Major League Baseball intends to kick off its regular season on July 23. The season will be an abbreviated one, lasting just 60 games and featuring a slew of modifications, including a universal DH and altered extra-inning rules. Even the rosters will be different, with teams carrying 30 players to begin the year before gradually getting down to 26.
Because you can't have a baseball season without team previews, we'll be touching on every team between now and Opening Day. Today, that means highlighting the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates hit rock bottom last season, failing to win 70 games for the first time since 2010. Predictably, they cleared the deck over the winter. GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle were dismissed, replaced by Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton. The roster won't look exactly like last year's, either, by choice or otherwise. Starling Marte was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and potential Opening Day starters Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer will miss the year for health reasons.
So, where does all that change leave the Pirates? Let's find out.
Win total projection, odds
2020 Sportsline projection: 26-34
World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 250/1
2019 record: 69-93
- SS Kevin Newman
- LF Bryan Reynolds
- 2B Adam Frazier
- 1B Josh Bell
- RF Gregory Polanco
- DH Jose Osuna
- 3B Colin Moran
- C Jacob Stallings
- CF Jarrod Dyson
The Pirates made few additions to their lineup over the winter, focusing on defensive specialists like Dyson, Maile, and Heredia when they did go outside the organization. Eight of the nine starters listed here were with the organization last season, and 10 of the 13 overall. Some other names who could factor into the equation include first baseman Will Craig, third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, outfielders Jason Martin and Jared Oliva, and -- if the Pirates feel dangerous -- shortstop Oneil Cruz.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Pirates won't have Chris Archer or Jameson Taillon in 2020. That means they'll roll with a rotation that includes the likes of Brault and Holland. Chad Kuhl and Chris Stratton, among others, could get starts if needed, too. As with the position players, the Pirates didn't do much to add talent here. Holland is the only name who is new to the org.
- Closer: RHP Keone Kela
- Setup: RHP Kyle Crick, RHP Richard Rodriguez
- Middle: RHP Michael Feliz, RHP Nick Burdi, RHP Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP Chad Kuhl
- Long: RHP Chris Stratton
Kela will serve as a walking trade rumor until the Aug. 31 deadline passes. Beyond Kela, the Pirates have a number of power arms with control issues hoping to establish themselves as legitimate big-league pitchers. That includes Crick, Feliz, Burdi, and Neverauskas. A veteran like Robbie Erlin could find himself getting burn as well. Oh, and for those wondering, everyone except Erlin pitched with the org last season.
Will the Pirates move another hitter?
The Pirates appear to be at the onset of a rebuild. That means, simply, the good players they do employ at the big-league level are likely to be subjected to trade talk, the way Marte was before he was moved. Realistically, if the Pirates are to continue to deconstruct their roster, the players who are most likely to bring a big return are Bell, Reynolds, and Newman, or the three hitters they employ who posted an OPS+ north of 100 in 300-plus at-bats.
Of the three, Bell is both the oldest and the closest to free agency. He'll turn 28 in August and will qualify for free agency come winter 2022. His breakout effort last season saw him homer 37 times, nearly matching his previous career total of 41. Bell is a below-average defender at first base, but that won't matter if his offensive gains prove legitimate. Presuming the universal DH is here to stay, Bell could be viewed as a more attractive fit with 14 additional teams. The Pirates might prefer to keep him and push him as the face of the franchise, but it's worth investigating.
Reynolds was the Pirates' most pleasant surprise last season, hitting .314/.377/.503 en route to a fourth-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. He doesn't yet have a full season of service time, meaning he's a ways off from arbitration or free agency. Still, with the way teams love years of control and cost efficiency, the best way to maximize a return would be to move Reynolds or Newman -- who had a productive rookie season and will turn 27 in August -- sooner than later.
That doesn't mean the Pirates will do that, but it does mean they'll probably think about it.
Can Keller get right?
Not all of the Pirates youngsters had good seasons.
Mitch Keller had a disappointing 11-start introduction to the Show that saw him post a 7.13 ERA and permit 13.5 hits per nine innings. Someone with his arsenal -- a 95-mph fastball with good spin and a pair of bat-missing breaking balls -- shouldn't have such trouble. It's up to new pitching coach Oscar Marin to figure out how to get Keller back on track.
One key would appear to be improving Keller's fastball performance. Opponents hit .200 or worse versus the slider and curveball, but batted .461 versus the heat. The issue appears to be rooted in some combination of bad luck, shaky command, and predictable sequencing, as opposed to a deeper-rooted issue with his movement or deception.
Keller has all the fundamental attributes necessary to become at least a mid-rotation starter. Despite the poor season last year, don't give up on him just yet.
Is there anything else to look forward to?
Realistically, this is going to be a tough season for the Pirates and their fans. There's only so much talent on the roster, and Cherington will likely use this year for evaluative purposes. As such, a successful season for the Pirates (if such a thing is possible), will hinge on player development. That means Keller, and it means the prospects on the 60-player roster.
Again, it's not going to make for a thrilling viewing experience throughout the year, but it's how these things work. Unfortunately, for Pirates fans, they're all too familiar.