Not too long ago, many people were wondering what the Pittsburgh Pirates were doing (myself included). After trading franchise players like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, it would’ve made sense to hear them come out and say they were embarking on some kind of short rebuild. They didn’t do that, though.
General manager Neal Huntington said on multiple occasions that the Pirates aren’t trying to tank the 2018 season and are focused on winning. This very notion seemed ridiculous based on their offseason activity, but that’s why they play the game.
Now 10 games into the year, Pittsburgh is 8-2 and firmly atop the National League Central standings at the moment. Let’s not get silly and hand over a playoff spot to them today — their postseason odds currently stand at just 19.2%, per FanGraphs — but this is still a stretch of play almost nobody anticipated.
The offense has been driving this streak of dominance, despite being very similar to the one (minus McCutchen, plus Colin Moran and Corey Dickerson) that had the third-lowest team wRC+ (85) in baseball last year.
Needless to say, things have been a little different during the last couple weeks.
There’s still plenty of season left — and plenty of time for them to come back down to reality — but Pittsburgh’s 128 wRC+ and .359 wOBA are currently among the league’s best.
While we shouldn’t discount a hot start, it’s also important to point out who they’ve played thus far. Entering Wednesday’s action, the Pirates have faced the Chicago Cubs once, the Minnesota Twins twice, and the Detroit Tigers three times, and the Cincinnati Reds three times. It hasn’t exactly been MLB’s toughest competition, but they still had to take the field and get the job done.
Even if the Pirates don’t keep this up, could they be better than many initially expected them to be? You bet, but it also puts the front office in an interesting position with Harrison.
His 12 runs scored is among the league leaders, all while combining that with a .326/.388/.442 line and 134 wRC+ through 49 plate appearances. This is encouraging because it’s a continuation of his 2017 campaign, in which he bounced back from a rough 2016 (86 wRC+, .301 wOBA, 1.1 fWAR) by producing a 104 wRC+, .332 wOBA, and 2.6 fWAR.
Huntington and his executives will have a decision to make this summer if the NL Central standings start to look like what we eventually expect them to. This season is the final guaranteed year on Harrison’s contract, but he can be under team control through 2020 (his age-31 and age-32 campaigns) via affordable club options.
If Pittsburgh thinks their next young core group of players isn’t far from contending for a World Series, Harrison is the perfect player to retain — he’s a productive veteran leader who has played in October before.
On the flip side, if the front office decides it’s better to part ways, there will likely be quite a trade market out there for him. After all, he’s a controllable (but not for too long) and affordable veteran that can be inserted into the top of any lineup and has the ability to play multiple positions.
This seems like a win-win situation for Harrison, who has publicly stated his desire to focus on winning, whether it’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. For now, he’s one of the main cogs in an offense with some intriguing young talent that’s off to a historic start.
Not too shabby considering what was being said about this club just a few months ago.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.