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The Optimist’s Guide to the 2021 Pirates

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Cleveland Indians
Leaping into 2021!
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s 2021!

Pirates followers started the New Year off in unsurprising fashion, courtesy of Dejan Kovacevic’s impromptu Twitter poll:

Something … something … dead horse … something.

At the risk of being called a Nutting shill, which other media people have reported being named if they express the slightest bit of optimism about the Pirates, I have decided to take a page from Monty Python and always look on the bright side of life (do-doo, do-do-do-do-do-doo). Admittedly, it’s hard to think about baseball in early January, and the Steelers are in the playoffs and the Penguins just started training camp, so HI DISTRACTIONS, but February will be here before we know it.

Rather than pull things out of my butt make predictions about how the team will do, here are a few things that are intriguing me about the upcoming season.

The return of Jameson Taillon. Taillon spent 2020 in Altoona to get back to form after his second Tommy John surgery. By all accounts, he progressed exceptionally well, to the point of rumblings that he might have joined the team in September. The almost-certain 2021 Opening Day starter and very possible trade bait (optimistic does not mean unrealistic) will have a lot of eyes on him since “no one comes back from two TJs” comes up a lot.

The continued breakout of Ke’Bryan Hayes. No one will deny that Hayes’s September MLB debut was the one bright spot of an otherwise putrid Pirates season. His jaw-dropping .376/.442/.682 slash line and super-pretty glove work hit even non-Pirates highlight reels, and if he wasn’t in the mix for the 2020 Rookie of the Year, he will definitely be in it for 2021. He’s a lot of fun to watch.

Will Colin Moran and Jacob Stallings continue in the vein of 2020? I wouldn’t call Moran’s performance last season a breakout, but it was certainly better than many Pirates fans were expecting. With Josh Bell off to the Nationals and Ke’Bryan Hayes locked in at third base, first base is Moran’s position to lose. Stallings’s defense was an enjoyable surprise, considering that so many people, myself included, expressed doubt that he could be a solid everyday catcher. Keep it up, you guys.

What’s done with Gregory Polanco. Contrary to popular belief, Polanco is not Spanish for “dismal,” although it sometimes feels like it. Often injured, underperforming and expensive (at least by the Pirates’ standards), right now he’s not a player to be kept and he can’t be given away. It’s conceivable that he might be slotted into some sort of midseason package deal, provided one happens, but it’s a bad situation all around and one that’s not easy to resolve.

Pitching, pitching, pitching. Joe Musgrove’s name has come up a ton in trade rumors. Personally, I’ll be surprised if he’s still with the Pirates by the All-Star break, but right now, a rotation of Taillon/Musgrove/Keller/Brault looks likely to begin the 2021 season, with a fifth starter to emerge during spring training. There are also a lot of relievers in the mix, and Ben Cherington’s youth movement is going to make things interesting.

As always, ask me anything and discuss among yourselves.