I can’t see this happening, but the longer the offseason progresses with no moves of significance the more plausible it becomes. Today, let’s spend some time living in a world where the club kicks the can down the road, at least to the trade deadline and see if we can make sense of how it might play out.
Even when decisions aren’t made, cause and effect are still in play.
Believe it or not, there is a decent sized contingency of fans who think this path is the way to go, so let’s use this as a baseline for exactly what the Pirates have available to put on the field with no additions.
The easiest way to start is to project the 26-man roster. Right now, we’ll go with the assumption that the DH will not be employed in the 2021 National League. The latest from the league has informed clubs to prepare for that eventuality. It’s actually really unfair to teams and some free agents that the league has left this floating around this long but that’s for another piece.
- Bryan Reynolds – Obvious, he’ll start in Left or Center and play most of the games if healthy.
- Gregory Polanco – Ton of money committed and when you see the other two, well, they couldn’t really cut him even if they didn’t care about paying him for not playing.
- Anthony Alford – When your own drafting has been less than stellar it leads to being more than happy to try someone else’s out. Alford will get a shot to show he belongs.
- Jared Oliva – I can’t see entering the season with untested entities as the fourth outfielder and I’m not ready to put Adam Frazier out there regularly. So Oliva comes North out of Spring on my team.
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes – I’ve heard some people propose that the Pirates might manipulate service time with Ke to start the season but I don’t see it. They did that last year and typically once it’s been done, that stuff is over. Plus if they do that they might as well set up Home Alone style booby traps for fans in the concourse.
6. Josh Bell – Obviously the first baseman, well, if the goal is to have him create value anyway.
7. Colin Moran – Arguably better than Bell in the field, far more consistent too. I could make an argument for Moran to start over Bell but regardless they both make the team clearly.
8. Erik Gonzalez – No options and a fresh new MLB contract. It’s not a big one so if things turned out the Bucs could walk away from this pretty easily. I think he’s a bench guy, hope the team feels the same. Erik also has a wild card in his pocket, he can play third base and unless the Bucs want to revisit Moran over there, that’s essential.
9. Adam Frazier – Two time Gold Glove finalist at second base on a team that struggles to not kick the ball around the infield at times. He’s my starting second baseman and I’d be done with the outfield stuff. He can go get it but the arm doesn’t play.
10. Kevin Newman – 2019 might not have made sense to analytics junkies but it also can’t be ignored. His biggest issue might be that he’s the least talented defender of the three options to start at short.
11. Jacob Stallings – No brainer, he’s the starter and just as no brainer you need two.
12. Michael Perez – He’s a back up catcher. He isn’t going to push Jake, but he can handle the job. Not much more to be said.
The Last Position Spot (if it stays at 26)
13. Cole Tucker/Phil Evans – This is in my mind the final decision the club will make. Cole has options so he could start in AAA, and if they plan to turn him into an outfielder that’s exactly what I’d advise. Evans had a really nice start in 2020 but let’s not forget he, like Alford is someone else’s pick that never panned out. I’m not saying he shouldn’t get a shot, but let’s not act like it’s a national tragedy if he doesn’t make the cut. If I had to pick right now, I’d take him over Tucker if only for options and I think Cole will benefit from playing games at whatever position they see him playing.
Pitching (I Expect the Rule to Revert to 13 Max)
14. Jameson Taillon – Fresh off his second TJ, he’ll walk right back in with expectation to hold down a spot in the rotation.
15. Joe Musgrove – Probably the best bet to be the Pirates number 1. That doesn’t mean he’ll be one, but that will be the role.
16. Mitch Keller – Probably the most talented starter who hasn’t had his arm sewn back together. Mitch started showing signs but nothing that makes him a lock to stick yet.
17. Steven Brault – This year Brault should have to lose his spot rather than fight to get a seat in the first place. Everything he does don’t individually impress but his collective output does.
18. Chad Kuhl – Probably showed enough last season to start, but he’s on the bubble. I could see him get pushed by JT Brubaker and that’s not a bad problem to have.
19. JT Brubaker – I think he showed enough to easily make the team as a swing man if not directly part of the rotation, could even be part of a rotation that helps slowly bring Jamo back to full strength.
20. Michael Feliz – New contract, and the team clearly likes what he’s done in the offseason. Potential 7th or 8th inning guy, outside shot at closing.
21. Richard Rodriguez – Probably the most consistent arm the Pirates have in the pen who has any kind of measurable track record. Could close again but he certainly isn’t prototypical.
22. Edgar Santana – It’s been a while, he was set to return from TJ last season and instead got pinged for performance enhancing drugs, ironically since he wasn’t allowed to perform anymore. He was an intriguing arm in 2018 and it’s impossible to say he still has what we saw until he shows it.
23. Chris Stratton – A legit find by Neal Huntington, Chris has more than convinced many he has the goods. His spin rate is elite and for stretches he is a steady presence in the pen.
24. Geoff Hartlieb – Probably got a shot in 2020 that he might have not received if not for all the injuries but he showed he belongs.
25. Sam Howard – The crafty lefty doesn’t have knockout stuff, but he also showed an ability to perplex batters from both sides of the plate. Another guy who took advantage of his shot.
26. Nik Turley – Another lefty who showed he could get outs no matter what role the team used him in. Hard to see him not making the club.
These are the guys who you might not expect to miss the cut but if this team doesn’t make any moves I think for different reasons they won’t be part of the club on opening day.
Kyle Crick – If Kyle has his fastball and shows an ability to control the slider, he’s essential. If he doesn’t there is no place to hide the former fireballing righty.
Blake Cederlind – I don’t think the Bucs could keep him down for long, but the way the roster sets up I think the Pirates will take advantage of his options. You can call this manipulation if you want but it might be a numbers game not related to money too.
Nick Mears – Nick has a bright future and if I’m honest he never should have made his debut last season. Don’t get me wrong he had to, but in no way was he ready. Don’t sleep on Mears, he will one day really be a nice piece.
Now, I don’t assume I’ve told you anything you didn’t already know here and I could of course be off on some of the bullpen arms. The Pirates did sign some players like Austin Davis, Sean Poppen, and Ashton Goudeau but before seeing them pitch I like the chances I’m right. I mean, the Pirates actually waived Goudeau and he was picked up by Baltimore with the team not even bothering to tell us.
When you really look at what’s here the holes are painfully obvious but if value isn’t where Cherington wants it in the offseason I wouldn’t be awfully shocked to see them head into 2021 looking a lot like this.
It’s not the end of the world if that’s the case, but there certainly isn’t enough in the system to say the work is done. It’s essential that someone start increasing their value, and as much as it hurts, those who aren’t part of the projected core need to be moved. The outfield situation alone should scare them straight.