By: Noah Wright
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire
The Pirates are currently 35-36 on the season. They started the season very strong, but have fallen off the last month or so. After this fall-off, some fans have called for a rebuild, while others have called for The Bucs to be buyers at this upcoming deadline. I’m here to discuss why they should rebuild, should not rebuild, and what I think they should do.
First, I want to bring up points on why they should rebuild. The Pirates are currently 7 games out of the division. They still have a shot at the division, but it is a very outside shot, as things stand right now. Plus The Bucs have a handful of controllable players that could bring back some decent young pieces. This includes Francisco Cervelli, and Ivan Nova, both who are controlled for the rest of this season, and next season. Corey Dickerson will also be controllable through 2019 with an arbitration year. Josh Harrison has the most club control, as he has club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Harrison and Dickerson would likely bring back the most in a trade, because of the amount of control they have, and their performance this season. With a rebuild, The Pirates could be competitive again in a year or so.
Next I want to bring up why they shouldn’t rebuild. As I stated before, some of The Pirates biggest names still have a few years of club control left. They’re also just 3 and a half games out of a WC spot. Most of their core is fairly young, and talented as well. Colin Moran has had a decent season so far, and so has young pitchers Nick Kingham, and Joe Musgrove. Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon have been somewhat inconsistent, but both have been much better their last 4 games. Though newly extended closer Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero) has been inconsistent this year, but was amazing last year. Though first baseman Josh Bell seems to be suffering a sophomore slump this year, he performed very well last year as a rookie, and even finishing third place in ROY voting, showing he can handle himself at the major league level. While Gregory Polanco has struggled this year, top prospect Austin Meadows has been amazing this year. The team’s offense all together has been very good this year. Right now, they have the 8th most runs scored per game on average in The MLB, and 4th in The NL. Plus The Pirates aren’t in a situation like The Baltimore Orioles, who’s best players (Manny Machado, and Adam Jones) are on the last year of their contracts, so there shouldn’t be a rush to get players out the door yet. To add on, The Pirates still have an ok farm system. Mitch Keller is a season or so away to being major league ready. Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman will likely receive a major league call-up very soon, as both have done very well in triple-A. With enough control over their best players to be competitive this year, depth in the farm right now, and showing some offensive promise, The Pirates should not be in a hurry to trade players, and completely tear down.
So what do I think? I don’t think The Pirates should go into full rebuild mode yet. At the deadline, I think they should trade from the lower end of their prospects to acquire some cheap relief pitching. At the most, The Pirates should trade off some of their veteran players like Jordy Mercer, who’s on the last year of his contract, and get whatever they can out of David Freese. This could help get some of the younger guys in the minors, Newman, Kramer and Jose Osuna (though Osuna already has some experience) get some/more major league experience this year. If and when they do decide to rebuild, I think it should be either during this off season, or early next season, around the time The Rays’ traded Alex Colome to The Mariners.
By: Noah Wright
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
This year, The Pirates weakest link has been the bullpen. So far, the pen has blown enough holds/saves/leads, and turned close games into losing by 3+ runs, that they would be closer or in a WC, or even near a division spot, if it wasn’t for the bullpen. This bullpen struggle has been apparent the last few weeks. The Pirates could fix this problem though, for they still have some time, and enough of a farm system to strengthen a weak pen. Let's look at a few arms The Pirates could go after in the coming weeks up to the deadline.
1.) Kelvin Herrera
I had mentioned The Pirates as a possible target for The Pirates in an article on where Herrera will land. Also like I had said, The Royal’s closer has been downright dominant. In his 22.2 innings of work, Herrera has a .79 ERA, 2.01 FIP, and .706 WHIP. He has also not allowed a walk yet, and has only given up 1 homerun, and opponents only have a .242 BABIP against him. Herrera has also had a decent K% at 23.2%, his K/9 is down at a career low 7.5 K/9 rate. However, Herrera is a cheap option. He’s on the last year of his contract, and is only getting paid $7.937 million total this season.
2.) Shane Greene
The Tigers closer has been solid this year. On the season, Greene has a 3.49 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, a career high 10.8 K/9, 27.9 K%, and career lows in BB/9 (2.86) and BB% (7.4%) However, Greene does hold a 4.02 FIP, and it doesn’t help that The Pirates have less of a defensive WAR than The Tigers.
3.) Jared Hughes and/or David Hernandez
I put both of these pitchers here because both are on The Reds, and both are performing well. Hughes, who is a former Pirate, has done well for himself this year. In 32.1 innings, the righty has produced a 1.11 ERA, 2.96 FIP, and has only given up 2 homerun. He’s also currently has a career low, 2.2 BB/9 rate. As for Hernandez, he started the year on the DL, but has done well since coming off of it. In his 19.1 innings of work, Hernandez holds a 2.33 ERA, and a similar 2.65 FIP. He also carries a solid 8.4 K/9 rate, and hasn’t yet given up a homerun. Both are currently on cheap contracts (Hughes is getting paid $2.125 million and Hernandez is owed $2.5 million), and both could help the team.
4.) Brad Brach
The Orioles righty is on the last year of his contract, and owed $5.165 million. He’s done solid in his contract year. So far this season, Brach has a 3.13 ERA, and 3.07 FIP, with a healthy 9.8 K/9 and 23.6 K% in 23 innings. Though Branch has struggled with walks this year. He currently holds a 4.7 BB/9 and 11.3 walk%. His walk ratio is the highest it’s been since 2013. But he has limited batters to a .258 opponent average and .4 HR/9.
By: Noah Wright
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez’s bullpen role may be in jeopardy after a heartbreaking blown save last night against NL Central Rival, The St. Louis Cardinals. The game ended with a walk-off homerun from Yairo Munoz who hit it off a Vazquez 95.8 MPH fastball. This has not been the only time Vazquez has struggled this year, as this is his fourth blown save. Last year he was an extremely dominant pitcher, even not giving up an earned run in the entire month of July, to now having his role in jeopardy. His struggles have had Pirate fans wondering, what happened to Felipe Vazquez?
On Sunday, it was reported Felipe felt soreness in his left forearm (throwing arm). It has been apparent all year that something was wrong with his throwing arm. Vazquez’s signature pitch is his blazing fastball. Last year, his fastball averaged in the 98-100 MPH range. His performance and velocity with the fastball in 2017 rivaled that of Aroldis Chapman. This year, Vazquez’s fastball has averaged in the 95-97 MPH range. Vazquez also claimed the fastest pitch thrown by someone not named Chapman in 2017, at a whopping 102.6 MPH. So far in 2018, Vazquez has barely touched 100 MPH a few times this season. With his lack of velocity, Vazquez can’t blow the fastball by batters like he did last year. It has also caused his strikeout rate to dip from 10.51 last year, to 9.27 this year. The injury may also be affecting his control as well, with his walk rate rising a whole 1.24 points from last year to this year.
With his apparent injury, dip in velocity, and loss of control, it is likely Felipe will require a DL stint. While it’s not official, I predict he will be placed on The DL by the end of the week.