.

WILBUR MILLER

Their two biggest needs are general manager and manager, but that’s not going to happen so I’ll go with the bullpen.

The concept of “adding” at a particular spot does have its pitfalls, because it leads to a check-the-box mentality. It’d be better to think of it simply as adding talent, not a particular position. In that sense, the Pirates’ two biggest player needs are the same as they were going into the off-season: catcher and first base. They may end up worse at other positions, although I doubt it, but from the standpoint of potential, those are the two spots where they remain the furthest behind other teams.

But the Pirates have checked those boxes, so the bullpen is the obvious place to add, unless they’d be willing to ditch Vince Velasquez. They probably have enough on hand now that, with a few breaks, they could end up with at least a solid bullpen. Of course, Derek Shelton’s obsession with middle relievers and his tendency to value tenure over talent won’t help, but the potential is there.

They’ve got an extremely volatile situation, though, as the relievers in the current pool with the most established track records are mostly the ones with the lower ceilings, specifically Duane Underwood Jr., Wil Crowe and Chase De Jong. Guys like Robert Stephenson, Yerry De Los Santos and Jose Hernandez are going to be very hit-or-miss, and Colin Holderman is a significant health risk (as is David Bednar, if Shelton uses him carelessly again).

Adding more options, especially lefties, is never going to be a bad thing, as long as it’s guys with some upside, no matter how risky.

ANTHONY MURPHY

I think looking at the major league roster without taking into consideration the prospects they have in the system, the position that probably still needs to be upgraded the most is catcher. Austin Hedges and Tyler Heineman (assuming he does win the back up spot to start) form quite the formidable duo defensively, but leave plenty to be desired when it comes to the bat.

Of course, two of the team’s top prospects also catch, one is already on the 40-man roster, so this is what they are going to enter the season with and have to deal with until one of the other two are deemed ready.

There’s also the outfield, as there are still plenty of names, but none that really stand out. They brought in Andrew McCutchen, but if he takes the majority of his reps at DH, that really didn’t solve anything on the field.

The biggest glaring need right now, for me, is who is going to backup up Oneil Cruz at shortstop. Hopefully he plays as many games as possible, making a backup shortstop a very low priority, but it would be nice to have an option behind him that they can feel comfortable with playing against lefties to give Cruz a break if he is in a slump.

It really doesn’t do any good to have Liover Peguero sit on the bench, and while Jared Triolo could be an option, he hasn’t played much at shortstop professionally. They could slide Rodolfo Castro over to shortstop, but that’d force Ji-Hwan Bae or Tucupita Marcano (both left-handed) at second base to face fellow left-handers.

It may not be a big need, but definitely something the Pirates should look out there to see if they can address it.

JEFF REED

There aren’t many areas I think the Pirates could really upgrade without it having to be a trade with purpose. Which, with some of the upper level depth they have, it may not be the worst idea.

Backup catcher would be one glaring area. Tyler Heineman probably has the inside track, with Jason Delay and Carter Bins as other possibilities. My original off-season plan would’ve been to swing a trade for Danny Jansen, but that time has passed. Austin Hedges is the number one for now, but if he gets hurt, it will be painful until Super 2 date arrives for Endy Rodriguez.

A backup shortstop is an area of need. I’m not sure if bringing in Chris Owings was an attempt at this, but a trusted backup shortstop would be useful for when Oneil Cruz needs a day off.

Bullpen’s always need additions. But they’re also extremely fungible, while the Pirates have a slew of bullpen likely arms in the upper levels. I think the best additions here will come from within their existing depth.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above response was submitted on 2/2, after the Owings signing was announced.

TIM WILLIAMS

I’m going to keep my answer short: The Pirates could use a veteran reliever to pair with David Bednar. They were running into usage issues with Bednar last year, and that was with a 62-win team. The 2023 squad projects to win more games, which will put more of a demand on Bednar.

I like the middle relief depth the Pirates have put together. There are a few pitchers who I could see emerging as strong leverage relievers by the end of the year — just as Bednar did in his 2021 season. I don’t think the Pirates should bank on this happening, as they run the risk of having no one but Bednar if the depth falls apart.

Adding a veteran leverage reliever can help to keep the middle relief depth strong in middle relief, rather than demanding that someone step up to fill a need. This will also add more structure and options to the bullpen, making Derek Shelton’s job easier — especially during the dog days of summer.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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