Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 in review: Neal Huntington

The Pittsburgh Pirates had an underwhelming 2017 to say the least.  Nothing seemed to go right.  With suspensions and various injuries, the Pirates were doomed from the start.  Could GM Neal Huntington have done more?

Welcome to Pirates Breakdown grade outs!  We will be grading all players on the 2017 roster early this offseason.  To start us out, we begin with the architect of the team, General Manager Neal Huntington.

Offseason moves

Last offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates remained largely quiet.  They re-signed Ivan Nova to lengthen out the starting rotation.  Nova has proved to be a decent signing thus far.  He began the season fire hot and won NL pitcher of the month in April and was one of the best starters in baseball for the first two months of the season.  That said, he fizzled out from the summer months on and finished the season at 11-14 with a 4.14 ERA in 187 innings pitched.  He had an fWAR of 1.9.

Nova will be back for the next two seasons most likely as a back end of the rotation starter.  This signing hasn’t quite been as productive as an AJ Burnett or Francisco Liriano deal, but it surely isn’t a Jonathan Sanchez type deal either.

Daniel Hudson was the other signee last winter.  He showed life at times but was largely ineffective.  In 61.2 innings, Hudson was 2-7 with a 4.38 ERA.  He had an fWAR of 0.1.  Hudson showed good strikeout stuff (9.63 K/9) but walks were the main issue (4.82 BB/9).  Hudson is under contract in 2018.

In season moves

At the end of Spring Training, the Pirates released Jared Hughes.  The likes of Jhan Marinez and Johnny Barbato assumed his role.  Hughes had an 3.02 ERA and fWAR of 0.5.  Marinez and Barbato combined for an fWAR of -0.4.  Not good.

The Pirates released Jason Rodgers in late June, putting a bookend on the terrible 2015 trade in which they acquired Rodgers from the Milwaukee Brewers for Keon Broxton and Trey Supak.  Broxton was worth 0.7 wins this year.  Not good.

At the trade deadline, the Pirates shipped Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects Oneil Cruz and Angel German.  Considering how badly Watson struggled with the Pirates in 2017, getting anything for him was a positive.  The Pirates also traded for Joaquin Benoit at the deadline.  He was a disaster.

On August 5, the Pirates claimed relief pitcher George Kontos for nothing from the San Francisco Giants.  This may end up being a steal as Kontos is controllable for three more seasons.  That same day, Sean Rodriguez was traded to the Pirates from the Atlanta Braves for Connor Joe.  S-rod got off to a hot start with the Pirates, but ended up hitting just .168/.255/.274 in 39 games.  He is under contract for 2018.

Finally, Juan Nicasio was given away for $600K late in August by the Phillidelphia Phillies.  A few days later, the Phillies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for a prospect.  Huntington stated that he did not want to trade Nicasio to a rival team.  That strategy backfired in comical fashion.

Lack of moves

As we know, Starling Marte was absent half of the year due to a suspension and Jung-Ho Kang was never granted a visa to get to the United States.  Kang’s replacement was David Freese.  Freese played a nice third base but was not nearly productive enough at the plate.  In the year of the home run, Freese could only muster up 10 long balls.  Lack of offense was the main downfall of the 2017 Pirates.  Relying on Freese for a whole season was a big part of that problem.

Losing Marte hurt even more.  For half of the season, the Pirates played with two outfielders and a bandaid.  Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna, and John Jaso did their best to fill in but had real problems showing competence in right or left field.  It was a terrible experience.  When Gregory Polanco went down with an injury, the Pirates often played with just one true outfielder.  Moves were not made.  The outfield just struggled.

A glimpse of hope shined for the Pirates when they got hot in mid-July.  At one point, they were only two games back of first place in the division.  They still desperately needed an outfielder.  With boppers like JD Martinez and Jay Bruce on the market, the Pirates could have knocked out two birds with one stone.  A power bat who happened to play outfield would have provided a huge boost.  Both players were cheap by MLB standards.  It took zero blue chip prospects to acquire each player.  The Pirates passed.  Martinez and Bruce flourished.

Report Card: D-

Not enough was done.  The Pittsburgh Pirates winning 75 games seems just about right.  They could have won more with more help.  They could have won less with everything that happened in terms of suspensions and injuries.  Players disappointed with their inability to get on the field.  The front office disappointed with their subpar attempts to salvage it.  Fans didn’t watch.  The budget got tighter.

2017 was the season where a lot of things backfired.  The idea of the “dream outfield” backfired.  The unit barely played together all at once in 2017.  Lack of outfield depth killed the Pirates.  They weren’t supposed to need that depth.

Not trading away prospects in the past (to win now) has backfired to this point.  The Pirates currently have a plethora of young fringe players lacking star potential.  There are now more roadblocks than opportunities for these young players.

The Pirates are in a weird spot right now.  They could tear it down and rebuild.  They could make some moves to gear up for a 2018 run.  Doing nothing is pretty stupid.  They’ve been doing for a while now.  That needs to stop.

Neal Huntington is in tough spot.  He has an “F” owner in terms of what it takes to field a winner.  That being said, he needs to be better.



Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.