For sixteen teams the point of this 60 game season has just become apparent. A chance to win a championship, for some a rare opportunity, for others an annoying extended battle more difficult than their yearly coronation tends to be.
Here in Pittsburgh, a familiar position, outside looking in, but the path to get here has provided less evidence than a typical 162 game season would provide. Today we’re going to discuss what we learned, what we would have liked to have learned and potential paths forward. I’m not ready to try to predict how they’ll proceed yet, truth be told anyone who is you can bet is guessing, but we still can easily lay out the possible paths.
What We Learned
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes isn’t a hopeful figure anymore. I mean he isn’t going to hit .380 next season either, but I’m quite sure we now know he has power to all fields and an ability to bat in the middle of the order. If anything he’ll be challenged more next season as scouting reports make their way around the league. The exciting part there is his hits have come from all over the zone and to all fields, typically I’d tell you that is scouting kryptonite but I watched Bryan Reynolds this season so…
2. Young Starting Pitching isn’t Hopeless. Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker, Cody Ponce and Steven Brault all showed sparks of brilliance right along side growing pains but still overall impressive. Focusing on the young starters is important if only because we can be reasonably assured they’ll be here in 2021.
3. Joe Musgrove has the stuff. We’ve known this for some time, but we’ve rarely seen him put it together for more than a few innings at any one time, this season we saw him finish the season with two elite starts. That’s not an overstatement in any way either. Now, will they keep him or deal him?
4. Jacob Stallings is an elite defender. If we’re honest, most of us knew this before we started the season, but he really stepped it up. He’ll be a Gold Glove finalist in all likelihood and the season could have been 500 games long, he’d still have gotten that recognition.
5. Trevor Williams Odd man out? Unless the Pirates move multiple starting options out of town, I can’t see a spot for Trevor in the rotation. His last start was pretty good, but pretty good is his pinnacle. If you got that consistently you could make an argument that he is an anchor type pitcher, no extreme lows in exchange for no extreme highs, but he hasn’t been that. I think we’ve seen enough evidence to know what he is now.
What We Didn’t Learn
1. What Does Cole Tucker’s Future look like? Is he the center fielder? Does he jump back to SS? Let’s be honest, he’s not a natural in the outfield. He’s a talented defender with speed and athleticism but he needs real training. If they choose to continue using him as an outfielder they have to help him find the confidence to recognize what balls are his and to recognize when to break off the bat. I believe he could do this, but it isn’t fair to the pitching staff or the team to have him learn by attrition in MLB.
2. Who is this club’s first baseman? Colin Moran outplayed Josh Bell for most of the season. I wish that meant he hit .320 but he did hit 10 home runs and held down the position with more confidence than bell. If the league reverts to no DH this is very much so an either or situation. Heading back to third isn’t an option for Colin now that Hayes has provided a sample of what he can provide. This is one of those real 60 game discussions because Josh could very well have hit one of those meteoric hot streaks and surpassed Colin’s output but there is little denying that Moran provided the closest thing they have to a consistent power bat in 2020.
3. Did Kevin Newman’s analytics match his output? In a word, yes. He came back to earth a bit but his saving grace is he also didn’t have the same contact numbers he enjoyed in 2019. I still consider Newman as someone who needs to play, and while he isn’t the best defender at SS, it might just be where he fits.
What Option Will They Take this Off Season?
1. Option 1, Almost Nothing This would be an option for more than a few reasons. One the starting rotation of Taillon, Musgrove, Keller, Brubaker, Kuhl, Brault (and yes I know I listed 6) could actually be pretty solid. I could see them potentially moving one (probably Musgrove) and leaving it alone beside that. The next wave of prospects are really Cruz (and who knows what will come of that), Craig (I already talked about first base being congested) and Oliva. They may not feel they’re ready to dismantle.
2. Option 2, Tear Down This is making the most of positional depth and players who have value. For this to work they need to put themselves in position for the team to take a leap in 2022-23 and moving a Musgrove, Bell, Moran, Gonzalez, Polanco if you can, Frazier and a few relievers who showed themselves useful. Next year would suffer but honestly it certainly couldn’t be much worse than this season was.
3. Option 3, Strategic Alterations Move players they have ready replacements for. One of the starters, Maybe Frazier or Gonzalez, Moran or Bell, Polanco (could really fit any option) and give some of the youngsters a chance to increase their value or show you their worth.
Certainly not all the options but I really don’t feel like having an argument that they won’t spend any money right this second. Especially when I don’t have any evidence they will. But I do see a way they could add about 30 million in payroll and make the club more competitive for 2021 plus give themselves more trade capital to accelerate the restocking of the system. I think it’s fair to say even a Corey Dickerson type pick up would accomplish this sort of change and with the likelihood that MLB returns another expanded playoff in 2021 why not see if you can stumble into the dance?
First things first, let’s watch for organizational changes, the Pirates clearly didn’t experience a whole lot of success with the bats this season and the last two weeks gave hope that the pitching program might take root. For those of us who love team building, this is the best time of the year, well, you know, aside from actually enjoying the fruits of a successful build in the first place.