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Pirates aiming to surprise competition in '18

Huntington says young, talented club will be fun to watch
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates officials won't call this offseason a "rebuild," even after trading away starter Gerrit Cole and beloved center fielder Andrew McCutchen. General manager Neal Huntington prefers to say they're "retooling" their roster.

The Bucs traded two of their best players and shed about $19 million from a payroll that already ranked among the Majors' lowest. They acquired six young players, all ready for the Majors or only a couple years away. The club won't say "rebuild," according to Huntington, because it doesn't think this will be a lengthy, tear-it-down-and-start-over project.

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates officials won't call this offseason a "rebuild," even after trading away starter Gerrit Cole and beloved center fielder Andrew McCutchen. General manager Neal Huntington prefers to say they're "retooling" their roster.

The Bucs traded two of their best players and shed about $19 million from a payroll that already ranked among the Majors' lowest. They acquired six young players, all ready for the Majors or only a couple years away. The club won't say "rebuild," according to Huntington, because it doesn't think this will be a lengthy, tear-it-down-and-start-over project.

• Spring Training info

"This team is going to show up ready to go in Spring Training, ready to compete," Huntington said last month, "ready to defy odds, just like that 2013 Pirates team did."

The organization's vision -- before, during and since its three-year run of success that began in 2013 -- has been a window-less existence, a steady run in which it competes every season.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

But consecutive losing seasons shut the Pirates' window and left them stuck in the middle. They were not good enough to contend with the team they had, Huntington and chairman Bob Nutting acknowledged. Pittsburgh couldn't or wouldn't dedicate the resources required to fix a flawed roster, but it didn't want to blow it all up.

"We absolutely need to make this team better," Nutting said last month. "I think you saw over the last two years, [78] and 75 wins isn't good enough. This team needs to get better. We need to compete.

Video: Huntington on young players added via trades

"This leadership team has done it before. We saw that in '13, '14, '15. I believe they can do it again, and we do it by infusing talent. Bring talent in at every level, every place we can. We need to be back in that mode of infusing talent into this organization."

So out went Cole and McCutchen. In came Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz, Kyle Crick and outfield prospects Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin.

Video: Outlook: Marte likely to rank among steals leaders

The first four will join the Pirates' young core of Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Felipe Rivero, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, among others. By 2019, they could be united with the next wave, which includes prospects Mitch Keller, Austin Meadows, Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Reynolds and Martin. They're all under control through '21, most of them even longer.

"There was enough talent at the Major League level, on the verge of the Major League level," Huntington said. "We've added to that group."

But is that enough? FanGraphs projects the Pirates will finish 78-84, third in a tough division and well out of the National League Wild Card race. They have not signed a Major League free agent this winter, so they would need young players to take significant steps forward and outperform expectations. Without another infusion of talent, the same might be true in 2019 and beyond.

Still, the Bucs believe they are close to contending again. That's why they won't call it a rebuild.

"This is a young, talented team here that is going to be fun to watch," Huntington said. "They're going to go out and fight every single night to honor these fans and to respect and appreciate the anger that they feel right now, and turn that anger into sold-out, loud, playoff PNC Park."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Joe Musgrove, Gregory Polanco, Felipe Rivero, Jameson Taillon