For the last two seasons, Pittsburgh Pirates fans have had their hopes raised to levels not seen in nearly 20 years, only to have them crushed by terrible play, bad luck and questionable moves.
One has to ask, is it better to have a half-season of great baseball only to be disappointed by the end result, or an entire season of bad baseball without expectation? Pirates fans everywhere have been asking this question and here they are again wondering the same thing. Only this time, maybe the expectation of failure makes it easier to be able to simply enjoy the great times but ready for the ultimate and expected collapse.
The question today has to be, how do the Pirates avoid a third-straight miserable ending, provide exciting baseball through September and have a shot at playing ball in October? As challenging as that might be, at least the Pirates are in position once again to take that challenge and go for excellence.
Do the Pirates try to make more bold moves in hopes of bolstering an offense that, at times, has been pretty pathetic? Do they try to improve a rotation that already has some depth but being hammered by injuries, ineffectiveness or both? Does the “Shark Tank” bullpen get a boost somewhere by even internal options: guys like Jeff Karstens, Jeanmar Gomez or even James McDonald?
To answer this question, the first thing the Pirates should look at is the team chemistry. It seems as though part of the problem from the past two seasons was the interruption of the chemistry, make-up and leadership of the team. You can look at this as part due to younger guys like Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez as being too inexperienced to be true leaders. You can look at guys like Rod Barajas, Derrek Lee or Ryan Ludwick as guys who provided something, but maybe took away from something else.
This season, it seems as though the team chemistry is coming from the young guns but also a guy who is sure to stick around all season in Russell Martin. There are other leaders on the team by way of veterans Clint Barmes and Brandon Inge, despite an overall lack of playing time by either guy at this point.
The next question to answer: Where could the Pirates use an upgrade? First base and right field seem to be the two most logical choices to look for offensive upgrades. Travis Snider has been a bit of a disappointment, although he hasn’t been that great at any point in his professional career so is it really a big shock?
Garrett Jones has his good days and his not-so-good days, but he does provide power to the team from the left side and that sits very well as a platoon option. At one point, with Barmes still starting at shortstop this would have been a huge need, however Jordy Mercer has stepped in and the Pirates should stick and see what they have with this guy before looking on the outside.
Finally, the last question is what outside players should be targeted? The Pirates have all the pieces in the world to acquire a big-time player or two. The first player to look at would be corner infielder Mark Trumbo from the Angels: big time power, solid average, good enough with the glove and a perfect guy to drop in your cleanup spot and call it a day.
Currently Trumbo is sitting at a .261 average, an OPS of .830, 16 doubles, 17 HRs and 50 RBIs on the season. He doesn’t have a high strikeout total and walks at a decent rate. With this move, the Pirates could shift Jones into a platoon situation in right field with Jose Tabata and have Snider fill in for spot starts and come off the bench.
The next guy to look at is RF Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins. Obviously, the Marlins haven’t come out and said they would even entertain offers; however, the Marlins might be so far removed from having a good season, Stanton could be all-world and it wouldn’t provide them much.
If Miami is looking at four or five years down the road before truly contending again, they could be enticed to move Stanton. Stanton is batting .263 with a .356 OBP, only seven HRs and 19 RBIs but consider that he plays in a pitcher-friendly park in Miami and has missed time due to injuries. The best comparison to make would be Justin Upton, who is now with the Braves and close to being a superstar. With this move, the Pirates keep Jones at first and continue the platoon with Gaby Sanchez and you still have Snider on the roster.
Stanton or Trumbo would help fill a need for increased production and power for the Pirates and either one would be a nice fit for the team while also provide them with a couple years of control before they reach free agency. The starting rotation and bullpen should be just fine with Gerrit Cole in the mix, some solid guys in the wings if injuries continue – and even a long-shot back-up plan should Jameson Taillon not be traded.
All in all, there are still more questions than answers. Then again, there should be with a team that hasn’t had a winning season in 20 years.