There was a whole plan to this Pittsburgh Pirates season. While they kicked the tires over the winter on trading Andrew McCutchen, they didn’t find what they were looking for. So the plan became having Jameson Taillon join Gerrit Cole in the rotation, Starling Marte happily accept the baton of best player on the team from Cutch, continued development from Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco and take your best shot before Cutch probably has to be dealt with only one year remaining on his contract and past the age of 30.
It certainly all isn’t on Marte that it didn’t go right. Polanco stalled out for most of the year, and that’s when he was healthy. There haven’t been too many other surprises offensively. Cole has been a tad iffy. You can’t foresee Taillon having to deal with cancer. Tyler Glasnow was just about a disaster. So yeah.. problems.
But Marte’s suspension was as hurtful as any of it.
Now the question of what Marte is after his suspension is to be sorted out. Marte was putrid when he came back in July, hitting .250 and slugging .269. August has been a touch better, with him hitting .282, slugging .398 for a 100 wRC+. The batting average in August is about his career average, but the slugging is way below. Is that just from timing being off with having to take an unusual 80-game vacation? Or is he missing something now that he’s been caught?
The list of previously suspended players doesn’t provide too many answers. Marte might be the best player suspended in the past five years. Raul Mondesi Jr. was suspended last year and has torn up AAA this year. But that’s AAA. Dee Gordon piled up 100+ wRC+ seasons in ’14 and ’15, got docked in ’16, and has been subpar since. But Gordon never hit for power anyway. Chris Colabello was banished to the land of wind and ghosts. Cameron Maybin got dinged in the middle of 2014, and he didn’t recover to be a productive player until last year.
So the track record isn’t good, but none of these players have the previous track record of Marte. The Pirates are going to have to make decisions based with very little precedent.
The Pirates are going to return most of their lineup next year, and that can include Cutch if they so choose. Freese has one more year, Polanco is around, so is Cervelli. But clearly improvements are needed at least in the middle of the infield. Austin Meadows has really struggled in AAA this year and might need more time before he comes up. Taillon, Cole, and if Glasnow figures it out will all be in the rotation. So essentially if they cash in Cutch, they need some help in a lot of places to run with the Cubs and Brewers.
But that’s if they can count on Marte. And you can’t say that for sure.
There’s another issue, though it’s dissipating from what it was. But when you look over a list of players who have been suspended for PEDs, it still skews heavily toward Latino players. That’s not to label them all cheaters, and far from it. But what it does feel like is something is not getting communicated to them. And that’s not a language thing, because these players have existed in the minors for years so they understand the language. But something is going on over the winter, you have to believe. It’s lessening, but something that’s yet to be addressed by the MLBPA. We’ll see if the numbers continues to slide down as we move along here.