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Pirates First-Half Grades: The “Clint Hurdle is Good, Actually” Edition

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
“What do you want me to do with these guys?” - Clint Hurdle, probably
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Here we are at the little-more-than-half-way point of the 2017 season. It’s been a strange ride in more ways than one. Wilbur has given you plenty to digest, but here’s my take on some of what we’ve seen:

Manager: B

There’s a lot of crap that’s happened that hasn’t been Clint Hurdle’s fault. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it surprises me so many people hold him responsible for the team’s shortfalls.

I give Hurdle a lot of credit for how he’s handled Felipe Rivero. The rest of the bullpen — what are you going to do? I think a big reason Hurdle stuck with Tony Watson as the closer for so long was that it was better to plug Rivero into high leverage situations that way; and it’s no secret I’m a big fan of the current “closer” arrangement.

I have no idea where to assign credit or blame for Andrew McCutchen’s ups and downs, but my first thought is that Hurdle handled a potentially delicate situation pretty deftly, and we appear to be on the other side of it now.

He drove me, and a lot of people, nuts with his constant double-switching to replace Josh Bell with John Jaso, but that’s subsided.

A lot of a manager’s job, I think, is to not screw anything up, and Hurdle hasn’t added to the Pirates’ problems.

Front Office - Offseason: C-

For my purposes, ownership is included in the front-office category.

Most conversations about Pirates ownership go nowhere (so, why not start there!), and I’m not a fan of painting Bob Nutting as some kind of cartoonish villain. That’s not terribly productive or informative or useful. What’s become clear, first in the 2015-16 offseason, and it wasn’t corrected in 2016-17, is that ownership’s budget is way too tight for a team that’s supposed to be in a window of contention. From a baseball perspective, it’s downright negligent.

I was quite pleased Ivan Nova was brought back. That all it took was a three-year, $26 million contract was nice, as far as hypothetically leaving money to go elsewhere. It was also a little concerning — would the Pirates have gone four years, would they have gone $35-45 million? If there was a suitor pushing the Pirates there, I hope they would have gone to that length, but I’m not sure I really want to know the answer to this question. Apparently, 3/26 is where the market valued Nova, though, so I’m not going to complain too much, but it concerns me.

I’m going back further than the intended scope with this, but the Pirates probably should have added another decent starting pitcher or two along the line, given where they are, or at least recently were, on the win curve.

I believe Neal Huntington is a fine general manager, really a quite good one in a vacuum. I was very pleased with his approach to Andrew McCutchen trade talks — listen, but hold firm on a high asking price. That price wasn’t met, and Cutch remains a Pirate. While, in the future, I don’t see the Bucs getting the haul they were rumored to be looking at last offseason, I’m quite alright with this decision, whether Cutch is back or not.

Daniel Hudson was a perfectly defensible expenditure, standing out only because the lack of other expenditures and the vagaries that come with relief pitching.

Front Office - In-Season: D

Most of my complaints come from the fringes of the roster — obviously there wasn’t much the team could do about the Jung-Ho Kang and Starling Marte situations — so I’m not sure how much better a record the Pirates would have had the roster been managed perfectly.

However, we’ve seen a bit too much of veterans like Antonio Bastardo and Phil Gosselin, and a bit too little of younger possible relief or bench solutions like Edgar Santana, Dovydas Neverauskas and Chris Bostick. Wilbur’s covered this overarching philosophy a good bit.

More importantly, Elias Diaz is 26, not 23. At this point, he’s more useful playing once or twice a week in Pittsburgh than getting four at-bats a day in Indianapolis. I put this under the front office and not the manager, because, ultimately, they make the decision. Diaz would at least be a good bench bat, which isn’t entirely under the FO’s control.

Also, as Wilbur touched on, it’s strange we haven’t seen Steven Brault in the majors this year.

Catcher: C

Francisco Cervelli isn’t going to be a power hitter, but it no longer looks like he’s going up to the plate with little more than a toothpick and a good batting eye. It’s not his fault he’s gotten hurt and/or sick, and it actually looks like the Pirates have the makings of a pretty nice catching situation, even if Cervelli isn’t fit for a huge workload going forward. Elias Diaz has looked like he belongs, and I suspect he’ll be a regularly-used backup sooner rather than later. Chris Stewart’s fallen off from even his low standard with the bat, but he’s a backup catcher in more of the one-game-a-week mold. That has its use, but I’m not sure it’s on the Pirates any longer.

Infield: B

My main reservation I had with Josh Bell was whether his power would eventually show up, or if we’d just be waiting, and waiting, and waiting. That he’s already showing pop is an awesome sign, especially considering he already has patience at the plate. That bodes really well for the future. That’s three sentences about Bell without even mentioning his defense, which I’m really pretty happy about — it’s certainly playable, especially considering his bat.

Josh Harrison’s been a huge plus in a year without many of those. I don’t think anyone would’ve batted an eye if he just continued to fade away from the heights of 2014, so this year’s a credit to him.

I wonder how much David Freese has left, but I wondered this when he was acquired, too. He’s been a cornerstone at times. Jordy Mercer has been pretty darn important, too.

Outfield: D

Gregory Polanco gets talked about, but his struggles have been overshadowed. This is a different team if he’s playing anywhere near his potential. That’s as much a shortfall as any the Pirates have experienced.

Starling Marte deserves a lot of blame for being reckless. I’d also be more than happy to skip the “What about the kids” moralizing once he gets back.

It can’t have been easy for Andrew McCutchen. That he seems to be “back” is a major win for him, however long it took. That said, for the time period we’re looking at, his performance was mostly brutal, and that’s obviously a huge reason the Pirates aren’t in the NL Central race.

I like Adam Frazier a lot. He’ll be fine.

Rotation: C

Starting pitching has carried this team at times, which I can’t say was all that expected. Before and after that whole cancer thing, Jameson Taillon has been awesome, avoiding the speedbumps we usually associate with second-year pitchers. Ivan Nova’s competence occasionally bordering on excellence is something the Pirates have really needed.

I feel like Gerrit Cole is what he is going to be, at least in Pittsburgh. That’s pretty good, for the most part, but maddening every now and then. I’m encouraged by Trevor Williams, but I could do without a strict every-five-day diet of Chad Kuhl, especially with Steven Brault and Drew Hutchison around as options.

Bullpen: D

Ugh.

Tony Watson falling apart, I could kind of see. Daniel Hudson I honestly thought would be better.

I’ve always been a fan of Neal Huntington’s bullpen strategy, but we’ve reached the point where he needs to dip into the minor-league depth a little more and see if Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas can’t be better than what the Pirates have had so far. Maybe even get creative with Tyler Glasnow if they’re in the hunt.

Felipe Rivero, however, is the team’s most talented player and an absolute joy to watch.