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Ask BD: What’s the Pirates’ potential Achilles heel?

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Thanks, all, for your questions, and feel free to keep them coming. Here’s the first round of answers.

JRoth95: What area—other than the health of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon—do you view as the Achilles heel of this team? That is, what would hurt this team the most while being least surprising?

It’s got to be the infield. Josh Bell should clearly be a regular, but there’s the chance his defense could become a problem, and if it does, John Jaso isn’t a great answer at the position. Josh Harrison is coming off two straight years that have been only okay. Jordy Mercer is a decent enough shortstop, but could become a liability if, say, he only hits three homers, like he did in 2015. And who knows what’s going through Jung Ho Kang’s head right now. Bell, Harrison, Mercer and Kang are all credible starters, and Bell, Kang and maybe even Harrison have upside, but if I have to pick an area of the team that could suddenly become a big problem, that’s probably it.

Or maybe catcher? Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are both aging and coming off seasons in which they struggled with injury, and Elias Diaz couldn’t stay healthy last year either.

Wick012: Is there a realistic chance Tyler Glasnow makes the rotation out of Spring Training?

Only the Pirates could give an informed answer to that question, but if I were in charge, he’d be a long shot. He doesn’t really have control or a third pitch yet, and I’d want to see big progress in at least the first area before I let him start the season in the majors. His upside is stratospheric, but it’s probably going to take him some time to realize it, and I don’t see much point in burning service time until he’s a bit closer to doing so.

GoBuccos: Do the Pirates have room for Joe Blanton, both roster and money-wise, if they move another piece from the current bullpen? And if so, do you think he would be a worthwhile addition, since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of large money flying around at the remaining free agents?

You always have room for an upgrade, which Blanton seemingly would be. If he might be available cheaply because it’s so late in the offseason, then acquiring him might present the Bucs with a good opportunity.

The Pirates added David Freese on a surprisingly cheap one-year deal at around this point last offseason. It turned out that they needed Freese to fill in for awhile at third base until Kang got healthy, but after that, they didn’t have an obvious place for Freese, and they even had something of a logjam at first, with Jaso, Bell, Michael Morse and Jason Rogers. As it turned out, Morse and Rogers fell by the wayside because Freese was the better player, and the Pirates got a very good return on a $3 million opportunity that basically fell into their laps.

Blanton would be the same way. If adding someone like him presents roster problems involving people like Jared Hughes or maybe even one of the Pirates’ big group of lefties, that’s fine. Take the good player, if you still think he’s a good player, and let those issues sort themselves out.

Of course, the Pirates know pitching. Maybe they’re pretty certain Daniel Hudson and Nefi Ogando and A.J. Schugel are going to be great this year, and they don’t need Blanton. Or maybe they look at something like the increase in Blanton’s fly ball rate last year and think there might be trouble ahead for him. Who knows.

NPalley: With the Cubs looking to be the lock of the century to win the division is it worth it for the Pirates to get into the playoffs?

Yes, making the playoffs is a good outcome in and of itself, and although going in as a Wild Card team rather than a division winner cuts down a team’s chances significantly, a Wild Card team can win a World Series. We’ve seen it. Read on ...

Could you see the Pirates taking a Cubs-like approach and trade high-value guys for prospects and just tank for four to five years and get a team that could kind of resemble the Cubs?

No. I could see them shaking things up this summer — by, for example, trading Andrew McCutchen, or maybe even Gerrit Cole. Older guys like Cervelli or Freese who are under long-term contracts could potentially go as well. But I can’t see them doing a full rebuild when they have Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Taillon already at the big-league level, Glasnow and Bell close to making an impact (however flawed they might be right now), and Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman and a couple other potentially high-value players less than a couple years away. I understand the appeal of an aggressive rebuild, particularly when you can look to organizations like the Cubs and Astros and see how well it’s gone for them. But the Pirates have way too much very good MLB or near-MLB talent to go into hibernation for five years.