Pirates Q&A With Pat Lackey And A Jim Rose Circus Reject

We’ve got Pat Lackey from WHYGAVS.com (@WHGAVS). We’ve also stuck our hands into the much and come out with Anthrax Jones clinging to our hooks. So we’ll deal with him too. 

The Pirates sold off Melancon, Liriano, and one or two others at the deadline. But they’re still in it, and it’s not like Liriano and Niese were lighting it up in the rotation either. Where are Pirates fans on this? Where are the Pirates themselves on this?

Lackey: This is a pretty difficult question to answer; none of the moves the Pirates made at the deadline actually made them worse. Liriano and Niese were mostly awful for the Pirates this year, and while losing Melancon hurts, Felipe Rivero has really dynamic stuff and his addition to the bullpen along with Antonio Bastardo (in the Niese trade) arguably makes the bullpen stronger than it was before the trades.

That being said, it’s not hard to miss the obvious signs sent by trading a closer during a playoff race and sending two prospects along with Liriano to Toronto. The Pirates are always going to be on a budget, and the future is always going to be weighed concomitantly with the present, and bad contracts can’t be tolerated even slightly. The Pirates are a good but not perfect team going forward beyond 2016, but it’s hard to imagine how the front office plans to put them over the top if their best use for trade-able prospects is to get someone to eat Francisco Liriano’s contract.

In short, the Pirates are better now than they were before the deadline, and they haven’t really hurt themselves for the future, but it’s clear just how strict their budget is, and that makes me nervous.

Anthrax: In a vacuum I think Pirates fans were fine with seeing Liriano and Niese go, although I think most of us would’ve preferred Niese be disposed of via wood chipper. Where they really pissed fans off was giving up two of the higher rated prospects in our system to Toronto to get them to take Liriano’s salary off our hands. This is the same organization that treats prospects like prized golden lambs when the idea of trading one to bring actual real live major league help into the organization comes up. Once again, it all comes down to money, and this clearly demonstrated the commitment to saving money is more important than the commitment to winning.

Is Gerrit Cole’s possibly injury the death blow?

Lackey: It’s tempting to say that the answer to this question is “no,” because they’ve now won 14 of their last 22 games and of those eight losses, a full half of them have come in Cole starts. On his best day, though, Cole is the Pirates’ best pitcher (I’ll talk about Taillon at the Taillon prompt below) and still, I think, one of the more talented pitchers in baseball.  A playoff rotation that starts with a healthy Cole and Jameson Taillon is something that should scare opponents. One that starts with Taillon and the resurgent Ivan Nova may be somewhat less scary.

That said, Taillon, Nova, Chad Kuhl, and Ryan Vogelsong have all been really impressive in August, and there are a few talented guys that could fill Cole’s spot (Steven Brault is pitching tomorrow, but Trevor Williams is having a strong year at AAA, and Tyler Glasnow could, in theory, get another chance to start this year). The Royals made back to back World Series with less rotation talent than that.

Anthrax: Gerrit Cole hasn’t been Gerrit Cole all season, and I’d bet a paycheck on it being due to a lingering injury from last offseason. Can Steven Brault be a replacement level pitcher for a couple weeks while Cole (hopefully) heals up? From what I’ve seen of him, I don’t see why not, although now that there’s tape of him pitching to major league hitters, I’ll hold judgment on that. I don’t know if there’s a death blow out there right now, as long as the Pirates’ competition for that last wild card slot includes the Cardinals (a very mediocre team), the Marlins (good, but green, and minus Stanton), and the Mets (who are still, fortunately, the Mets).

You’ve had 12 starts of Jameson Taillon so far, initial impressions?

Lackey: It’s hard not to be impressed with a guy that pumps his fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s and mixes it with a knee-buckling curveball. That 5.25 K/BB ratio is pretty tasty and mixing that with a 54% groundball rate seems kind of unfair. His total strikeout rate is low, though, and he’s had a pretty demonstrable homer problem despite that great ground ball rate. I’m a bit worried that better hitting teams are going to start sitting on that fastball a little bit more since his change is a work in progress

Anthrax: For the most part, impressive. He feels like a guy that has plenty of room to grow still, and most tall lanky pitchers have at least a little bit of a hard time adjusting to the top level. He blipped out on Saturday against Milwaukee, and he’s gonna have starts where he looks like he can’t get out of his own way, but for every one like that he’s also had a start where he shows the promise we’ve been waiting to see from him for what seems like 15 years now.

Opposed to their deadline, they just extended David Freese for two more years. Good move?

Lackey: I don’t really think there’s any way to judge this move until the Jung Ho Kang sexual assault allegation has been resolved. I suppose at a bare minimum you could read it as a vote of no-confidence for both Josh Harrison and Alen Hanson, but really, a lot hinges on what happens with Kang.

Anthrax:Suspicious move. One of our top 3 prospects (Alen Hanson) is a 2nd baseman, and he’s been projected to move into the lineup next year. With a crowded infield as it is, it makes me wonder if there’s more to Jung Ho Kang’s situation than what we already know. Does Freese project as a platoon guy at first with Josh Bell, or as a Kang replacement at third? He’s had a good enough season with us, but there’s also a good reason why he didnt have a job until two weeks before the regular season. Something Pirates fans always have to have in the back of their mind: is this Freese deal one they signed so in January they can say “well no, we didn’t sign anyone in free agency, because we took care of our free agency needs last August.” I wouldn’t put it past them.

Can they catch the Cardinals? They’re pretty well set up for next season either way, right?

Lackey: We’re looking at a team that took five of six from the Dodgers and Giants out west, then dropped five of six to the Marlins at home, then swept the Brewers in Miller Park after basically an eternity of horrible play in Miller Park. I have no idea what to make of them right now; I still think that they’re one of the NL’s five most talented teams and are capable of catching the Cardinals, but at some point this year they really need to step on the field and go 20-10, rather than just being capable of doing so on paper.

Next year? Yeah, they’re in good shape, though Cole’s issues are looming over everything right now. Seeing Gregory Polanco break out this year has been huge, and Andrew McCutchen’s August resurgence is a relief. The whole lineup will be back and supplemented by Josh Bell’s ascension to full-time first baseman. There’s plenty of young talent to fill in the rotation behind Taillon and Kuhl, though with Ivan Nova and Ryan Vogelsong becoming free agents, they’ll have to do something there. The deep bullpen is only losing Neftali Feliz to free agency, so that should continue to be a strong suit for the club. The Liriano trade also gives them some financial leeway to make the necessary moves to bolster the rotation, and hopefully the club will be a little bit more proactive in that department this winter (though I’m not counting on that).

Anthrax: We can absolutely catch the Cardinals. 3 more games at PNC Park, and 3 more games at Blue Lives Matter Field give us ample opportunity to just handle business on our own. We have been a streaky, sketchy club so far this season, but the Cardinals haven’t exactly been a model of consistency either. A healthy Cole, a more comfortable Taillon, and a productive Josh Bell could be the boost the Pirates need to overcome a half game deficit.

Only to be fed to Madison Bumgarner again. We’ll worry about that bridge when we come to it.

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