Kevin Gorman: Pirates owe it to players, fans to make move

August 2, 2018

Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove watches from the dugout after exiting the game against the Mets Sunday, July 29, 2018, at PNC Park.

A month ago, the Pirates were in the midst of a freefall that saw them go from nine games over .500 to seven games under, and the talk of the town turned to counting the days until the start of Steelers training camp.

After Pirates general manager Neal Huntington’s July 8 challenge to start winning or risk seeing veterans traded, the Pirates responded by sweeping the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. They were riding an 11-game winning streak when the Steelers opened practice Thursday at Saint Vincent. Just in time for Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline.

“We put ourselves in a position the past couple weeks to make some noise,” Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison said, “but we can’t worry about what happens and we can’t sit here and say we need to make a move, want to make a move or should make a move.”

If Harrison won’t say so, I will: The Pirates need to make a move.

They owe it to the players who didn’t give up on this season, even after going 14-31 between May 18 and July 7. They have won 15 of their last 19 games and, after Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the New York Mets, were 3 1/2 games out of wild-card contention.

They owe it to the fans who have expressed their displeasure with the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades but have come back to the ballpark. The Pirates drew a season-best crowd of 35,900 to PNC Park on Saturday night -- the day of the Steelers’ first practice in full pads -- and a season-best weekend attendance of 86,005.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talked about the excitement in the dugout and the electricity in the ballpark Saturday night, and pitcher Jameson Taillon called it “one of the coolest nights” he’s had with the Pirates.

When Huntington said the Pirates “would love to add to that group, and we’ll continue to look to do so when it makes sense,” that doesn’t necessarily strike confidence that they are going to swing a deal by Tuesday, even after the Cubs and Brewers have made major moves.

“We’re absolutely cognizant of the players and staff and external voices, and we want to respect and appreciate those,” Huntington said. “We also know that we need to do what we believe to be right to put this organization in the best possible position.”

But here’s the funny part: As much as Pirates players would welcome additions, they seem more concerned about not making subtractions. There’s a positive vibe in the clubhouse, one that proved contagious during their winning streak, and they don’t want to disrupt that.

We got a glimpse Sunday what the Pirates would look like without Harrison, catcher Francisco Cervelli, shortstop Jordy Mercer and left fielder Corey Dickerson in the lineup -- all rumored candidates to be dealt only a month ago -- and it wasn’t good enough for them to win their fifth consecutive series.

“The trade deadline is something people get excited about. Everyone says, ‘Go get deGrom.’ It’s easier said than done,” Taillon said of Mets ace Jacob deGrom. “You have to think about the future. You have to think about clubhouse culture. If you disband a team, you take away a lot of confidence and vibe you have in the clubhouse. You have to be careful who you add to it, too.

“It’s a job I’m glad I don’t have, to be honest. I don’t know what you do. I don’t know what the answer is, but we have a good thing going right now. I’m pretty happy with the guys we have.”

Huntington admitted clubhouse chemistry will be taken into consideration, especially because the Pirates don’t have a veteran with an expiring contract who would draw demand on the trade market the way they did the past two years with relievers Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. Where Melancon netted All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez in return, Watson brought back infield prospect Oneil Cruz. For the sake of their franchise, the Pirates have to keep an eye on the future but not constantly at the expense of the current team.

It will be interesting to see if the Pirates are willing to leverage trading top prospects for major-league players to give this club a chance to continue contending. They have had hit-or-miss deals at the deadline and also have found players in waiver trades in August in years past.

“I don’t think we need to make any moves right now,” Vazquez said. “We have a really good team: starters, relievers, everything. I don’t think we need to make a change. It could help, but we don’t need it. I think on Tuesday, after we get back from the day off, there won’t be any new faces in here. I see a really good team.”

I see a really good team that could use some help, especially on the pitching staff, if it wants to make the postseason. That’s what the Houston Astros did last season by acquiring ace pitcher Justin Verlander, a boost Pirates starter Joe Musgrove said was a turning point on their way to winning the World Series.

“As players, we know what we have here. You see the run we went on the last two weeks. We know we’re capable of putting together good games and playing good baseball, but you add another big piece and a piece that really solidifies your team,” Musgrove said. “The energy and the chemistry in the clubhouse completely changed, I mean on the dime. Everything turned. You have that added confidence.

“But we trust the guys in the locker room right now. I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world if we don’t get anybody. We would like to have another guy to run with us. If it doesn’t come to it, we’re confident with what we have here.”

The Pirates owe it to their players and their fans to take a shot at making some noise by making a move to make their team even better before fans start counting the days until the Steelers’ season opener.

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