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Who might make the Bucs' Opening Day roster?

January 14, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Behind the scenes, the Pirates have changed quite a bit since the final day of the 2019 season. They have a new president, new leadership in the front office and a revamped coaching staff led by new manager Derek Shelton. But through all those changes, the roster has

PITTSBURGH -- Behind the scenes, the Pirates have changed quite a bit since the final day of the 2019 season. They have a new president, new leadership in the front office and a revamped coaching staff led by new manager Derek Shelton.

But through all those changes, the roster has remained largely the same. Pittsburgh made a series of deadline-driven moves earlier this winter, but the most significant adjustments to the 40-man roster since GM Ben Cherington took over are the swap of non-tendered catcher Elias Díaz for free-agent signee Luke Maile and the addition of utility outfielder Guillermo Heredia.

That still might change, of course. Pitchers and catchers aren’t scheduled to report to the Pirate City complex until next month. Although most of the best free agents have been scooped up, the trade market could get busy before Spring Training begins.

Let’s take another position-by-position look at how the Pirates’ 26-man roster could shape up and the factors that might alter the club's plans by Opening Day.

Jacob Stallings, Luke Maile, John Ryan Murphy, free agent or trade

The Pirates created a need behind the plate by non-tendering Díaz, and they may have filled it by signing Maile to a one-year deal. They also picked up some insurance at backstop this winter, inking Murphy to a Minor League pact.

The Pirates have reportedly been interested in a young catcher in trade talks, as this is still a position of need in the long term.

First base
Josh Bell

Cherington has said that the Bucs will listen to offers for anyone on the roster, but don’t expect them to move their All-Star first baseman before Opening Day.

Second base
Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker

This is where it starts to get interesting. It became clear during the Winter Meetings that the Pirates should be able to trade Frazier if they want to do so. But here we are, and Frazier is still with Pittsburgh. If he stays, he’s the second baseman. If he goes, that opens the door for a middle infield consisting of Newman and Tucker.

Newman, Tucker

It’s most likely to be Newman, who’s coming off a strong rookie season in which he solidified himself as the leadoff hitter and a steady shortstop. The only way that might change is if Frazier is traded and the Pirates move forward with Tucker at shortstop and Newman at second base; the 2014 and ‘15 first-round Draft picks, respectively, started eight games in that alignment last year.

Third base
Colin Moran, Erik González

It seems like a matter of time before this job belongs to prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes, but the club probably won’t rush to bring him up on Opening Day after he had an inconsistent offensive season in Triple-A. Until then, Moran will return as the likely starter. González, who’s recovering from mid-November surgery on his left foot, could get some starts as well.

Tucker, González, José Osuna, Kevin Kramer

We’ve covered some of the scenarios involving Tucker as a starter; one way or another, he should have a spot on the roster despite his uneven debut at the plate. There’s also room on the bench for González, who is out of Minor League options, because he can play just about anywhere. Osuna will provide power off the bench while playing the corner outfield and infield spots.

There might not be another spot on the bench if the Bucs carry those three, a backup catcher and a dedicated fourth outfielder. Their Major League-ready depth options include Kramer, who spent time in Pittsburgh each of the last two years, along with non-roster invitees Phillip Evans, Socrates Brito and Jake Elmore.

Bryan Reynolds, Gregory Polanco
Possibilities: Guillermo Heredia, Jason Martin, free agent or trade
The big question: Starling Marte

As long as they’re healthy, Reynolds and Polanco should start in the outfield. Then comes the uncertainty.

Will the Pirates trade Marte? Plenty of teams could use the No. 3-hitting center fielder, the subject of trade rumors all winter, but Marte hasn’t been moved yet. Maybe other teams have been waiting out the market, or perhaps Cherington will take a more patient approach and deal him later this year.

If Marte goes, there’s a big opening in left or center field -- Reynolds can play either -- and that hole could be filled by Heredia, a strong outfield defender whom the Pirates signed to a one-year deal. Martin would make sense as a versatile fourth outfielder in this scenario, but it’s worth noting he might be behind schedule at the start of Spring Training after undergoing surgery on Oct. 18 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Starting pitchers
Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Chris Archer, Mitch Keller, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Chris Stratton, free agent or trade

There has been some interest in Musgrove, but he seems likely to stay given his upside and his leadership role in the clubhouse. Maybe someone will surprise the Pirates with a buy-low offer for Archer, but his value should only increase this year with good health and a new pitching coach. Keller and Williams are better than their 2019 results might indicate; Keller dealt with bad luck and poor pitch sequencing, while Williams wasn’t the same after his midseason injury.

With those four claiming spots in the rotation, there’s one opening for either the lefty Brault, the returning Kuhl, the versatile Stratton or a new addition. Brault and Stratton have experience in the bullpen; Kuhl’s workload figures to be monitored closely as he comes back from Tommy John surgery.

Relief pitchers
Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodríguez, Michael Feliz, Edgar Santana, Nick Burdi, Chris Stratton, Clay Holmes, Geoff Hartlieb, Yacksel Ríos, Sam Howard, Dovydas Neverauskas, Cody Ponce, Hector Noesi, Miguel Del Pozo, depth starters, free agent or trade

The bullpen was a glaring weakness last season, and their best reliever the past few years -- former closer Felipe Vazquez -- is currently in prison, awaiting trial. The Pirates still have talented arms in the bullpen, they just need to do a better job developing that talent and keeping those pitchers healthy.

If Shelton deploys his relievers in traditional roles, Kela is the favorite to take over as closer. Crick, Rodríguez, Feliz and Santana have late-inning experience. Burdi, if healthy, has the power arsenal of a back-end reliever. Stratton’s high-spin stuff played well, for the most part, in a variety of relief roles last season.

Holmes, Hartlieb and Neverauskas have good stuff despite their disastrous results in the Majors, so maybe the new coaching staff can unlock their potential. Brault and Howard are the only lefties on the 40-man roster. One name to watch in Spring Training who could make an impact later this year: hard-throwing righty Blake Cederlind.

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