The Pirates had the second-worst record in the NL last season and looking at their roster and farm system it seems like Pittsburgh needs to start a full-on rebuild.
Things aren’t exactly looking up these days for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Only Miami lost more games in the National League last season than Pittsburgh’s 93, and it led to the ouster of longtime manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington. Former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is now the executive vice president of baseball operations and former Minnesota coach Derek Shelton is the manager of a team in dire need of a rebuild.
The Pirates need to be taking a very patient approach with this team, with not much big league talent and a farm system that MLB.com ranked just 15th in March. I won’t use the dreaded T word here that’s also associated with the military, but let’s say it would be beneficial if Pittsburgh somehow bottomed out this season and found a way to improve its core of prospects.
A pandemic-altered year won’t be doing this organization any favors, with a shorter draft this year and possibly next year as well and the likely reduction of Minor League teams when a rebuilding club could use all the developmental tools it can get isn’t exactly an ideal situation. But the Buccos do have three prospects in MLB.com’s top 100, which is a nice start.
Top prospect Mitch Keller, 39th on the MLB list, made his debut last May and made 11 starts for the Pirates. Though the 24-year-old righty had a 7.13 ERA in those 48 innings and may need some time at Triple-A Indianapolis whenever we get back to normal, he’s still a cornerstone in Pittsburgh’s future plans.
Righty third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, MLB.com’s 41st ranked prospect, had a decent year with Indy, hitting .265/.336/.415 with 10 homers, 65 RBIs, 30 doubles and 12 steals, but those aren’t amazing, eye-popping numbers for the 23-year-old.
We saw some really nice progress from hulking 6-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz, the 64th ranked prospect. The 21-year-old hit .298/.356/.475 in 73 games across three levels, topping off at Double-A Altoona. He probably needs a full year in Double-A and Triple-A before going to Pittsburgh, but maybe he gets a look at some point.
Pittsburgh definitely has some players it could trade this season to significantly add to its prospect stockpile. With St. Louis looking strong after a division title, Chicago boasting a ton of talent, Milwaukee still looking like a playoff contender and Cincinnati adding pieces to accelerate its timeline, now’s the time for the Pirates to trade guys that are in the back end of their prime that won’t help them when they’re truly in contention in four or five years.
Though this hurts for Bucs fans to hear, that begins with 27-year-old All-Star first baseman Josh Bell. He’s only making $4.8 million this season after smacking 37 homers in 2019 and isn’t a free agent until after the 2022 season. Pittsburgh could get back multiple younger impact prospects that’ll enter their prime when the team will actually have a chance to be good. If the team wants to hold onto Bell to sell tickets that’s fine, but it’ll hurt the team on the field long term.
Huntington may have traded way, way too much for Chris Archer, but he’s on a pretty tradeable contract thanks to the extension the 31-year-old righty signed with Tampa Bay in 2014 with two club options, the first of which was triggered this year at $9 million. He’d only be on the books for $11 million next season, and a team may offer something decent for a well-liked veteran.
Other options the Pirates could deal are essentially every decent player in their late 20s and 30s as they head towards a necessary teardown. That includes Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Derek Holland and Jameson Taillon in the rotation, Keone Kela and virtually every reliever, Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman and Colin Moran in the infield and Gregory Polanco and Jarrod Dyson in the outfield.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to rebuild the right way, 2020 is not the time to be sentimental. If they can extract value from a veteran, they should do it. With four teams significantly better than Pittsburgh in the NL Central, the time to tear this down is now.