Reporting Colin Dunlap
The Pirates are good.
Check that, the Pirates are very good.
The front office, however, shouldn’t settle for as much.
Between now and Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline at 4 p.m. on July 31, something must be done to bolster the offense.
And the bench.
And maybe even the pitching staff.
As the Pirates left Chicago on Sunday after enduring a 4-3 loss in 11 innings to the Cubs, and with it falling back into a tie atop the National League Central with the St. Louis Cardinals, it has become glaringly apparent this club should look at the opportunity, externally, to improve.
One point of contention with some, as the Pirates (53-34) approach the All-Star Break, has been the lack of production from the right-field spot. On Sunday against the Cubs, Jose Tabata — who has seemingly taken over the position from Travis Snider — had two more doubles and, since being inserted into the lineup on July 3, has seven hits in five games heading into Monday’s series with Oakland.
That said, however, in a game against the Phillies on July 4, manager Clint Hurdle pinch-hit for Tabata late in a game (even after Tabata had earlier collected two hits) so as to avoid Tabata in a righty-righty matchup.
So while the Pirates have shown a level of confidence in playing Tabata over Snider, are they truly confident in him to face every situation?
If they are, they should have let him hit that day.
If they aren’t, and this club has designs on continuing on with a platoon system in right-field, it is incumbent on them to acquire a left-handed bat in right-field to serve as a complementary piece to Tabata. Snider, hitting .224 with just three home runs, has proven he isn’t such a piece.
By extension, Snider has trickled down to a bench player, which funnels into the second point: Couldn’t the Pirates be best served to fight for the NL Central crown and, subsequently, a postseason run with a better bench?
From this view, Brandon Inge (.190, 30 strikeouts in 100 at-bats), Clint Barmes (.200, 41 strikeouts in 170 at-bats) and Michael McKenry (.191) are players on the current 25-man roster where exploring a trade — and not just by using them, but other organizational commodities — could serve to spike the back-end of the roster. On top of that, when Josh Harrison and Alex Presley have been shuttled from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh the past few seasons to serve as bench players, neither has exhibited enough to solidify a spot.
In short, do you trust the Pirates’ bench, as it is currently comprised, down the stretch in a pennant chase?
This isn’t a call for trading away valuable fragments of the future such as pitchers Jameson Taillon or Luis Heredia (unless a blockbuster can be had in return), but it is a call to explore the possibility of parting with better-than-average minor league prospects or, perhaps, even some major league talent if what the Pirates need can be acquired.
Quite simply, it takes money to make money. From this view, between now and July 31, the Pirates have to decide just how serious they are about this window of opportunity that is firmly open at this point — a window that hasn’t been this open since 1992 and a window that no one can predict when, if, or will be open this wide again.
Let’s also be very, very clear about something else. Some fans — and media — have paraded around calling this Pirates team “the best team in baseball” because, for the better part of the past half-month, they have had the best record in baseball.
Those two terms — “best record in baseball” and “best team in baseball” — to me, at least, aren’t synonymous.
As these Pirates are currently constituted, would you like their chances winning a seven-game game series against the Red Sox?
How about the Athletics?
Or, what if they went head-to-head, in a best-of-seven with the Braves, Cardinals or Orioles right now? Could you, in your heart of hearts, say the Pirates would be the favorite going in?
If they were, truly, the best team in baseball, I could. They are among the best, certainly, but it is hard for me to call them the best.
Might the Pirates become, legitimately, the best team in baseball by the end of the season? Absolutely.
To me, a large portion toward answering that question will happen between now and the trade deadline.
But, I think it is time for the Pirates to realize just how good they are.
And, in doing so, the front office might realize they could get even better by making a move or two.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.