2024 is here, and a new year brings hope for New Year’s Resolutions. Love them or hate them… or can’t come up with any to accomplish, resolutions are a part of what many people try to check off when flipping the calendar.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the rise in the minds of many, with a young roster and veterans in Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Mitch Keller and David Bednar stabilizing key areas on the field. Where can the Pirates improve? Some answers may be simple, while others are complex.
Trust the Right People
The Pirates, on a relatively frequent basis, trusted the wrong players to pitch late in games and didn’t provide enough trust in starters to cash in on another inning. Fans griped Derek Shelton did not properly utilize his rotation on occasion and either wouldn’t let Johan Oviedo go an extra inning (which more innings could have played a role in his Tommy John Surgery), kept Rich Hill in too long or didn’t find a way to sharpen the starts of Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz or Quinn Priester. A lot of this could be on Oscar Marin as well.
The Pirates went a large portion of April and May, even into June, depending on the bullpen and guys like Duane Underwood Jr., Rob Zastryzny, Yohan Ramirez and others. It didn’t work out. Things won’t be perfect, but need an improvement to get over .500.
Jason Mackey said on North Shore Nine’s livestream podcast Wednesday the Pirates will likely utilize a similar approach in 2024 and have particular starters go one or two times through the lineup before being replaced. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” Mackey said.
It’s irritating to see a four-inning start, if that, and depend on the bullpen to carry the weight for more than the majority of a nine-inning game. Part of this is a lack of organizational depth entering spring training as top prospects, including Jared Jones, Anthony Solometo, and Bubba Chandler, have relatively little experience in Double-A Altoona or above. This could happen with Bailey Falter and company fighting for the last rotation spot.
Make the Necessary Moves
The Pirates are not done yet. They shouldn’t be either. Audacy insider Jon Heyman reported Thursday the Pirates are one of a few teams interested in a reunion with Carlos Santana. Santana spent a majority of 2023 with the Pirates before being sent to the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the trade deadline. He hit .235 with 12 home runs, 53 RBIs and 6 steals in 94 games. Where Santana would fit is another glaring question after the Bucs signed lefty first baseman / DH Rowdy Tellez.
Carlos Santana’s walk-off (0.853 WPA) had the 4th highest WPA of any play in MLB during the 2023 regular season pic.twitter.com/FZi0beRcF2— Platinum Ke’Bryan (@PlatinumKey13) January 3, 2024
Heyman also said the Pirates are involved in the mid-tier pitcher market. He pointed to Sean Manaea, James Paxton and others. The Pirates need to be AGGRESSIVE and make a concerted effort to sign a considerable free agent or make a big trade. It doesn’t have to be an Archer-type trade, but something that can make the team better for the next two or three years at a reasonable price. I’d love to see the Pirates trade for Dylan Cease, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Similarities to 11 years ago, like a Francisco Liriano move for Manaea, or Paxton, makes some sense.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
It’s time for change. A new year is a new chance for new beginnings. Last year, it was to market the return of Andrew McCutchen and a new beginning as a Pirate for a second time, but 2024 is for winning. McCutchen said it himself after signing another one-year, $5 million deal. The rebound needs to be over.
"It was a storybook, man."— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) December 20, 2023
Cutch relives his emotional return to PNC Park. pic.twitter.com/i6tRetmihZ
Is the light at the end of the tunnel? The 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks improved by 10 games in the regular season and went all the way to the World Series after winning the NL pennant. Players like Henry Davis, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Jack Suwinski and the return of Oneil Cruz must take the next step to fortify the Pirates as a playoff contender. The Pirates must be above .500 this season.
The Pirates should be a considerable playoff threat and possibly clinch a wild card in a division that’s fully up for grabs. Not having Oviedo and Endy Rodriguez, plus JT Brubaker for half the season won’t make things easy. This is the clearest and most obvious resolution to be made. There’s no other way to cut it or make the claim. The time is now. If the Pirates still falter and fail to make a run, where is the rebuild going?!
Here to play. Here to win. pic.twitter.com/wR88hSaW3Q— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) December 20, 2023
BONUS: COMMUNICATION & FIX PIRATESFEST AUTOGRAPH TICKETS
Wednesday’s autograph ticket availability for PiratesFest was ridiculous. It was a slap in the face for fans who don’t have season tickets. You can look at it one of two ways: Season ticket holders bought up all the tickets (deservedly so, since they pay more than anyone for ticket plans), or only a few amount of tickets were available. Tickets went on sale at 12 p.m., they were presumably gone less than five minutes later. I checked. Nothing was possible to put in the cart. The ‘autograph tickets are now available’ tweet was sent after all tickets were sold.
I’m not here to complain about the return of PiratesFest. I’m looking forward to the festivities and what the day brings, but it still has its flaws. Asking fans to submit questions to be asked to Pirates management instead of being able to line up in a row and ask like the good old days is a way of trying to control the narrative that isn’t authentic. It could hide the true thoughts and feelings of the fans. It’s good PiratesFest is back. It’s long overdue. The communication still leaves a lot to be desired.