PITTSBURGH – After suffering a humiliating three game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers the Pittsburgh Pirates have fallen to a season low six games under .500 (40-46) and are eight games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the second wild card spot.
With the season half way over and the Pittsburgh Pirates continuing to trend downward, I feel that it is time to swallow the tough pill and realize that the 2018 season is essentially over. Though 2018 might not have gone as well as some had hoped it would after the Pirates got off to their hot start, the idea of this team being competitive in 2019 is not completely out of the question. However, for that to happen a few simple but major steps must be taken. Here is what I believe the Pirates must do to be best prepared for next season.
Step 1: Have a Yard Sale
With the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month the first step the Pirates need to take to assure they can be as competitive as possible in 2019 is to trade any asset that isn’t completely necessary to their success in the future. Any player that has little team control left and could be a solid addition to a playoff club should be dealt as soon as possible. While I like many others enjoy veteran starters like Francisco Cervelli, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, David Freese and Corey Dickerson, everyone must realize that none of these players fit in the long-term plans of the franchise. It will be difficult to watch them leave and some of their trade value might not be what it could’ve been had they been dealt earlier but trading them will allow the Pirates to add to their farm system while also giving young players like Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Elias Diaz, Colin Moran and Austin Meadows the everyday reps they need to be at their absolute best for next season.
Step 2: Make the Future the Present
As I already mentioned in the previous sentence, the next step to come after trading away all our luxury pieces would be to call up any player that is projected to be on the 2019 opening Day roster. If this team is going to lose they might as well do so while letting their future roster develop at the big-league level. While everyone likes to talk about the success the Pirates had from 2013-2015 few speak about how the core on those teams had to experience some major growing pains in the season prior.
In 2009 and 2010 the Bucs called up players like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones who had to take their lumps before finding consistency. After they found their footing, the second wave of players like Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole came up and did the same thing. One could argue the first wave of young talent, being Meadows, Moran, Diaz and a few pitchers, are already up and starting to develop. It is now time to begin phase two. Kramer and Newman need to come up within the next month, so this team can have a solid tandem up the middle next season. After they are called up to the big leagues the focus should then fall on finding a spot for Mitch Keller on the 2019 Opening Day roster and deciding what to do with prospects like Cole Tucker, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jason Martin and Will Craig who are just a few years away from being major league ready but have a young everyday starter in front of them.
Step 3: Consider Outsourcing
The last step that needs to be taken in the process of getting ready for next season is finding external help. Who can the Pirates find from the outside that can come in and make them better? If they do end up making the trades I mentioned earlier this young group will need some veterans on the roster to provide them with some guidance. However. this concept isn’t just limited to players available on the trading block or free agency. While I will say that the free agent signings of AJ Burnett, Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano all played a big part in getting the Pirates back to playing competitive baseball I also believe the club should look to seek new faces who can improve their coaching staff and front office.
After three straight years of losing, Clint Hurdles job shouldn’t be an absolute given; regardless of the extension that he just signed. A major argument can be made that Hurdle’s best days as a manager have come and gone and a change at the head could be beneficial if this team is looking to start over. Even if he stays the organization should reevaluate the rest of his staff and then see if there are other options available that could get more out of what the team currently has to work with. While Ray Searage certainly got the most out of his reclamation projects he has not been able to help his young staff find any consistency. In addition to inconsistent performances on the mound, the Pirates have also struggled in the areas of power hitting and base running. Perhaps finding a new hitting coach to change the teams pre-historic approach and new base coaches who can reduce the number of outs made on the base paths are in order.
Finally, the Pittsburgh Pirates should also look to improve their front office. From their General Manager to their scouting department, not one person should be pleased as to how the young talent has developed in the recent past. Being that the current way the club is being run has shown to be ineffective, a change must be made in either philosophy, strategy or personnel if this franchise intends to become a legitimate playoff contender anytime soon.
I understand that the third step of this plan is much more difficult than the first two and that the plan as a whole is easier said than done. There are many things that could go wrong if the Pirates do indeed choose to take this route of action. However, what I do know is that this club cannot sit and remain content with the current state in which they are in. As this club continues to remain in baseball limbo, their fan base and the entire city they play in are becoming more and more apathetic. Now that the playoffs are essentially out of the picture for this season, the franchises goal should be to make it clear to everyone, the fans, media and even their own players, that 2019 will be different. Whatever moves that the Pirates decide to make from now until the start of next season, they must indicate that, like the fans, they too are unhappy with being mediocre at best. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates wanting win games, their actions must once again must speak louder than their words, which as not been the case since 2015.