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Ask Bucs Dugout: The 2016 season, youth, and potential trades

MLB: Houston Astros at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hey everyone, thanks for your questions.

Chiburgh: Despite the wins total, was Neal Huntington wise to switch from a team with home run potential to an OBP-based team? How will the approach change for 2017, if at all? Was the down season all due to weak pitching?

As others pointed out in the comments, the Pirates scored 32 more runs in 2016 than they did in 2015. They also had a slightly higher slugging percentage, in addition to a higher OBP. And, of course, a lot of their key offensive players were the same. They surely did acquire some players for whom OBP was a key part of their skill sets, but that trend wasn’t a decisive one.

The real problem was that the 2016 team allowed a full run per game more than the 2015 team did. Some of that might have been a slight difference in defensive performance, but yes, if you want to understand the gap between the two teams, I’d start with the pitchers. The 2015 team had Gerrit Cole pitching at an ace-caliber level, plus Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett firing on all cylinders. The 2016 team didn’t have those things.

2010 Will Be The Year: Do you expect that the organization will rely on young players much more in 2017 than in past years? It seems the Pirates always bring in a number of veterans to weigh out the experience levels.

I’m sure they’ll acquire a few veterans, but yes, I think their 2017 roster will skew a bit younger than it has in the past. Instead of Mark Melancon, they’ll have Felipe Rivero; instead of Matt Joyce, they’ll have John Jaso, and instead of Jaso they’ll have Josh Bell; instead of Sean Rodriguez, they’ll have Adam Frazier; and so on. The sheer number of players coming up from Indianapolis to play their first full year or something close to it (Bell, Frazier, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and so on) will have a meaningful effect on the age of the roster.

Guapo: Would you be more surprised if Andrew McCutchen or Gregory Polanco had a 5+ WAR season in 2017?

Polanco, but it’s close. If you’d asked me in June, I would have said McCutchen. Given their respective second halves and McCutchen’s long track record of excellence, I’d bet on him being the better player in 2017.

That written, I’m not sure either of them has a great chance at it. Five wins is a lot, and they’re each coming off non-superstar-caliber seasons.

IAPiratesFan: Can we pencil in Kevin Newman for second base around midseason next year?

It’s not impossible, but I’d pump the brakes on that one. Newman only has 740 career minor league plate appearances and has batted a mere .295/.362/.396. That’s a great OBP, and his .389 OBP last season between Bradenton and Altoona was even better, but it won’t necessarily translate well to big-league pitching unless he continues to improve.

Newman also hasn’t yet gotten to Triple-A, and he hasn’t played a professional inning at second base. He could yet become the Pirates’ everyday second baseman, but there’s some work to do before that happens.

Joey Mooney: Is Steven Matz a possible target for the Pirates? I would imagine the front office has an idea of arms that throw 94+ mph but do you think they will need a lefty?

I think handedness (as opposed to effectiveness) is overrated for rotation arms, and I haven’t seen any indication that the Mets would seriously consider trading Matz.

JRoth95: So, any thoughts in the Liriano trade? I feel as if that whole thing has gotten swept under the rug, but in my mind, it was a controversial move.

I’m sure it’ll turn out great.

BMcFerren: Why can't the Pirates do a superstar for superstar trade, like Starling Marte to the Mariners for King Felix, or McCutchen to the Red Sox for David Price?

Well, first you’ve got to consider what the other team needs. It would make no real sense for the Red Sox to acquire a starting outfielder right now.

Then there’s the fact that trading one superstar for another dramatically changes how both franchises are constructed. Not only would such moves be enormously — and perhaps needlessly — risky for both parties, but you’d also have problems like how the Pirates would pay the $197 million (!!!) left on Price’s contract, or the $79 million left on Hernandez’s.

I think you could make the case, by the way, that Marte is a significantly more valuable asset right now than Hernandez, given their respective contracts and their play in 2016. Now watch Hernandez rebound to win the 2017 AL Cy Young, just because I wrote that.

Sammy Khalifa: I would love to trade Cole, Polanco and Josh Harrison to the Yanks. What do you think would be a fair return for them?

Are you a secret Yankees fan? Maybe the Pirates should throw in Marte, Jameson Taillon and Austin Meadows while they’re at it.

Okay, thanks, everyone. My apologies for the snark.