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Ask BD: The Pirates in 2019, and the free agents who got away

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Thanks, everyone, for your questions. Here's the second round of answers.

DCBucco: Given the moves we’ve seen so far in the Central, what are your division Power Rankings going into the season?

If you mean the order of finish, I'll go Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Brewers, Reds, although I think the division could be even more closely bunched than last year. (The 17-game difference between first and last in the NL Central last season was smaller than that of any other division.) The Cubs and Cardinals have had the sexiest offseasons, with the Pirates mostly working to maintain a talented team. The Brewers have added Adam Lind and shouldn't be that bad overall, although they probably face a bleak future. And while the Reds have all kinds of problems organizationally, they still have a lot of talent.

BMcFerren: What's the argument against bringing back Gaby?

He's 31 years old, just had a .229/.285/.385 season and is becoming more expensive due to arbitration.

MilleC311: Will the Pirates go after a top Cuban free agent? I don’t mean to suggest that Yoan Moncada is a 100% sure-thing all-star, but the most talented Cubans that come to the MLB have had pretty good success lately and at bargain contracts.

That's probably changing, though, as teams realize what great values Cuban signees have been in the recent past. I'm not sure how good Rusney Castillo is, but he looks much less likely to be a bargain than Yasiel Puig or Aroldis Chapman were. Anyway, it's hard to see the Pirates getting involved with Moncada or any other very high-profile Cuban free agent, just because the absolute dollar figures are so big for them. If recent changes to U.S./Cuba relations ever lead to the Pirates being able to sign younger (and therefore cheaper) Cuban amateurs, they would be all over that, although I'm not sure how likely that is.

Hank Chadwick: Do the Pirates only have four years to win the World Series (i.e., Andrew McCutchen’s remaining years before free agency)? Do you believe that the Pirates’ best chance to win a championship is with Cutch on the roster, and therefore any combination of prospects should be available to make a big trade that would turn a good team into a great one, even if it means the team may be bad again after Cutch leaves?

The timeline for McCutchen's free agency is worth considering, but it's very hard for us to know what things might be like in 2019. We don't know that the Pirates will be bad that year. Maybe Gregory Polanco is the next McCutchen, or maybe Austin Meadows is. And while McCutchen obviously is a huge part of the Pirates' success, the Bucs have lately done a great job complementing him with effective players who aren't big-name stars. Maybe they'll have a good team in 2019 that doesn't have any big-name players, sort of like the Athletics of the last few years.

The point is, we don't know. So it seems irrational to take a pre-apocalyptic approach, trading everything that isn't nailed down, to build a championship team around McCutchen. I'm not opposed to trading prospects, but I'd rather the Pirates plan as if it will be possible for them to be good both now and in the future. Maybe in 2017 or 2018 it will be more obvious that the Pirates won't be able to compete in 2019, and a trade-everything approach will make more sense. But I hope not.

JonDodd: Last off-season a lot of us thought that Jose Abreu’s contract would have been a very good fit for the Pirates (and he didn’t do anything in his rookie year to change that line of thinking). Has there been a contract signed so far this off-season that you wish the Pirates had matched or topped?

Kyle Blanks, Brandon Morrow and Nelson Cruz. Nah, just kidding on that last one. Maybe Justin Masterson. Actually, now that I'm looking at the list of free agents, there haven't been many obvious misses, and some players who would have fit the Pirates well (like Russell Martin, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson) got tons of money elsewhere. The Bucs didn't have many needs this offseason, and addressing them on the free agent market probably wasn't easy. They've done well to get Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Corey Hart and (via trade) Francisco Cervelli and Antonio Bastardo. They're victims of their own success, in a way -- the 2013 and 2014 teams were fueled in large part by bargain veteran additions, and now the Pirates are having to spend more just to tread water as the prices of those veterans have increased.