Inbox: Shouldn't Bucs try to make a big move?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans

January 11th, 2019

I've seen articles lately saying the Pirates should sign Manny Machado. I don't like the idea of signing any player to a really long contract (maybe ) and I know they won't do it anyway. But I liked that the Bucs got Chris Archer because it seemed like they were really going for it. Shouldn't the Pirates make another big move to push them over the edge?
-- James R., Bridgeville, Pa.

I've touched on this before and I'll say it again here: By trading for Archer and , the Pirates essentially created a window to contend. They gave up a handful of players who might have helped them for the next five or six years and beyond, most notably and , for two pitchers who can help them for the next two (Kela) or three (Archer) years.
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So let's say that window extends through 2021, the final option year for Archer and and the final guaranteed year for Felipe Vazquez and . (Coincidentally or not, it's also the final year of the extensions signed in 2017 by GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle.) That's around the time that their big group of mid-to-late 20-somethings -- , Josh Bell, , Joe Musgrove, , , etc. -- will start to earn more through the arbitration process.
They made that uncharacteristically aggressive move for Archer because of their belief in this core. The front office often said those deals weren't just about two months in 2018, but about the next few years as well.
The way I see it, then, the Pirates need to make the most of this three-year period. That doesn't necessarily mean making another "big move," although the Brewers are a recent example of a team that leaped forward thanks to a couple of bold additions. The Bucs just need to do whatever they realistically can to give this core the best possible chance to get back to the postseason and win a World Series.
The usual caveats apply here. We don't know what else the Pirates have planned this offseason, and we don't know how much payroll flexibility Huntington has to work with. The front office must consider the future when making moves in the present. And the Bucs shouldn't give up high-end prospects who will soon bolster this core, like Mitch Keller and Ke'Bryan Hayes.
This is their window, yet they're currently projected by FanGraphs to go 80-82 with an Opening Day payroll somewhere between $70 million to $75 million, which would be down from last year. They could very well outperform preseason projections and contend this year -- they were in the hunt into August last year, longer than most expected -- but it seems like a lot of things would have to break their way for that to happen considering the competition they'll face.
It seems like a good sign that Polanco is swinging a bat again. Any chance he's ready early in the year?
-- Ron G., Pittsburgh

Good question, Ron, but it's still a little too early to know. Huntington said during the Winter Meetings that Polanco will begin his throwing program around mid-January and ramp it up from there, so his recovery timeline probably won't come into clearer focus until closer to Spring Training.
The Pirates initially said that Polanco could return anywhere between mid-April and mid-June, and the training staff will get a better feel when they see how his surgically repaired shoulder responds to the throwing program.
The earlier he's back and fully healthy, the better the Pirates' chances are. If he picks up where he left off last season, he'll bring an impact bat to Pittsburgh's lineup and allow to deepen the Bucs' bench.
What should we expect from this year? I thought he looked like a 30-homer hitter a couple years ago. I think he's our best shortstop, too.
-- Shannon T., Morgantown, W.Va.

I would not expect a 30-homer shortstop, if only because it sounds like he won't be playing shortstop. The Pirates are going to let him focus on playing third base, where he is apparently most comfortable.
Since October 2016, I've seen Kang take six at-bats and a couple of rounds of batting practice. He was two months removed from left wrist surgery and two years removed from Major League competition. I'm not going to make any judgments based on that.
But I will offer you this quote from Huntington at the Winter Meetings.
"He still shows power. He still showed the hands [on defense]. He still showed the arm and the arm strength and the arm accuracy," Huntington said. "At times, we still saw the hitter. The numbers in Triple-A didn't necessarily reflect that, but we still saw similar skills and abilities as when we liked him as a professional coming out of Korea and as a guy that earned his way into our lineup on a regular basis.
"Now, it's just a matter of how quickly can he catch up to the speed of the Major League game and will he catch up to the speed of the Major League game."
Kang will definitely be worth watching in Spring Training. If he does return to his 2015-16 form -- and that's still a huge "if" -- he'll be the kind of legitimate power threat the Bucs have been missing.