New Direction- A look at the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020


The Pittsburgh Pirates started out 2019 looking like the breakout team of the season. Josh Bell emerged into an All-Star while Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds both excelled in their first full seasons in the majors.  The Pirates were a trainwreck in the second half going 28-48 while dealing with more turmoil in the clubhouse than a reality TV show about rich guys wives. Suspensions of Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and of course Felipe Vasquez made an already bad bullpen even worse.  The Pirates management made the right decision and moved on from Clint Hurdle. A change of culture was needed, in comes Derek Shelton, a man that knows how to win.

Derek Shelton has a lot to fix in Pittsburgh, the offense may be the one thing he doesn’t.  A projected lineup that will include Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds should be a solid starting point for the organization.  Marte, 31, is the oldest of the aforementioned players has been the mainstay of the organization for years. It’s time for the organization to move onto the Josh Bell ERA.  Bell is the evolution of the modern day player, supplying both power and on-base ability. 

While the offense has the pieces to build around the pitching staff is lackluster to say the least. The rotation has two young starters to begin their rebuild in Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon. Joe Musgrove was a surprise llast year bringing in a 3.3 WAR and solidifying himself as a potential mainstay for years to come.  Pittsburgh still has Mitch Keller at the top of their prospect ranks. His first time in the majors was not great but the talent is still there and can help build a strong core for the future.

The Pirate bullpen has more problems than I can fit onto one blog post. Keone Kela will be projected in the closer role followed behind by Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and the emergence of Edgar Santana.  Last season’s Pirate bullpen was horrible on most accounts, finishing bottom ten or bottom five in most categories. Pittsburgh had serious issues with putting people on base for free, walking 304 players and allowing a .255 BA.  They not only put people on but they regularly allowed them to score. With no major additions to the bullpen they Pirates are hoping that new Pitching Coach Oscar Marin can find a way to change up the fortunes of the staff. Marin spent last season as the bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers.  Marin was a bargain basement cost but a new face and new appeal could be exactly what the organization is looking for.

Conclusion: 

 Moving Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Starling Marte should be enough to bring back the prospects to take them from bottom ten ranking (#22 according to Bleacher Report).  The Pirates have the assets to help a team that will be in contention. Pittsburgh has to commit to their rebuild by moving their pieces while they still have the value. By moving on from Clint Hurdle they are showing the first step towards a new direction. 

The future for Pittsburgh is on the shoulders of Ke’Bryan Hayes, the 34th ranked prospect according to Baseball America.  Hayes will likely find his way to the majors in 2020 joining their young rotation pieces. A new direction in the steel city has the chance to work if they are willing to follow the same game plan as fellow NL Central foes Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.  Tough times are ahead for Pittsburgh.

Breaking Down the Reds

I was at a Cardinals/Cubs game last year at Busch Stadium when the news broke about Trevor Bauer being traded within the Central Division.  When I first heard that, naturally I would have assumed that it was either the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals that made the move to put themselves over the top in a competitive division. I found a place with Wifi and realized that it was the cellar dwelling Cincinnati Reds that made the move, shocking most baseball pundits. Cincinnati has continued to improve their team in the offseason with additions that are not being made for the future but for right now.  They are coming for the Central division and it’s time to take notice. 

Offseason Additions: Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley

The Red’s had some holes to fill coming into the offseason.  Most notably was at second base. With their top prospect Nick Senzel becoming firmly planted in center field for most likely many years to come they had to fill that hole.  They were able to add the power hitting Mike Moustakas. Moustakas is coming off a great year with the Milwaukee Brewers hitting 35 homers, .503 slugging percentage, .262 ISO and a 2.8 WAR.  The addition of Moustakas adds power behind Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez. His consistent power gives the Reds a great safety net in case Aristedes Aquino falls into the classic sophomore slump as he enters the full time lineup.  

Wade Miley had a great 2019 with the Houston Astros.  The basic numbers are solid 14 wins, 3.98 ERA and holding lefties to a .207 batting average.  Miley faded down the stretch as his cutter seemed to lose its zip. While Miley’s August- October cost him a spot in the playoff rotation, he still did what was needed for the Astros. Miley is realistic a league average pitcher with upside.  Putting him at the end of the Reds rotation behind Sonny Gray, Anthony DeScalfani, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer makes their rotation arguably the best in the National League and for sure the Central Division.

What else do they need?

The Red’s continued their offseason additions by adding 31-year old Shogo Akiyama.  The addition of Akiyama could end the reported interest in Marcell Ozuna. Cincinnati’s outfield consists of Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Aristedes Aquino with the reserves being Phillip Irvin and Travis Janikowski.  Aquino provides power, Senzel speed and Winker…well he is ok.   

