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Offseason-In-Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh deals stars, hopes young core can make breakthrough in 2018

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)

Additions: OF Corey Dickerson, RP Kyle Crick, OF Bryan Reynolds, SP/RP Joe Musgrove, RP Michael Feliz, 1B/3B Colin Moran, OF Jason Martin, OF Daniel Nava (minor-league deal), RP Kevin Siegrist (minor-league deal)

Subtractions: SP Gerrit Cole, OF Andrew McCutchen, C Chris Stewart, SP Antonio Bastardo, SP Drew Hutchison, RP Wade LeBlanc, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Daniel Hudson, 1B/OF John Jaso, IF Tristan Gray, IF Gift Ngoepe

The Pirates changed their course of direction in a matter of months, as they went from having a team that could possibly contend in 2018 with just some improvements to a club that is not close to competing for a playoff spot.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington and company traded away stars Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen within a few days of each other. The Pirates dealt Cole to the World Series champion Astros for four prospects (Joe Musgrave, Michael Feliz, Colin Moran, Jason Martin), then traded McCutchen — one of the franchise’s most beloved players — to the Giants for reliever Kyle Crick, prospect Bryan Reynolds and international pool money.

Though Pirates management doesn’t believe they are in full rebuilding mode, the trades have made some players unhappy, particularly All-Star utility man Josh Harrison, who said shortly after the deals that he would prefer a trade to a contender. The Pirates discussed moving Harrison to the Mets, but the Mets did not want to do a deal because the Pirates wanted Brandon Nimmo, who is under club control for five more seasons.

Other than dealing their two best players, the Pirates did acquire Corey Dickerson from the Rays in exchange for prospects Daniel Hudson and Tristan Gray. Dickerson, who was designated for assignment by the Rays before the deal happened, will try to fill McCutchen’s spot in the outfield while playing alongside Starling Marte — a 2016 All-Star who is coming off a subpar season that featured him being suspended for 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug — and Gregory Polanco.

Though they got a replacement for McCutchen, the Pirates are hoping their young pitching staff can make up for the loss of Cole and improve enough that the group can help them contend. The Pirates have veterans Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova, but they need to see Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault take a step forward because it will be hard to compete with average pitching, especially in the National League where the Dodgers have the best pitcher in the game in Clayton Kershaw, the rival Cubs just signed Yu Darvish, the Phillies just signed Jake Arrieta and the Nationals have a three-headed monster in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

With the trades they have made, it doesn’t look like the Pirates will go after any of the top free agents remaining. The Pirates are making an effort to get younger and are hoping their new core of players of Marte, Harrison, Polanco, Taillon and Josh Bell can help the organization make another breakthrough like in 2013, when Cole, McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Francisco Liriano led the to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.