The Pirates are currently 5 games under .500. They are sitting 5.5 GB of the 2nd Wild Card and that could move to 6 if the Mets win tonight in Atlanta. They have played 73 games to this point, leaving 89 games in the season, 16 games until the All-Star Break and 30 until the trade deadline.
That last number is key, the Trade Deadline.
The Pirates have to decide whether they are going to be buyers or sellers at this deadline. Since the Wild Card expanded to 2 teams, no team in the National League got into the Wild Card with less than 88 wins. Over those same 4 years the 2nd Wild Card averaged 90.75 wins to gain a berth in the postseason.
The Pirates are currently 34-39. That means they would have to go 54-35 in their final 89 games to get to that magic number of 88 wins. Add 3 more wins if you are going based on the average. 57-32! Now ask yourself, have you seen anything at all from this team so far this season that make you believe that they can play at a .640 clip the rest of the way this year?
I’ll answer that for you, NO!
But if you would like to hold out hope, that is fine. Let’s give the team until the All-Star Break and see where they stand. They have 16 games to play before the break, of those 16 games 13 are against teams with a better record than them. To have any realistic chance of reaching 90 wins, or even 88, reaching .500 by the All-Star Break should be the goal. That means going 11-5 in the next 16 games. Those next 16 games include 4 against the Dodgers (currently in position for the top Wild Card spot), a 9 game road trip which includes 5 on the west coast and 4 in St. Louis, and they finish against the Cubs, who have beaten the Pirates 8 out of 9 times this season. How’s that 11-5 run look now?
It is officially time to lower the Jolly Roger and raise the White Flag on the 2016 Pirate baseball season.
The Pirates are only 1 of 3 teams that can make the claim of reaching the postseason each of the last 3 years. And that came off of a 21-year hiatus. Now is not the time to live in the recent past, but to look towards the future. The Pirates have a bright future, with plenty of young talent in the organization and most of their starting line-up locked up long term. So why not sell off valuable pieces to help the future?
The Pirates have plenty of pieces that would be valuable to a team in the race in September. SO who are they?
First and foremost, Mark Melancon. It is well known that the Pirates shopped around Melancon last off season, knowing that he was going into his final year of arbitration. He is a free agent after this season and it seems like the Pirates have zero interest in paying him this winter. What team doesn’t need bullpen help in October? You’d have to think that other than the Yankees Aroldis Chapman, Melancon would be the best reliever available come July. He would get a big return.
Another pitcher is next, Francisco Liriano. Before you laugh at the thought of anyone giving the Pirates more than a bucket of Double Bubble for the struggling lefty, realize this, he is a proven commodity and a lefty. He also has another year of control on his contract, making him more valuable to the team that gets him. And apparently at least one team has shown interest in him. (Rotoworld blurb from Wednesday: http://www.rotoworld.com/headlines/mlb/505192/Orioles-showing-interest-in-Francisco-Liriano ) Liriano would also get a nice return, not as much as Melancon, but something worthwhile.
Neftali Feliz is another rental player that the Pirates would be able to get a decent return on. As said with Melancon, teams are always looking for another arm for the postseason. He is another guy that has done it in big games and still can be dominant at times. He, like Melancon is also a free agent after this season, so why not try to get something in return for him?
The final 3 guys on the list are 3 bats, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez and David Freese. All 3 of these guys can be upgrades for teams that are looking for some versatility or some pop off the bench. You aren’t going to get much return for these 3, but you will get something. Again, all 3 of these guys are free agents to be, so why not get something in return for them while you can?
I would encourage Neal Huntington and the Pirates to try their best at moving all 6 of these players before the deadline. They aren’t part of the future but can help the team be better in the future.
I would also encourage Huntington to use the time after these trades to let the young guys in the system get their feet wet. If you are trading Joyce, Rodriguez and Freese, bring up Josh Bell and Alen Hanson and play them. Bell should be the everyday 1st baseman, with John Jaso available to give him a day off here and there. Hanson takes the role of Rodriguez and is capable of playing behind both Mercer and Harrison, which should get him on the field 3 or 4 games a week, plus pinch hit opportunities.
Moving Melancon means finding a new closer. Tony Watson, here is your chance to prove yourself. You want the closer role in 2017 win the job in August and September of this season. If Watson isn’t the man, priority #1 in the offseason is already upgrading the bullpen, but not it is finding a closer to lead the way.
Liriano leaves a spot open in the rotation. Hopefully by the time these trades are made the Juan Nicasio and Jeff Locke experiences are over too. Bring up Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl and let them learn on the job this season. It is better they take their poundings in meaningless games against Major League hitters in August and September of a throw away season, then bringing them up next year and have them learn on the fly when the season could mean something.
The future is now with this organization. If the Pirates want to be serious contenders next season, it starts now.