The Pirates have dealt with some injury to an already thin lineup and as is becoming tradition with Ben Cherington, when you expect a move, he might just give you three or four.
This lineup that looks more like a collection of cast offs and crap shoots has now lost Ke’Bryan Hayes, Colin Moran, Gregory Polanco, and Bryan Reynolds for stretches of time, and even with all of them it wasn’t going to be the ’27 Yankees.
1. Who’s New, and What Does All this Mean?
Ben Gamel is an outfielder that you probably remember hitting homeruns off Pirates pitching up in the ballpark formerly known as Miller Park the last couple seasons. He’s not a star, but he is a real outfielder. He was DFAd by the Indians and the Pirates jumped all over him to patch a gaping wound. This isn’t quite the same as Anthony Alford, Dustin Fowler or Ka’ai Tom as Gamel has made an MLB squad and stuck, but he also isn’t a difference maker most nights.
He was someone I wanted the Pirates to target in the offseason but just for transparency’s sake, when they signed Brian Goodwin I was placated and that certainly didn’t work out.
Another pickup from outside the roster meant that the Pirates needed to make a corresponding move to make room on the 40-man, this brought on the DFA of Michael Feliz, who just returned from the IL himself and in his first outing provided 2 scoreless innings. I don’t expect him to clear waivers as I just don’t see 29 teams passing on a free arm that has posted a 2.35 ERA in 7 games with a 1.17 WHIP in 2021.
Now, why Feliz instead of Poppen or Bashlor? Well, they needed the spot on the 26-man too, so either way someone was going to need waived.
Troy Stokes Jr. was also added to the roster to replace Colin Moran. To make room on the 40-man, Ke’Bryan Hayes was moved to the 60-day IL. The team claims this isn’t a change in his timeline for return as it’s a retroactive designation.
Geoff Hartlieb was called up yesterday and in a surprise twist the Pirates DFA’d Todd Frazier.
At least Bryan Reynolds is back tonight.
So the outfield right now looks like this. Reynolds, Ka’ai Tom, Troy Stokes Jr., Ben Gamel, Hunter Owen (who is here and not on the 40-man because Polanco’s IL designation is COVID related) and Wilmer Difo. I suppose you could still count Evans too although I’d imagine he get’s most of his time at first.
Obviously as players start to make their way back, there will be more moves. Largely the Pirates have locked themselves in on much of the roster as most of these players have no options, and those who do you’d never want to use them.
2. Pitching is Holding Up
The Pirates were pretty up front about their belief that they’d need two rosters worth of pitching this season, but so far the performance of the staff has made that look unlikely. Now, that belief was at least partially built on the uncertainty of how pitchers across the league would perform coming off a shortened season.
It’s May 10th, obviously they could still be right in their concern, but so far so good largely.
Tyler Anderson, and JT Brubaker have easily exceeded expectations. Mitch Keller has taken positive steps in 2 of his last 3 outings. Trevor Cahill has been exactly as expected, some good, some bad. Chad Kuhl wasn’t good and is now on the IL replaced by Wil Crowe who has improved week after week.
So, as with the roster stuff we just spoke to in point 1, the Bucs will have some rather difficult choices coming. When Kuhl returns, they’ll likely send Crowe back down, regardless of the fact he’s earned a better fate. Steven Brault is starting a throwing program in the coming weeks and without further injury, he too has no obvious spot and none of this takes into account that Miguel Yajure and Chase De Jong are arguably better options than either.
If starters drop like flies later in the season as we’ve seen time and again with this club, they’ll be well positioned to survive it, and that’s not something to complain about, but much like the locked in syndrome I spoke to earlier, options aren’t a thing in this rotation, at least not any you’d want to use.
Point is, when they do start making trades, it really and truly won’t have to make this rotation take a huge hit. One way or another, the franchise is 8 or 9 deep in the starter department and I didn’t even mention Cody Ponce.
3. Ahead of the Pace
The Pirates have played 33 baseball games in 2021 and it’s led to a 14-19 record. They must go 6-21 over the next 27 games to best their 60 game record in 2020.
It’s not a sure bet by any stretch, but they’re easily outpacing what they did last season. This is also a club that just lost 8 of 10 so again, it’s not a sure bet.
Yup, they’ll trade a few more players.
Tyler Anderson, Trevor Cahill, maybe Adam Frazier, Rich Rod, Chris Stratton, to name a few, but when your club is built like this none of these are going to seismically alter the foundation.
4. The Best Laid Plans
Greensboro has been so much fun already this season, headlined by the double play tandem of Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero. Both are hitting .389, both have shown power, both are playing great defense.
They’re supposed to both come up together and then ultimately play together in Pittsburgh and that could very well happen, but after Peguero was removed from yesterday’s contest it really brought home for me just how hard it is to have two careers line up that well.
I’m not guessing about how much time if any Liover will miss, that’s not really the point as much as reminding everyone that keeping an open mind about the individuality of each player’s journey.
It’s also a good idea to keep in mind Ji-hwan Bae and Rodolfo Castro will probably come first.
I say this because while some of you think you’ve seen enough to promote both of those young men from the Grasshoppers, there are still very real talents they’ll have to get past. I have no doubt they’re capable, but the team isn’t just going to cast everyone else aside to make it happen.
Is Nick Gonzales capable of rocketing through the system to make the club by the end of 2022? Sure he is, but it’s not a likely scenario.
For all we know, Bae could end up being the everyday center fielder, and Castro could patrol right field. The bats will decide who makes it and who they find a spot for. All in due time.
5. Battle for the Basement
The Pirates and Reds begin a three game set tonight at PNC Park and for the Pirates to climb out of the basement they need a sweep. To have the Reds leave town at least tied for last place they need 2 of 3.
I’d love to give you a prediction, but when you see a lineup like they trotted out yesterday put up 6 runs, it’s kinda hard to do so but the Reds certainly aren’t doing much with their considerably deeper lineup. Just about every week when I’m on the Locked on Pirates Podcast with Ethan, he talks about the upcoming week and asks me what I see happening.
It’s at least for me, difficult to answer. I can’t sit here and tell you I’ve gone into any one contest feeling the Pirates SHOULD win. Sure, there are pitching matchups I like more than others, but It all goes back to my prediction piece prior to the season starting.
I think the Bucs will hang in more games than they’ll be blown out. Last season this club lost more 1-run games than any other club but it sure didn’t feel like that when the other losses that sandwiched them were 8-0 beat downs.
I can’t say they should be favored in any contest, but the pitching will keep them in most of them, and that in and of itself makes just about any outcome possible.