The Pittsburgh Pirates are making some progress, but the 2023 version of this ballclub is still ways away from being a real threat, even in what is otherwise a lackluster NL Central. The franchise has somewhat alienated its biggest star to the point of requesting a trade after low-balled extension offers, and it doesn’t appear as though they will trade him either.
Most of the transactions made this offseason have been in the path of finding veteran stopgaps to fill out certain spots on the roster and to be quite frank, it seems as though this franchise needs a jolt of energy. The good thing is that they just might have the player to do that, in a certain 6-foot-7 shortstop we’ll discuss a little later on.
2022 record: 62-100 (4th, NL Central)
2023 FanGraphs Projection: 72-90 (4th, NL Central)
The front office has put together a left side of the infield with Ke’Bryan Hayes and O’Neil Cruz, which paired with Bryan Reynolds should represent the foundation of a lineup, surrounded by a bunch of one-year pickups to bridge the gap as their top prospects continue to develop. Some are very close to debuting like catcher Endy Rodriguez, others are years away like last year’s first-rounder, second baseman Termarr Johnson.
Reynolds is an interesting case to look at, as he still had a fine season last year, but was far from his 2021 breakout performance. This is particularly true on the defensive side of the ball, as his outs above average plummeted from the 98th to the sixth percentile from 2021 to 2022. Although he is only a free agent in 2026, some sort of resolution to his situation would be ideal for all parties involved.
Cruz will look to build on a strong end of the season — from September on, the shortstop had a 147 wRC+ — and if Hayes can make strides with the bat, his defense should put him into perennial All-Star territory. That’s a big if, however, as the 24-year-old has continued to pound the ball into the ground.
To complement that trio, Pittsburgh went out and signed Carlos Santana and the former Pirate MVP Andrew McCutchen, both on one-year deals, as they look to bring in some experience and veteran leadership to this offense. Former Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi also came over in a trade, making the lineup a little more interesting than normal.
While Henry Davis, the No. 1 overall pick from 2021, continues to develop, Rodriguez is knocking at the door to take over that catcher spot at some point in 2023. For now though, the expectation is that the team rolls with another veteran who they brought in on a one-year deal in Austin Hedges, at least for the first couple of months.
On the pitching side of things, and stop me if you heard this before, the Pirates handed out another one-year contract to Rich Hill as he enters his approximately 108th season in the big leagues. Hill will round out a staff filled with young starters, who at one point or another have flashed, but none have yet to find the consistency to thrive at the next level: Mitch Keller, Luis Ortiz, and most notably former Yankees prospect Roansy Contreras.
The star of the show on the pitching side is definitely David Bednar. One of the top closers in the National League, Bednar should be a hot commodity at the trading deadline as an arm capable of going more than one inning, and also controllable through not just this season.
The goal for the Pirates in 2023 is not really to contend for the playoffs, more so than show and find real progress with some of their youngsters, with Cruz possibly able to take that step forward into stardom, and seeing names like Rodriguez and Contreras progressing well. Out of the bottom three of the NL Central, Pittsburgh seems to be at a race with Cincinnati to not finish last, with the Cubs ahead for now, but none of these teams inspires a great deal of confidence about racking up the win column in 2023.
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