Laying out the case for a the Pittsburgh Pirates to rebuild

The Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in an uncomfortable spot following the Winter Meetings. They haven’t decided whether or not they will be contenders or rebuilders in 2018.

No one wants to hear that word: rebuild.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent the better part of the last 25 years rebuilding. There was brief run of success from 2013-15 but that seems like it was eons ago now.

Not that management wants fans to think that. No, over the last two seasons, the Pirates have spoken of moving some parts of their playoff core, while also contending.

“Depending upon what we’re able to do in this market,” Huntington said at PiratesFest last week, “that goal (postseason success) may be ’18, that goal may be ’19.”

Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are the last core members left of those playoff teams.

All five should be traded.

In fact, anyone of significance on this team not under team control for at least the next five seasons should be traded.

Missed Chances

The Pittsburgh Pirates did the best that a limited small-market team could at winning a World Series. In 2013, the Pirates had two opportunities to advance to the NLCS, but lost both.

In 2014, the Pirates used a September surge to claim a Wild Card spot but lost to a team led by a pitcher beginning to post the most dominant October in MLB history.

In 2015, the Pirates won 98 games and seemed best built to win a series, not a one-game playoff, but they never got that chance.

At this point, the past is the past. The Pirates tried to win a World Series, but ultimately failed. It is time to move on.

Better to jump into rebuilding than to remain complacent.

Unresolved problems

For the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates dealt with many of the same problems. Additionally, they failed to answer many of those problems.

When Neil Walker was traded prior to the 2016 season, Josh Harrison moved to second base and third base was left to Jung-Ho Kang. When Kang was not healthy enough to start the season, David Freese was signed. Freese proved to be slightly above average (1.6 fWAR), but not a long-term option since he was 33 at the end of the season.

Kang, meanwhile, hasn’t played a game since 2016 and isn’t expected to return anytime soon. Freese is the presumed starter despite dropping in every category besides on-base percentage from 2016 to 2017.

Third base isn’t the only problem the Pirates have dealt with several seasons now. Starting pitching has remained inconsistent since the end of that 98-win season. Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon have since debuted and shown stretches of effectiveness that vary depending on the starter. Gerrit Cole has regressed in both seasons since a Cy Young-candidate season in 2015. Ivan Nova began his Pirates career with promise before progressively getting worse.

The Pirates no longer have a stopper or an ace in the rotation. They enter 2018 with the same question that they had in each of the last two offseasons: who will be the No. 5 starter?

Sooner rather than later

The Pittsburgh Pirates will struggle to tell fans that another rebuild is necessary. Huntington and Hurdle have both talked about wanting to retool instead of rebuilding. By doing this, they are simply avoiding the inevitable.

The Pirates will not make the playoffs this season barring the unforeseen. Instead, they will finish similar to where they did last season or even worse. The rest of the division has only gotten better and are running laps around the Pirates.

Instead of bumbling and not getting a top draft pick because of an unwarranted belief in 2018 playoff contention, Huntington would be wise to move on from the current core as fast as possible. Trade McCutchen, Cole and others for something, anything! The return isn’t as necessary as the lost baggage is.

Drop players that will be leaving soon anyway and lose more games to get better draft picks. Some fans may say, “We’ve been down this road before,” which is understandable. The problem is, as long as MLB continues to operate in a salary cap-free world, the draft is the only way that small market teams can contend.

The Pirates best shot is to rebuild through tanking and go all-in whenever that day is that their prospects all arrive. When that day will be remains to be seen, but it will arrive much faster if the Pirates jettison their excess baggage sooner rather than later.

Photo credit – Daniel Decker Photogrpahy

Joel Norman

Joel Norman is a journalism major at West Virginia University. In addition to writing for Pirates Breakdown, Joel covers WVU sports for the Daily Athenaeum and writes game recaps and features for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Joel also does play-by-play broadcasts of WVU hockey and baseball for WWVU-FM in Morgantown.