Tha Sports Junkies 101

Pittsburgh Pirates: New Year, New Team

Pittsburgh Pirates: New Year, New Team Image via Sportsgraphics36


Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates missed the playoffs in 2016 for the first time in four years. While it was impressive to make the postseason for three years in a row from 2013 to 2015, it is important to note that they were a wildcard team, having finished second in the National League Central behind the St. Louis Cardinals in each of those seasons. In only one of those seasons did they make it out of the wildcard round, losing to that pesky St. Louis team in the 2013 NLDS. Even though they were able to field a competitive team, they always played second fiddle to the perennial powerhouse Cardinals.

Last year, the battle for the NL Central got even tougher, as the Chicago Cubs finally put all the pieces together to become a dominant team en route to their first World Series title since 1908. This left the Pirates as the third-best team in their division as they finished the season with a losing record of 78-83.

The sledding won’t get any easier for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017. The Cubs aren’t going anywhere, in fact, they may only get better. The Cardinals will find a way to compete as they always do. So what are the chances of the Pirates putting a team together that can send them back to the postseason? Let’s see how they look heading into the new season.

Off-Season Moves:

With a projected payroll around $100 million, it’s not surprising that the Pittsburgh Pirates have failed to make any big splashes in the free agent market. Perhaps the biggest news surrounding Pittsburgh this offseason has been the possible trade of All-star outfielder, Andrew McCutchen. We’ll get to that uncomfortable situation later, but for now let’s look at the moves that the Pirates did make so far.

The Pirates brought back right-handed starter Ivan Nova on a three-year, $26 million contract. Nova was acquired from the New York Yankees in a trade for two young prospects last summer. The change of venue proved beneficial for both Nova and the Pirates, as he posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.10 WHIP across 11 starts which included three complete games. Pittsburgh will look for Nova to continue that success in his first full year as a Pirate.

The only other significant addition for the Pittsburgh Pirates was the free agent signing of right-handed reliever Daniel Hudson, who will earn $11 million on a two-year contract that includes another $1.5 million in incentives. Hudson provides late-inning experience and much-needed right-handed bullpen depth after the loss of Neftali Feliz.

Now back to that uncomfortable situation. It’s no secret that Pirates GM Neal Huntington has been taking calls on their franchise player. Since the winter meetings began in early December, McCutchen has been linked to several teams including the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers. As we get closer to spring training, it is looking more and more likely that McCutchen will remain with Pittsburgh to start the season.

Although Cutch will likely begin the season as a Pirate, it has become obvious that the club doesn’t plan to keep McCutchen when his contract is up, as he will likely be eyeing a big payday. With an affordable contract ($14 million in 2017 and a $14.5 million club option in 2018) the All-star outfielder could bring a big return of prospects back to Pittsburgh in a trade. As I mentioned in my 2017 MLB Comeback Candidates piece, I believe Cutch will strengthen that asking price with a good performance in the first half of the season. It may not happen soon, but I expect Huntington to be fielding calls up until the trade deadline to see if a team can wow him with a great offer.

Expectations For 2017:

When you see a club that’s actively trying to trade their MVP, you would likely assume that they don’t have a chance at fielding a competitive team. However, that’s not the case with these Pirates. There is still plenty to be excited about if you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. Beginning with the starting rotation.

Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole had a down year last year as he dealt with some minor injuries (3.88 ERA, 1.44 WHIP). Now looking like he’s approaching full health, I expect something closer to his 2015 season in which he went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.

Behind Cole will be Nova, promising young righty Jameson Taillon, and some combination of Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, and/or Drew Hutchison filling out the rotation. Kuhl and Brault seem to be the favorites for a spot, but a little spring training competition may shake things up a bit.

The Pittsburgh line-up is nothing to laugh at either. That outfield trio of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco are still looking like the best in the business. Third basemen Jung Ho Kang (21 home runs in 103 games) and second basemen Josh Harrison (.283 BA and 19 stolen bases last year) have proven that they can perform. And rookie first basemen Josh Bell is primed for a breakout year in his first full season with the club.

Don’t forget about the other youngsters waiting to make their mark with the big league club. Top prospects like Kevin Newman (SS) and Austin Meadows (OF) will look to impress as they try to play their way onto the major league roster this year. Both received invites to spring training, however, it may be difficult to crack the roster unless a hole opens up. Perhaps a trade could provide that opportunity.


The Pirates have all the pieces necessary to compete for a division title and return to the postseason. They have the experience and desire to realize their potential. So what could stop them? Well, as I mentioned earlier, they play in the NL Central and will have to compete with the Cardinals and the world champion Cubs. Yeesh! That’s a daunting task, to say the least.

Call me a pessimist, but it seems as though the Pirates are starting the season competing for a wild card spot, not the division. It’s just the cards they’ve been dealt. The Cubs are just too good, from top to bottom, for the Pirates to legitimately believe they can keep pace with them. And I believe that’s one of the reasons why GM Neal Huntington is willing to listen to offers on his All-star, MVP outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Could they prove me wrong? Sure, and I would love it if they did. It would be good for baseball and it would make a great story, but I just don’t see it happening. The Pirates have plenty of good young talent that should keep them competitive in years to come. Another down year behind the dominant Cubs could be beneficial if it leads to a trade that brings even more young talent to Pittsburgh. That’s what I expect from them as they are likely to finish behind the Cubs again in 2017.