Akiyama projects to bat leadoff for the Reds which is the biggest need going into the 2020 season.  Votto, Suarez, Aquino and Moustakas provide a middle of the order that can match up with any lineup.  It also helps that Great American Ballpark should provide even more pop for a lineup with already legit power.  If Akiyama can provide any kind of on-base statistics, this team should be set for a huge offensive season. 

Conclusion

The Red’s farm system lacks the depth ranking at the bottom ten of the league.  Last season they entered ranking 20th overall. Adding established major league talent has pushed the Reds into contention entering 2020.  Last season the bullpen established themselves as a force. Ending with Raisel Iglesias, who has established himself as one of the best closers in all of baseball.  The Reds now have more flexibility with the addition of Miley. Amir Garrett. Michael Lorenzen and Lucas Sims have all become valued middle relievers. Cincinnati has made the moves necessary to be a problem in the Central Division.

Grading NL Central Offseason- Right Now

Pittsburgh Pirates: D

It was a quiet winter in the steel city adding just outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall whom you would think is just competing for a bench spot. The loss of Josh Harrison will hurt from a clubhouse perspective, while Ivan Nova’s movement will hurt from an innings eating perspective.

The Pirates would have a much higher grade if you considered the work they did at the trade deadline.  Having a full year of Chris Archer will make a difference for a team that was a surprising contender for a large part of 2018. Archer adds to their rotation that also features young stars in the making Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, making as solid top three.   The depth of the rotation takes a little plunge after that.

Cincinnati Reds: B+

The Reds got a B+ mainly for unloading the contract of Homer Bailey.  Getting rid of Bailey seemed like only a dream at the beginning of the offseason but they were able to do it while bringing in a potential steal of talent in Yasiel Puig.  While Puig has not lived up to the original hype he still brings some excitement to a Red’s organization that needed to show their fans that they are still trying to win.

The Reds were able to add some nice pieces to their rotation with former Dodger lefty Alex Wood and former Nationals righty Tanner Roark.  Both add depth to a very thin rotation.  These players both come from winning organizations which can only help the young starters during a season the season.

While trades were the main story the resigning of hard throwing closer Raisel Iglesias is an underappreciated move.  The Reds are not going to be frontrunners for the division next season, but their moves have made them no longer a push over.

Chicago Cubs: D-

Not that there was much expectation in the Chicago offseason with a cash strapped team but making virtually no improvements is never going to grade out well.  The Cubs should be getting back the services of last season’s big acquisition Yu Darvish. They will also have a full season of Cole Hamels.  The Cubs are hoping reclamation project Kendall Graverman still has something in the tank.

The rotation will be stronger to start the season. But the bullpen will still be a problem in the back end.  Uncertainty of the injury to Brandon Morrow and thee losses of Justin Wilson and Jesse Chavez leave the Cubs very vulnerable if there are any further injuries. 

Replacing Tommy La Stella with Daniel Descalso is a nice upgrade but other than that not much to say here.

Milwaukee Brewers: C+

We you have a team with very few holes you would think they would look to fill those holes.  Added another starter was a sensible move for the defending division champs.  Instead the added to the opposite end by adding the best catcher on the market Yasmani Grandal.  An already potent lineup made themselves even more dangerous.  Grandal whose offense has always been the story of his career, but his defense has been an underrated aspect of his career for a long time.  Grandal ranked first in the league pitch framing ahead of defensive juggernauts Yadier Molina and Jeff Mathis

The Brewers chose to nontender their two lefties opening up a spot for former Rangers closer Alex Claudio.  Claudio will have to pick up the slack of a few different lost relievers. He’s held opposing lefties to a .194/.220/.278 line in 315 total plate appearances over his five-year career, thanks in part to a deceptive delivery.

The Brewers getting a C+ is based off of their previous work.  The 2018 offseason and trade deadline were clearly an A+.  I would have liked to see the Brewers bring back a second baseman that is more proven rather than have Cory Spangenberg play hold over for top prospect Keston Huira. 

Bonus points for trading away Domingo Santana, he deserved a shot to play every day.

St. Louis Cardinals- A-

The Cardinals needed a corner infield and a reliver.  They added the best first baseman in the majors for a group of players that were not going to be a part of their plans in the 2019 season. Luke Weaver had fallen out of favor, Carson Kelly was quietly becoming too old to be a prospect and I couldn’t remember the other guy’s name, but he was a 26-year old infielder. 


The Cardinals didn’t stop at Goldschmidt adding long time reliver Andrew Miller to the fold, while he is not considered a closer he gives the Cardinals a lot of options at the backend.

St. Louis gets an A- because they still have a need for a bonifide closer and there is a gap in right field.  Still the Cardinal had a very successful winter.