This is a more difficult question than it seems. First, it only takes a weak spot or two to cast a shadow on an entire club and the Bucs certainly have a few of those. It matters where they are placed as well, for instance, you can work around a poor defender at first base (thank god right?) but if you have a bad defender at short stop, chances are you have a bad rating as a club.
Now that’s a general answer, the Pirates biggest problem is they have question marks in some areas and in some key spots where players are locked in they’re lacking defensively.
The Pirates had 2 Gold Glove finalists this year as Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings both finished 2nd at Catcher and Second Base, but Adam played a decent amount of outfield toward the end of the season. If Adam isn’t a lock to play second then you have to assume its because the Pirates still believe Erik Gonzalez is still a starter and Newman is the second baseman. Another way they could go is to give up on turning Cole Tucker into a Center Fielder and move him back to Short. Either way, they take Frazier out of a spot he has finished near the top of the league two straight seasons defensively. Of course he could also entirely be moved off the club but the result would largely be the same.
If defense is as important to Ben Cherington as he has stated, and shown in his free agent signings last year, why the propensity to play people out of position?
Now, bats matter too. For instance, Josh Bell is clearly never going to be a defensive stalwart but you also can’t have him on your team if you aren’t going to have him hit, so they’ll take a defensive hit, in order to chance that he will, well, hit.
Ke’Bryan Hayes is, on the other hand, the best of both worlds. He hits, and he fields, and playing a full season at the hot corner automatically makes him an upgrade at the position. Bryan Reynolds is a plus defender at either corner and average in center, last season he clearly wasn’t the plan out there but trades, cuts, and injury led to Bryan being the best option left standing by the end. Next season if there are no deals or signings, Anthony Alford, Cole Tucker, and Bryan Reynolds will again be options to patrol spacious center field at PNC, but again, what if you want Frazier out there?
Polanco will get handed a roster spot, his payroll figure and lack of out clauses dictate that, but he isn’t guaranteed a starting spot. I say that while 100% assuming he will indeed start in Right Field on most nights, at least to start the season. There is one quote hanging out there from Ben Cherington that would lead one to believe the club would be comfortable with the highest paid player on the team becoming a bench piece, but I’ll have to see it to believe it. Outfield options we started to list up there can and will be augmented by Jared Oliva and possibly even O’neil Cruz although I have the same questions about him playing out there as I did when they decided to toss Tucker in Center without any training.
The best way I can clarify the question about the defense is really this, they have pieces to put together that would make up a pretty solid defense, but some of the biggest upside batters would have to sit.
For instance, if I wanted to focus on defensive improvement alone My lineup would look like this; LF-Reynolds, CF-Alford, RF-Oliva, 3B-Hayes, SS-Tucker, 2B-Frazier, 1B-Moran, C-Stallings. Now that ignores the fact that Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco, Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman end up on my bench, but purely from a defensive standpoint the team would improve. If you want to flip Cruz in for Tucker, fine, I don’t believe Cruz to be quite as good as Tucker there but it’s closer than not.
That’s not a lineup that even on their best day is going to put the fear into any pitchers and ultimately they’ll have to strike a balance. Looking at all the pieces here or potentially here, it’s clear there will be some very viable position battles if Cherington doesn’t make some moves.
The bottom line, no, the Pirates are very much so still a poor defensive club, they have parts and pieces that could remedy that, but the offense can’t afford the changes.