Another offseason has commenced and another bag of mixed feelings has come from Pirates fans. Our Buccos lost the likes of Burnett, Morton, Happ, Pedro, Walker, Worely, Blanton, Bastardo, and Tony Sanchez. Yes, the latter actually did make me feel a bit sad inside. It’s no surprise to understand that’s a lot of production that is gone from the 98 win team last season. It’s also no secret that this offseason did not present any large free agent additions or major trades. The question that remains is if the Pirates can replicate what they’ve done with the talent that remains.
Let’s start with starting rotation. Obviously, A.J. provided the team one of the best seasons of his career as he left the game for good. He posted a 3.18 ERA in the 164 innings he pitched and landed in his first ever All Star appearance. The numbers alone don’t speak to what ‘Batman’ provided this team or this city. He captivated everyone involved with the organization in 2015 and truly made it a special season. Not only will his numbers be missed, but his presence and leadership will certainly leave a hole. Charlie “Electric Stuff” Morton was traded to the Phillies essentially as a salary dump. Sure, he had some really high moments in his career, but after posting an abysmal 4.81 ERA in another season where injuries plagued him, it surely made sense to move on. J.A. Happ was an acquisition made at the deadline that many people tried laughing management out of the city for, but turned out to be one of the best trade deadline moves made last year. In 63 innings of work, Happ provided an amazing 1.85 ERA to help charge the Bucs towards an exciting finish and almost sneaking past the Cardinals for the division. Though second place is where we finished, it’s hard to say this type of talent is easily replaceable.
Uncle Ray Searage has a new challenge at hand and he began it by bringing in a Niece and a Vogelsong. Ok, a terrible play on words. However, if there is anything that Burnett, Morton, and Happ proved, it’s that Ray Searage can turn average pitchers into quality pitchers. Niece, who was brought in via the Walker deal, has actually had a productive career. Over the past four seasons, he’s tallied eight Wins Above Replacement with a 3.65 ERA. Most importantly, he induces a 50% groundball rate. Vogelsong comes on a much different career path. Once a Pirate, he’s bounced around from teams and countries and landed back with the Giants in 2012. After posting 2 amazing comeback seasons, he’s been very underwhelming.
We’ve covered the couple of veterans who can provide quality innings. Let’s now speak of the young talent awaiting in the minors eager to make a splash in the show. Top prospect, Tyler Glasnow, is set to season himself in Indianapolis to begin the year and will ikely get the call up in June much like Gerrit Cole did in 2013. Glasnow comes with Ace type stuff who could easily cement himself atop of the rotation in short time. Jameson Taillon, is also a top prospect who once came with the same hype as Glasnow and Cole did. If he can manage to stay healthy and regain his status he once had, it’s hard to imagine this years rotation not being as good as last year’s. The potential of having Cole, Liriano, Niese, Glasnow, and Taillon, is essentially the exact reason we did not see the Pirates go all in with those ungodly contracts starting pitchers were being handed this offseason. To boot, that would mean Locke and Vogelsong could serve as depth or possible trade chips down the stretch.
The infield lost 2 starters in Walker and Pedro. One will certainly be missed. For Pedro, I couldn’t be happier knowing the Pirates did the right move by non tendering him. If you are still one who believes the decision is dumb, feel free to ask Pedro’s current employer how happy they are to have him. Walker reminds me of a comparable Daniel Murphy. Though Walker presents more power, both have a steady bat with below defensive metrics. The trade made sense for both teams as the Mets replace a hole Murphy was going to leave and the Pirates got a controllable ‘cheap’ arm to solidify their rotation. These two players totaled 43 homers, but if you look at successful teams like the Royals and the Giants, they’ve been doing it without the big thumpers. The Pirates seem to be going with the approach of many contact hitters to get it done.
The plan is to make J Hay a full time second baseman, while Kang commands an everyday role at third once healthy. Mercer stays at short while the only major change comes at first. Pittsburgh made a crafty move by signing John Jaso to play first. They also made a trade to bring in late bloomer, Jason Rogers, from the Brewers. With over 1,500 at bats, Jaso has provided a career .767 OPS and a 116 OPS+. In other words, dude can hit. Rogers has also provided a .786 OPS and a 114 OPS+ in his limited 161 MLB at bats. His minor league numbers show this could be sustainable. Mike Morse to me is just a body who becomes a straight wildcard. He’s shown glimpses of being a very good player, and then he’s also shown reasons to miss Pedro Alvarez chasing a pickoff attempt down the right field line. When you throw in the fact that Josh Bell is knocking at the door, the woes of first base may be a thing of the past.
Melancon is staying in da ‘Burgh. He will once again anchor the 9th inning the year after he set the saves record for this organization. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes will continue to give this club late shut down innings. Arquimedes Caminero proved last season that he has closer material, but must continue to work on consistency. Newcomer, Neftali Feliz, could be a huge addition for this bullpen. It’s just merely been a year and a half since we’ve seen this All Star produce a 1.99 ERA to go along with a .979 WHIP. I’m confident we probably will not see those numbers this year, but you’d also have to imagine he can give very quality numbers for a pitcher being relied upon for the 6th and 7th inning duties. Let’s not also forget there is still have Rob Scahill, Juan Nicasio, Eric O’Flaherty, and Daniel Bard with the ability to round out a solid bullpen.
Depth and versatility is an absolute theme to this year’s ball club. We know the stars that will be in the outfield, but players like Harrison, Rodriguez, Kang, Rogers, Jaso, can play a multitude of positions to create matchup situations and allow for much needed days off during the season. The loss of power in the infield has been replaced by improved defense and better contact skills. The steady veteran arms are being replenished with young, high upside prospects. I truly feel that there is no doubt this will be a team competing for the division down the stretch in September. The Cubs have certainly improved, but we have seen this story before. The Cardinals appear to have taken a step back, however they always seem to find themselves right in the thick of things. If the Pirates can finally come out of the gate strong, and most things seem to click, we could finally get that division crown we’ve desperately been trying to obtain since ’13.