In what we hope will be a fairly normal Major League Baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will try to shift into a slightly higher gear than where they were in 2020. Last season saw a terrible Pirate club limp to the finish line of a 60 game season in what was a historically bad performance by record. Are the Pirates that bad? Probably not, but we also shouldn’t expect them to make many strides in 2021, particularly if the front office continues to (rightfully) trade older pieces that likely wouldn’t be around anyway the next time the team contends.
So, what’s the best case scenario in Pittsburgh this summer?
According to FanGraphs’ depth charts projections, this Pirates are projected to have a .435 winning percentage — second worse in all of baseball, ahead of only Baltimore. That equates to between 70 and 71 wins. Frankly, a further depleted club finishing 70-92 might be a welcome step in the right direction.
Generally, the long haul of a baseball season results in things evening out. Even under those circumstances, the Pirates finishing with a .500 record would still constitute things “evening out.” They wouldn’t make the playoffs, unless the NL Central proved to be an absolute sham of a division, but they would likely finish in third place. With the state of the division, you could make the argument that any of the other four teams could finish below the .500 mark.
Winning (or almost winning) baseball with the current state of the organization? Sign me up.
Organizational trend: Up
This one isn’t as quantifiable, of course, as the team’s record, but I believe that we could all get a sense that the organization was moving in the right direction. This occurrence is partially tied to items one and three on this list because, without them, it might not be possible to trend upward. While record isn’t as important as number three (organizational depth), it would go a long way to making fans more comfortable.
But this could be achieved in any number of ways. Perhaps a greater commitment to winning from owner Bob Nutting. I know that’s a long shot, but it would certainly signal a paradigm — as well as a cultural — shift. It could be that Ben Cherington shows unique savvy in moving players and allocating resources. But, by and large it will be contingent on the following:
Organizational depth: Replenished
There was a not-so-far-away time when the Pirates had one of the top farm systems in all of baseball. Those days are no longer around but, fortunately, they haven’t sunk quite so far as to be in the deepest depths where some organizations find themselves.
A January 13 article from Bleacher Report puts the Pirates in 11th place, five slots higher than the midseason report from MLB on September 1. The former list includes Liover Peguero (4th) and Brennan Malone (10th), both of whom came over from Arizona in the Starling Marte trade.
If the front office can climb into the top 10 of farm systems in baseball, particularly by Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis’s standards, then I would consider that a win for this organization. Perhaps a year or two after this offseason, Cherington and Co. can climb into the top five. If that’s the case, the Pirates might not only have a stocked farm system like they once were alleged to have, but they could also be on the brink of legitimate contention again. This all hinges, of course, on whether or not this offseason progresses successfully and what moves are made during the 2021 season.