It’s been a disappointing start to the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That especially rings true when you look at the fact that the Chicago Cubs have struggled as well.

It would be fair to say that five to seven games could have gone the Pittsburgh Pirates way already, had they simply caught the baseball, hit with runners on base or made pitches late in games when they needed to.

That alone is the difference between sitting in last place, just 3.5 games out, or sitting in first place with a nice lead in early May.

The good news for Pirates fans is that it’s early and there’s time to get back into the race.

The bad news and perhaps the biggest question to ask at this point in time is has the Pirates window for success already closed?

Things can Change in a Hurry

It’s long been the goal of Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington of making the team competitive for years to come.

That sounds good on paper and it looked good on the field from 2013-15, but in reality, that’s about as big as the Pirates window may have been and it may have slammed shut that October night at PNC Park when Chicago’s Jake Arietta send the Bucs home from the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Look how quickly things can change.

Take a look at all of the teams currently in last place as of today.

Toronto had a nice run and is struggling. Kansas City won a World Series just a couple of seasons ago. Texas has also been competing for a division crown the past few years. San Francisco has always been in the mix to play deep in October and Atlanta is in the middle of a rebuild. The Pirates join that group, but just look back two seasons.

The Bucs won 98 games and Toronto, Texas and Kansas City all won their divisions. San Francisco just missed out on the postseason that year, but won the World Series the season before. That just goes to show how quickly things can change for the worse.

Failure To Capitalize?

Yet, while the Pittsburgh Pirates sat there after another playoff disappointment coming just two wins shy of 100 regular season wins, they didn’t capitalize on that.

Take a look at all of the teams currently in last place as of today.

Instead they tried band-aid fixes by adding Jonathan Niese and Ryan Vogelsong to a rotation that needed an upgrade. I still have no problems with the Pirates moving fan favorite Neil Walker. He needed moved. But the return had to be better than Niese.

While other cheap additions such as Matt Joyce, Neftali Feliz and David Freese worked out at times, the organization once again ended up without a first baseman and settled for a cheap fix in John Jaso, which didn’t work out. Josh Bell now seems solid enough to pass at first base, but the approach to the position in 2016 contributed to what some would call a “wasted” year.

Throw in the trade of Mark Melancon, which needed to happen, and the salary dump of Francisco Liriano and the result was a 20-win decline in 2016.

Needing to get back into the mix with the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, the organization did very little to improve the team during the past offseason.

The Ivan Nova deal looks nice at the moment, but the bench is terrible and the starting nine is showing declines at every position.

The Jung-Ho Kang and Starling Marte situations don’t help matters much either as this Pittsburgh Pirates roster is very thin and quite frankly just average on talent.

Andrew McCutchen is Culpable

As early as two years ago, there was a general feeling that as long as McCutchen is in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, the Pirates will have a serious chance to compete for a division crown every season.

We’ve seen firsthand how quickly that can change.

McCutchen had a bad year in 2016 and is not off to a great start in 2017. Suddenly the organization is void of a superstar in the middle of the order. That prompted trade rumors and a move to right field in the offseason.

Now it looks like we have gotten to the point of not wondering if a McCutchen trade will happen but instead wondering when. The worst part of the situation is that McCutchen’s value goes down every month he isn’t performing like a legit MLB superstar.

After the Pirates figure out what they really want to do with McCutchen, the Gerrit Cole watch will be on next. Sadly the Pirates were banking on McCutchen being an MVP candidate year in and year out and Cole being the type of rotation anchor that is in the Cy Young discussions every season.

That isn’t the case right now.

Prospects

Finally let’s discuss everyone’s favorite topic- Pittsburgh Pirates prospects.

McCutchen had a bad year in 2016 and is not off to a great start in 2017

The reality of the situation is that while the Pirates have a very good farm system, it hasn’t exactly produced star level talent other than McCutchen and possibly Jameson Taillon.

From Pedro Alvarez to Tyler Glasnow and everyone in between, over the past few years, prospects the Pirates have had hit the majors haven’t exactly lit the world on fire.

On the mound, Cole has been up and down. Glasnow is showing signs, but is anyone ready to pencil him in as a top of the rotation starter in the next couple of years?

In terms of the position players, Bell looks like he may develop into something nice, but for every Bell, there’s a Gregory Polanco whom we are still waiting for a breakout from. Marte may never develop into more than what he is now and other guys, for one reason or another, simply just haven’t panned out.

It’s easy to say bring up Austin Meadows and other guys in the minors, but given the track record of some of the Pirates players to get the call the past five or six years, there’s no guarantee that they will be game changers.

The same can’t be said in Chicago.

Then there’s the fact that once the prospects do hit the majors, they have to be surrounded by real talent. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

I’m always the last person to complain about the Pirates spending habits or lack thereof, but the reality of the situation is the past two offseasons have resulted in the organization taking a big step back.

The Pirates still have decent talent and they can get better on the field, but with each passing day it looks more and more like they are going to have to catch lightning in a bottle to seriously compete for a division crown.

The Pirates had a window to win and due to factors like poor offseasons, players not performing up to par and prospects not panning out, that window is dangerously close to being shut.

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.

  • Lee Foo Young

    that window is dangerously close to being shut. ”

    It IS shut….by next year, they have to move Cole. Cutch is done. Polanco is mediocre at best. I see very little to be optimistic about this team this year or next.

  • JAL 1234

    One question I think about is why none of the players have developed into stars. McCutchen may be declining but for several seasons he was one of the best players in MLB. Marte and Polanco were highly touted but neither has moved into the top, Cole has shown signs of being great but has been a shutdown pitcher. Taillon may be even better if he can stay healthy. Bell developing nicely this season but will he keep moving forward. Many questions with few answers. One thing about this season, few team would survive if they lost their starting CF, their starting 3B, and lately their top two hitters off the bench.