The Pittsburgh Pirates had a very good season in 2015 winning 98 games which is the second most in all of baseball. They did this by playing great defense and having an overall well rounded team. It is no secret that the Pirates have to operate on a budget, and because of this, they were forced to part ways with a good amount of big league talent this off-season.
They were able to replace these players, but most would say that the moves they made weren't exactly game changers, but the way the team operates, these guys might just keep Pittsburgh where they want to be. Now that perrenial team MVP Andrew McCutchen is in the final year of his contract, this may be do or die time for the Pirates.
Jon Niese, John Jaso, David Freese, Juan Nicasio, Ryan Vogelsong, Jason Rogers, Neftali Feliz, Jake Goebbert, Jorge Rondon, Yoervis Medina, Ed Easley, Cole Figueroa, Juan Diaz, Antoan Richardson, Danny Ortiz, Kyle Lobstein, Trevor Williams, Kelvin Marte, David Whitehead, Trey Haley, Curtis Partch, Guido Knudson, Robert Zarate, Jim Fuller, Daniel Bard
Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, AJ Burnett, JA Happ, Aramis Ramirez, Charlie Morton, Joakim Soria, Antonio Bastardo, Travis Snider, Keon Broxton, Corey Hart, Vance Worley, Travis Ishikawa, Tony Sanchez, Jaff Decker, Joe Blanton, Andrew Lambo, Radhames Liz, Trey Supak, Bobby LaFromboise
Biggest Strength - Outfield
For the past several seasons, it has been somewhat universally accepted that this is the best outfield in baseball. Of course that starts with center fielder Anderw McCutchen, a man who competes for league MVP on a regular basis. Not only does he bring it with the bat, he also has good speed, runs the bases well, and plays a very good center field.
The same can be said about the overall well rounded nature of the other two outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Some are calling Marte the best overall left fielder in the game as he has emerged as a defensive force with plus speed and good bat as well.
Polanco is the most recent to get called up and is still considered a bit of a work in progress, but he also has the speed/power combo the other two possess while playing solid D. He probably has the best arm out of the trio. Overall, this is a nice group for an organization to lean on.
Biggest Weakness - First Base
The Pirates are a fairly well rounded team, and they have a lot of options at first base, so it could end up being less of a weakness by the time the year finishes up if they find the right guy for the job. As of right now, it looks like there will most likely be a platoon between John Jaso and Michael Morse at the position.
Both guys have shown that they are above average hitters over the course of their careers, but they have also both had a tough time finding regular playing time because of injuries and other various reasons. It's worth noting that both guys aren't natural first baseman.
Morse is a natural outfielder who was moved in because he was a large guy who was a bit of a liability out there, plus teams wanted to keep his bat if possible. Jaso is making the move to the infield for the first time in his career as he's been a catcher thus far. Last season, although he was hurt for a good majority of it, Jaso was primarily a DH.
Other guys on the radar for the first base position in Pittsburgh include utility man Sean Rodriguez, outfield prospect Josh Bell, and off-season pickup Jake Goebbert. Of these other options, it seems most feasible that Josh Bell take the job and run with it if and when it's needed. He could be the best option as we speak, but he has defensive concerns in the infield and will start the season in AAA.
Someone to keep an eye on - Jung-ho Kang
Although it took a while for Jung-ho Kang to get going last season, it looks like the Pirates struck gold with their 2015 Korean signing. He will start 2016 on the DL, while he still recovers from a Chris Coghlan slide in September that took Kang out of the Pirates lineup down the stretch and their wildcard game.
Jung-ho has the ability to play second, third and shortstop when he returns to full health probably in early May. If he is able to get in the groove right away, he will be a big boost to the Pirates offense. He will likely play either in front of David Freese at third base or Jordy Mercer at short assuming everyone else is healthy when he comes back. He is also a probable top 10 producer at whatever position he lands when healthy.
Projected Lineup… Lefties*… Switch Hitters^
- Starling Marte - LF
- Andrew McCutchen - CF
- John Jaso* - 1B
- David Freese - 3B
- Gregory Polanco* - RF
- Josh Harrison - 2B
- Francisco Cervelli - C
- Jordy Mercer - SS
Chris Stewart, Michael Morse, Pedro Florimon^, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce*
Projected Rotation… Lefties*
- Gerrit Cole
- Francisco Liriano*
- Jon Niese*
- Juan Nicasio
- Ryan Vogelsong
Mark Melancon - Closer, Tony Watson*, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes, Neftali Feliz, Jeff Locke*, Kyle Lobstein*
Starting Season on DL
Fantasy Bargain - John Jaso
To start the season, Jaso looks like he will be the better part of the first base platoon discussed earlier due to his left-handedness. His track record suggests that he is a fairly good hitter per at bat. His strikeout rate is much better than average and his walk rate is elite, to go with above average power. In each of the past 4 seasons, his wRC+ has been above 121 which means that he has been at least 21% above league average as an overall offensive presence during that span.
His high on base numbers might actually land him first or second in the lineup which is always great for fantasy production. If he was to ever get 600 at bats in a season again, about 20 homers is what you can expect to go along with those nice percentage numbers. Absolutely worth a late round pick-up.
Overrated Fantasy Option - Starling Marte
This is another case of people paying a little too much for steals. Some people are drafting Marte in the top 30 and that is too high by a pretty good margin. He does have the power/speed combo that every fantasy owner loves, but he has yet to hit 20 homers in a major league season and he's played 3 seasons with full playing time so far. His on base numbers are average as well.
So he's a guy with average power, average on base numbers, but plus speed. Is that worth a somewhat high draft spot? Yes. Is he a top 30 fantasy player? Absolutely not. Take Kevin Pillar 100 spots later and get a somewhat similar season out of him. Other outfielders that are in the Marte class that people need to wait on include but aren't limited to AJ Pollock, Jason Heyward, and Carlos Gomez.
It would be hard to say that the Pirates got better this off-season. They lost the underrated Neil Walker and also lost guys like AJ Burnett and Aramis Ramirez to retirement, not to mention losing the only guy who was a 40 home run threat in Pedro Alvarez. These guys probably don't make or break the team, and they did replace them with somewhat worthy guys like David Freese, Jon Niese, John Jaso and Michael Morse.
As always, a lot depends on superstar Andrew McCutchen and his fellow top of the line outfielders. Overall, it wouldn't be surprising to see the team slide a bit. A win total in the low to mid 90's seems attainable and that would likely be good for a second or third place finish in the best division in baseball.