A song to play while reading about the Pirates: “Bankrupt On Selling,” by Modest Mouse. This is likely evergreen for the Bob Nutting-era Pirates, but just as appropriate in 2019 as ever. I have indeed seen through it all, seen through it all, seen through most everything.
On March 18, the Pirates named Jung Ho Kang their starting third baseman. The news was not a surprise. The Pirates signed Kang to a 1-year, $3M contract (with $2.5M more in incentives) on November 8, their largest expenditure of the offseason. Since Kang’s third DUI arrest in South Korea in December 2016 (which kept him out of the United States and off the field) and since allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in a Chicago hotel in June 2016 (which did not), Kang has missed all but three games in the last two seasons.
While Kang has a career 129 wRC+, has taken steps to change himself, and looks slim and strong this spring, the saga is ludicrously offensive to the fanbase. Kang, the alleged rapist who has barely played in two years, plays the same position as Colin Moran and Ke’Bryan Hayes. He seems possibly better than Moran, the rookie starter last season, who hit .277/.340/.407 while playing poor defense and running poorly. Hayes is perhaps the Pirates’ best position player prospect since Gregory Polanco. He had a strong season offensively at AA in 2018 and is one of the best defensive third baseman in the minors.
It would be aggressive, perhaps too aggressive, to promote Hayes, despite seven extra-base hits in 28 PAs in major league spring training. He hasn’t seen AAA yet. Still, Hayes is the guy to dream on: the potential Gold Glove infielder with a solid bat and plus speed. If he’s not ready now, then he will be soon (Polanco spent only three months at AAA). Hayes will challenge Kang who, alarmingly, retains a great deal of his popularity among fans. In his years of absence, Kang’s 27 jersey appeared frequently at PNC Park (he switched to 16 shortly after his most recent arrest, but before his immigration troubles).
On multiple levels, the third base situation smacks of the stinking refusal to spend on major league talent that has become the predominant (and largely correct) national narrative surrounding the Pirates (and every team, really). The Pirates will open 2019 with a payroll under $70M, embarrassingly small, even after they created a sticky redundancy at third base. This was a gross misallocation of resources that the Pirates pretend are scarce, and because the team says it, it becomes true in practice. The Pirates have spent their meager free agent budget on the rustiest Kang, hoping for success and its accompanying manufactured narrative of redemption that exchanges dingers for false morality or forgiveness, while blocking their best prospect.
Win total prediction: 82
What is the Pirates’ most recent accomplishment?
On July 31, 2018, the Pirates made their most significant trade for an established major leaguer since Zane Smith in 1990 when they sent Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and a player to be named later (eventually 2017 first round pick Shane Baz) to Tampa Bay for Chris Archer. Notorious prospect-hoarders for two decades, the Pirates finally moved young, promising but uncertain talent for established major league talent, “winning” the non-waiver trade deadline.
How do the Pirates define success in 2019?
The Pirates must make the playoffs to consider 2019 a success. Much of the fanbase would argue that ownership would consider a profitable 2019 to be a successful 2019, regardless of record.
The most Effectively Wild player on the Pirates: Trevor Williams
With apologies to long reliever and 2018 EW guest Steven Brault, his podcast partner projects as a rotation fixture for the Pirates in 2019. Williams sparkled after the All-Star break, sporting a 1.35 ERA across those last twelve starts. Unfortunately, his low strikeout rate (18% across the full season), middling walk rate (7.9%) , and .261 BABIP have created a healthy and logical perception among extremely online baseball types that Williams’s second-half success was a likely fluke. That’s no fun at all. Instead, listen to Williams and Brault on the excellent baseball-adjacent IMHO Podcast, check out his charity supporting victims of spinal injury, Project 34, and root for Trevor to start striking guys out.
2019 promo worth the price of admission
Easily the Pirates’ best ballpark promotion this year comes Saturday August 17 vs. the Cubs when they give away Pirates-logo cardigan sweaters to the first 20,000 fans in tribute to Pittsburgh legend and all-around great human Fred Rogers. The rest of the Pirates’ promotional schedule is, as usual, underwhelming: t-shirts, fireworks, themed bobbleheads. The Pirates market PNC Park more heavily than any player on the team. The day-to-day ballpark experience, now in PNC’s 19th season, remains excellent and relatively affordable. For first time visitors, “you should always walk to this ballpark.”
…and finally, a haiku for 2019:
The Allegheny breeze Next post: Season Preview Series 2019: New York Yankees
Blows our hopes across right field.
The pierogies race.
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