Despite all of their issues with starting pitching and a month of June that reminded most Pirate fans of the Bad Old Days, the Pirates are not in bad shape as we round up to the trade deadline. With last night’s results, they’re 1 1/2 games behind the Marlins for the second wild card spot, lumped in with the Cardinals and Mets. The Marlins are 2 1/2 behind the Dodgers, so that leaves four teams within four games of each other to fight over four playoff spots (not counting the Giants, who are 2 1/2 up on the Dodgers right now). It’s less than ideal to be the fourth team in that pile up, but the Pirates are playing well with an easy schedule ahead of them, and they’re much better off right now with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon in the rotation than they were without them.
What the Pirates are missing right now is obvious: getting Cole and Taillon back shores up the rotation, but that still leaves an uneven rookie (Taillon) and the inconsistent Francisco Liriano in the 2-3 spots, and basically chaos after that with Tyler Glasnow’s recent terrible start and injury. The Pirates have to choose amongst Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams to fill those final starts right now. That’s an unappealing mix of “definitely bad” and “uncertain readiness/unable to eat innings either way” for a team on the cusp of the playoffs.
This gives the Pirates a bit of a tough decision at this deadline: how much do you give up to fill your current biggest need, when it could organically become a strength within a year? The Pirates have enough prospects and depth in the minors to upgrade their rotation pretty much any way imaginable (meaning that they could seek out this year’s version of JA Happ as an undervalued guy who they think they can turn into a contributor, or that they could surprise everyone and shoot higher), but they have to decide exactly how to weigh present pitching problems vs. potential future pitchers.
That last part is important, too; Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Tyler Glasnow have all had some success in their short big league careers, but they’ve also illustrated pretty clearly that piching in AAA does not look like pitching in the Majors. That’s not to say that they can’t or won’t be successful, of course, but that it’s worth considering that the Pirates’ 2017 pitching problems are as “fixed” as they seem to be from here.
Of course, this is life on the fringes of contention for a small-market team. And it’s worth remembering that the Pirates have five games against the Mariners and Brewers before the deadline, and that their position today is not necessarily their position when the weekend ends. There’s a lot for them to think about at this year’s deadline.
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