I probably get asked 20 times a week how many games the Pirates will win next season, most of those come with a prediction of 50 or something outlandish like that. Let’s be clear, that would be historically bad and while I’m not ready to rule it out simply because they could trade half the team by the middle of the season, I also think we might be discounting that not all these trades will equal total losses.
Let’s go through some of the factors I’ll be looking at before we get to prediction season and talk about some of those trades that might not hurt all that much.
We Just Don’t Know Who Stays or Goes
The chatter for Joe Musgrove has heated up, while the market for Adam Frazier has all but disappeared. That’s only two guys but they’re to two most likely trade candidates. I rarely discuss the relievers, those will crop up I’m sure but the Pirates have very few who would net too much of significance in return.
There is a difference between listening on anyone and actually trading everyone. With nobody really ready to push from the minors they might actually be wise to keep the off season moves relatively isolated to the guys who expire after 2022.
Here’s the issue with some of those guys, Taillon hasn’t thrown a pitch in anger for over a year and a half. Chad Kuhl just started building up toward the end of the 60 game season and getting a spot in the rotation isn’t a guarantee. Steven Brault is seen by many as a long man or spot starter so his value may not match what he provides for the Pirates, I mean good luck paying what he makes and getting what he provides.
Bottom line, I truly believe they’re open to move almost anyone, but they absolutely don’t have to.
Every Trade Makes the Pirates Worse
Does it? For instance, let’s say Josh Bell stayed, he and Colin Moran have some kind of weird platoon. I say weird because it was never going to be natural. If you only start Bell against left handers that’s rendering him half the player he is and without the DH both of those bats wouldn’t be in the lineup together anyway. As it stands Moran will get the lion’s share of starts at first and he’ll replace most of Bell’s production. 25 homeruns isn’t a stretch and that’s not all that much lower than what Bell has been producing, potentially with better defense.
If they trade Joe Musgrove, not too many ways to paint that as the club gets better. The only way it would work out is if Taillon returns to form. Meaning somewhere near June they’re done babying his arm and let him pitch, and he manages to not fall apart. Now if I have those concerns about Taillon, don’t you think other clubs would too? But it could add up to a rotation that actually becomes pretty ok.
If Adam Frazier is moved, they have any number of ways to go to fill the spot. He’s a good player but if they replaced his at bats with even a combination of Tucker and Gonzalez, how much worse are they really? This could even open the door for Rodolfo Castro to make his way to the Pirates. At the end of the day, it won’t mean they’re 10 games worse.
The NL Central is in Disarray
We don’t know what everyone will get done, but for clarity sake, it’s clear the Cubs and Reds are diving into at least light reconstruction, if not full rebuilds. The Cubs could have easily waited another year and the Reds should have waited another year to try to go for it. They had a killer system and it was about to bear fruit but they pulled the trigger early and ended their window before it ever really opened.
The Cards have holes but their pitching staff remains strong and the Brewers are probably going to have to find a taker for Hader this year. He’s their only real piece left and they’ll be forced to play Braun everyday in the field (which he’s physically incapable of) or lose his bat in the lineup.
Impossible to make predictions on record without first having a better handle on how these other clubs shape up too.
Young Players Do Actually Get Better Sometimes
The Pirates as currently constructed are the result of a failed build. As such they have a ton of young players and young players do improve. We talked the other day about Bryan Reynolds returning to closer to his norm but he’s not the only player who should improve. Chad Kuhl should keep progressing, and Cole Tucker actually needs to show something this year.
None of these improvements will make them part of the ultimate solution necessarily but they could create value for themselves.
There is plenty of time left to start predicting how this team does in 2021 but right now, just these few points alone make it impossible.