The Pittsburgh Pirates: What now?

Jack Marcinko, Sports Editor

The 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates had low expectations in the winter months. Trading away headlining players Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, they were expected to be one of the worst teams in the National League. They came out strong, sweeping the Tigers in their season opener and then coming home to Pittsburgh and winning 4 out of 6. However, they struggled in the second half of May and all of June, losing 26 of their 40 games in this span. This hurt them in the long run. Despite them pushing for a wild card spot in July and doing excellent with a 12 game winning streak, they are eliminated from the postseason this year.


Highlights arose for this team. For one, winning 12 straight games against division opponents such as the Brewers and Cardinals. Individual players have stood out, such as Trevor Williams having a record low ERA in the months of July/August and Francisco Cervelli posting a career high 11 home runs. Lowlights emerged for this team also. The 5 game stretch against the Dodgers and Phillies in which they were outscored 51-15 and allowed 17 runs on 2 separate occasions. They had heartbreaking losses in extra innings, such as the 15 inning loss against the Brewers. They went on such a bad stretch they are on pace to have their lowest season attendance record ever at PNC Park.


But those are the 2018 Pirates.


Money has always been a factor for this team and always will be. Players such as Josh Harrison and Francisco Cervelli could very well not be a member of the 2019 Pirates, due to Harrison having a $10,500,000 club offer for the 2019 season and Cervelli being on payroll for $11 million next year. The club may not want these players on the team due to the fact they’re injury prone and that they take up a sizable chunk of change for them, and only one other player is close to that on payroll, star outfielder Starling Marte, who is being paid $10,300,000 next season, which steadily increases by $1 million every year until 2023, when he becomes a free agent.  The three players listed above, along with pitcher Ivan Nova account for nearly 64 percent of the Pirates payroll in 2019.


What should this team do?


Personally, I believe they should shop starting pitcher Ivan Nova, and Harrison. Both of these players have underachieved the past year and aren’t worth the money they are being paid. Nova is 8-9 over 26 starts with a 4.17 ERA this season while being paid a little less than $9.2 million ,and Harrison is hitting .255 with 7 home runs and 33 runs batted in during 322 plate appearances. These are not $10 million players. These are $3-5 million players.


Why would you ever keep these players when you have young studs in Chad Kuhl, who, admittedly, needs work on his delivery, but has shown good movement and velocity on his pitches. He will rejoin the rotation in 2019 as he underwent Tommy John surgery earlier in September. Trevor Williams, in his third year having a breakout season with a record low 0.72 ERA in the months of July and August. Jameson Taillon, who has fought back from cancer and shown himself as the ace of this rotation, posting a 14-9 record and nearing 200 Ks. The big name here, Chris Archer. Archer has struggled in his time with the Pirates, however he has shown ace qualities in the past, even last year where he started 34 games, and had a 10-12 win-loss record, and had 249 strikeouts over 201 innings pitched. All of these names except for Archer are in pre-arbitration, which is negotiating pay without being a free agent, while Archer is under contract until 2022.


Second base isn’t an issue either, with prospects Pablo Reyes, who has hit .279 over seven seasons in the minors. He appears to be a contact and defensive player, so essentially a younger, and hopefully not as injured, Josh Harrison. Kevin Kramer, who has been promising in the minors, boasting a .293 average with a .795 OPS. Last but not least, Kevin Newman. Newman, who has shown himself as a good middle infielder, but needs to learn to hit for power. Newman holds a .288 average to his name over four seasons in the minors, along with a .732 OPS. All of the players above are September call-ups, who have shown signs of excellence that will be more apparent in the near future.


Adam Frazier is also a big name here. The utility player was sent down in June after posting lackluster numbers, but came back with energy. He posted a .285 average this season, with nine home runs and 33 runs batted in to go along. Frazier also has posted a career high in SLG and OPS. He has shown to be a very promising player who can play all around the diamond for the next several seasons, all while being paid under $600,000 this season.


The Pittsburgh Pirates fell just short of the postseason this year, and with these adjustments there is no doubt in my mind they can make it next season.