162 games have come and gone and for the first time since 2012, the Pirates won’t be afforded the chance to play game 163.
It’s disappointing for sure, but it was much expected. In a season full of ups-and-downs, this Pirates team was never truly built to contend for much more than what they got, an under .500 season.
Most teams would follow up a magical 98 win season with an encore. Most teams with 98 wins also wouldn’t be playing a team with 97 wins in the Wild Card game.
But that detail is irrelevant, just as the Pirates have managed to become again.
In such a campaign, there is no doubt that teams will have good things and bad things heading into their elongated offseason. Some big questions are ahead of the Pirates, so let’s examine.
1.) What is the future of Andrew McCutchen?
It’s a shame that this question has become a question, but it’s the nature and reality of baseball in these days.
Players do so much for a franchise that when time comes to pay them, they rid of the contract and it seems the Pirates are ready to do just that with Cutch.
After eight seasons manning the outfield and being the anchor of the Pirates’ organization, it could all come to an abrupt halt for the once immortal Cutch. Tabbed as the next Clemente, McCutchen hit a wall this season harder than a NASCAR driver at 200 MPH.
The season long slump, or at least the hope that that’s all it is, was something that weighed on McCutchen and it became more and more obvious. The frustration with umpires became higher. He threw excuses around. This isn’t the Andrew McCutchen anyone knows. And in a season where he went missing, so did the Pirates.
My theory is that the Pirates have been planning to trade Cutch since the end of August. Josh Bell, albeit due to the injury to Starling Marte, got a lot of playing time in right field. Could they be grooming him to take over that position while shifting Polanco to left and the ever-so-overdue Marte to center? They could’ve played Bell at first over Jaso constantly, but they chose not to. Interesting development that unfolded if you ask me.
So what’s the final verdict?
Do the Pirates keep Cutch around hoping he can revert back to MVP form? Or has his diminishing skill set as a result of aging further into life’s threshold driven the Pirates to look in a different direction? Time and a very cheap organization will soon tell.
2.) Will the Pirates give Ivan Nova a contract?
This becomes an obvious question every year with every reclamation project the Pirates trade for at the deadline.
J. A. Happ was last year’s big surprise and, of course, Nova this year. Same story, same ending. But maybe this time it’s for good reason.
Nova reportedly is looking for something along the lines of 5 years, $70 million on his free agent deal. Happ, who was better over the course of last season, got only $12 million on a three year deal.
The Pirates committing to a free agent pitcher for that long at a price higher than what they didn’t pay J. A. Happ seems unlikely. Nova is also likely the best free agent hitting the market this winter.
I don’t foresee Ivan Nova back with the Pirates this season. If they at least make an offer to him, I’ll be happy. It’ll likely be one on the conservative side that he’ll decline. He’ll give his demands and the Pirates will then let him walk. My hope is that they show some sort of effort to bring him back, but don’t expect much.
Hopefully, the Pirates can benefit from Nova’s bad stretch towards the end of the season and knock the price down a few bucks, but the overall numbers speak for themselves.
3.) What will the Pirates infield look like in 2017?
This question has many possible solutions but the Pirates can only trot out one Opening Day lineup.
With the uncertainty of what this offseason could bring, it’s for certain that the following names will battle for playing time: John Jaso, Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Adam Frazier, Jung Ho Kang, Jordy Mercer, and David Freese.
After a pretty John Jaso like season, Josh Bell experienced time at first base. If Andrew McCutchen is traded, it’s likely Bell would assume the daily right field position giving way to Jaso to start, unless he Pirates find yet another guy for a platoon situation. The rest of the infield remains a mystery.
David Freese was resigned for two more years this season and the Pirates aren’t going to keep him on the bench for that kind of money.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kang move back to short and Mercer move over to second. That is, of course, if Kang is ready to play every day at short.
Josh Harrison would then be out of a spot, but is that a bad thing?
Sean Rodriguez resigning here isn’t likely after his monster season. A new super utility guy will be needed and Harrison thrived in that role.
Of course, Harrison’s range was actually stellar this season, but if he went back to moving all around the diamond, that could give some guys rest instead of running them out for two weeks at a time.
Adam Frazier would almost assuredly be in the same position, just maybe to a lesser degree than Harrison.
These are only three burning questions as the Pirates will face tons throughout the course of the offseason until March. For now, despite no trace of the Pirates in October, kick back and watch some of baseball’s finest games. The 2016 playoffs.