It is always hard to predict what a team will do in a coming season. There is always the unknown, such as injuries, young player performance and what if any moves the team is going to make. I feel the Pirates will be in the hunt for the division title in 2023. However, there will be a few things that will have to happen, or all bets are off. This is assuming that the Pirates will really try to win in 2023. I feel they are not going to drag this out for another year. Before I get to why I think the Pirates are going to win in 2023, let’s look at the things that have to happen, first. There are some things I would like to see happen, but I do not feel they are absolutely necessary for the Pirates to contend.
First, both Kevin Newman and Ben Gamel should not be on the opening day roster. They are 30 year old players who have shown they do not have much to offer at the major league lever. They had WAR’s of 1.1 and .1 respectively. Gamel is a horrible fielder, and both are below average hitters. If this is what’s on the bench next year, then the Pirates cannot be serious about winning. The second thing that must happen is they must get Bryan Reynolds out of centerfield. The SABR Defensive Index, which contributes to the Gold Glove Rankings, lists him as the worst fielding centerfielder in all of baseball. The Pirates have to find themselves a centerfielder. I do not know that they have to go to the extreme of getting a Jackie Bradley type, all field, no hit player, but they have got to have a big upgrade at one of the most important defensive positions. There are always trade rumors concerning Reynolds, but if that is what it takes to remove him from centerfield, then let’s do it for the right return. If Reynolds is out in centerfield on opening day, then it will be hard for the Pirates to contend. My own opinion is to put him in left field, and I think he becomes an asset again. This is a player who slashed .262/345/461, with an OPS+126, yet only had a 2.9 WAR. In comparison Oneil Cruz, who had over 200 less at bats than Reynolds, had a WAR of 2.3. Even with his defense, he came close to Reynold’s WAR in about 2/3rds of the playing time. The final part of this equation is good old free agency. Will the Pirates sign some legitimate free agents and not those scumbags they signed last year, with the exception of Jose Quintana. The Pirates could sign 3 players at 20 million a year or 2 players at 30 million a year and their team payroll would still not top 100 million. They need help at catcher, centerfield, the bullpen and even at 1st base. Getting Ji-Man Choi is a huge upgrade at 1st base, but he has not done that well against left hand pitching. Even if the Pirates do little on the free agent market, I still think they will contend. Anything they do there or the trade market that would be considered significant, I would consider a bonus, and would increase their chances of winning the division.
I feel the Pirates will contend because I feel the young talent they have is ready to step up their games and perform at a higher level than they did last year. The infield should be solid with Castro, Cruz and Hayes. It would be nice to see Hayes pick up on his hitting. He has been a below average hitter the last 2 seasons. If he can improve on that and stay healthy, he would become even more of an asset. Diego Castillo can fill in when needed. The outfield needs to find a centerfielder. Reynolds should be fine in left and Jack Suwinski is solid in right. Cal Mitchell and Ji Hwan Bae will fill in. Catcher is basically empty right now. Henry Davis could make his debut in 2023 but injuries have slowed his progress somewhat. A lot will depend on who the Pirates obtain but I do not look at this being a critical move. The starting rotation if they can avoid the surgeon’s knife should be a strong point for this team. In fact, if they make any free agent moves when it comes to the starting rotation, they could do a 6 man rotation. Right now, the rotation would be Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, J.T. Brubaker, Johan Oviedo, and Luis Ortiz. Bryse Wilson and Zach Thompson did little to distinguish themselves last year, even though they had plenty of opportunities. I don’t put much stock in Wilson’s final very good outing. These two may do better in the bullpen, much like Will Crow did last year. Yes, last but certainly not least the bullpen. There is no question the most volatile and unpredictable part of any ball club. Teams have spent heavily on the free agent market on relief pitchers, only to see it all go down in flames as these pitchers under performed. The bullpen had its ups and downs last year but seems to have a solid core, with David Bednar, Chase De Jong and Will Crowe. I should have put Duane Underwood Junior in my list of, if he is still pitching in the bullpen, then all bets are off. Whether it is from within or without the Pirates will have to find some arms to shore up the bullpen. There are plenty of them out there.
The main reason I think the Pirates will contend is Ben Cherington. He has the pedigree. He took Boston from worst to first from 2012 to 2013. He left Boston because of a change of ownership. He left Boston with a slew of good young players that helped them win another title in 2018. He is like any GM, he is not infallible, but the young talent the Pirates have, look pretty good at the moment. There are things that can happen that can change the fortunes of a team in the blink of an eye. I know they have the same cheapskate owner but maybe he will finally spend some money. Only time will tell. Even if he does not, the Pirates have a young core that can make things happen. The Central Division is far from a strong division. This is the year the Pirates should make their move and win their first division title in 30 years.