Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 season preview: Can the Bucs turn in another winning campaign after a meager offseason?

The dread pirate François l'Olonnais once cut the beating heart from the chest of a Spanish prisoner and thereupon ate it in order to impart to another Spanish prisoner that he -- i.e., Monsieur l'Olonnais -- was of a somewhat perilous mien and bearing and should very probably be obeyed. Speaking of corsairs and their enemies, we're here to talk about the 2019 Pirates. They're coming off an 82-79 season, so they are not as perilous as the likes Monsieur l'Olonnais. Instead of devouring the still-beating of their foe, they'd probably wind up with something less necessary -- an appendix, perhaps, or a modest deli cut of liver (a healthy liver regenerates itself, you know). 

Anyhow, the 2019 Pirates ... 

Probable lineup

  1. Adam Frazier/Kevin Newman, 2B
  2. Starling Marte, CF
  3. Corey Dickerson, LF
  4. Jung Ho Kang, 3B
  5. Josh Bell, 1B
  6. Francisco Cervelli, C
  7. Lonnie Chisenhall/Melky Cabrera, RF
  8. Erik Gonzalez, SS

Bench: Frazier/Gonzalez; Chisenhall/Cabrera; Jacob Stallings, C (Elias Diaz likely takes over as backup catcher once he returns from illness); Colin Moran, 1B/3B; Pablo Reyes, INF/OF

Obviously, right field belongs to Gregory Polanco. Polanco, however, is recovering from shoulder surgery and likely won't be back on the active roster before May. Once he does get back, Chisenhall may see time at both corners, and Cabrera's role post-Polanco is probably uncertain.  

Probable rotation

  1. Jameson Taillon, RHP
  2. Chris Archer, RHP
  3. Trevor Williams, RHP
  4. Joe Musgrove, RHP
  5. Jordan Lyles, RHP

Right-handed prospect Mitch Keller -- a consensus top-25 overall prospect -- reached the Triple-A level last season and soon turns 23, so he should be ready for the highest level at some point in 2019. 

Probable bullpen

Closer: Felipe Vazquez, LHP
Setup: Keone Kela, RHP; Richard Rodriguez, RHP; 
Middle: Kyle Crick, RHP; Francisco Liriano, LHP; Nick Burdi, RHP
Long: Nick Kingham, RHP

Kang's uncertain outlook

The Pirates this offseason re-upped with Jung Ho Kang on a one-year, $3 million contract. The issue, of course, is that Kang hasn't seen meaningful time in the majors since 2016 thanks to legal troubles in his native South Korea and subsequent visa problems in the U.S. While Kang does boast a career OPS+ of 125 across two big-league seasons (and a sliver of a third season), he soon turns 32 and, as noted, hasn't seen meaningful reps in MLB in almost three years. 

In any event, the Pirates have awarded Kang the starting job at third base, at least to start the season, so that suggests a certain faith. Spring training stats of course mean little, but we'll nonetheless not that Kang at this writing has put up excellent power numbers in Grapefruit League play. As for the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter), it forecasts Kang in 2019 for a slash line of .265/.332/.437 and 13 home runs in 97 games. The Pirates are surely hoping Kang is able to play in more games than that, but they'll take that production on a rate basis. If Kang gets hurt or proves unable to shake the rust, then the Pirates can turn to Colin Moran, who's not bad when it comes to fallback options. 

Is Taillon an ace?

"Ace" is admittedly an uncertain designated, but whatever it is perhaps Jameson Taillon is now one? He'd had success before, but he'd not combined success with a front-of-the-rotation workload until last season. His 2018 work ... 

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Taillon put up an ERA+ of 121 and a K/BB ratio of 3.89 compared to pre-2018 career marks of 106 and 3.33, respectively. Part of the leap forward surely had something to do with his getting further removed from testicular cancer and being at an age that lends itself to skills growth, but Taillon's new slider also likely played a role. He's now 27, and it's possible he's nearing peak. Taillon's always had the profile for top-tier success (he was the second overall pick in 2010), and now the results are matching. Maybe the Pirates do indeed have their ace. 

The outfield could be a strength

Once Polanco returns from labrum surgery, the Pirates' outfield figures to be a pronounced strength. Polanco had a breakout last season in his age-26 campaign, and he'll be angling to repeat those successes. In center, Starling Marte remains a five-tool force even at age 30, and left fielder Corey Dickerson will be hoping to keep up the Gold Glove defense he provided in 2018. As well, free agent signee Lonnie Chisenhall provides another productive left-handed bat to mix in and occasionally spell Dickerson. Potentially, that's one of the strongest outfield arrangements in the National League. Much, though, depends upon Polanco's ability to get and stay healthy and capitalize on his 2018 breakout. 

Fans may be getting frustrated

Last year's winning season followed up back-to-back losing seasons, which followed up a Pittsburgh baseball renaissance that yielded three straight playoff appearances. Last season's run raised hopes that the Pirates were prepared once again to contend, but ownership did precious little to advance the cause this past offseason, all while trotting out familiar excuses. As our own R.J. Anderson notes, Pirates fans and bloggers are much less inclined to buy into ownership narratives than those partisans of other teams, and that's to their credit. Don't be surprised if the Pirates get dinged at the turnstiles this season after ownership showed almost no commitment to winning over the winter. 

The NL Central is a gauntlet

The NL Central last season yielded two playoff teams and four winning teams. This season, the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Miller, and Alex Wood are all new to the circuit, and it could be even tougher. In part that's why SportsLine tabs the Pirates for just 79 wins and a fourth-place finish -- wheel-spinning relative to last season, that is. SportsLine does gives Pittsburgh a 15.3 percent chance of making the postseason, which isn't nothing. That's in part what makes that aforementioned lack of effort on the part of ownership and the front office so disappointing. They had a chance here and did little with it. 

Know who would've done something with it? The dread pirate François l'Olonnais, that's who.

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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