They have the starting pitching, even though right now they have an entire rotation on the disabled list. They have the bullpen, a key reason the Pirates lead the majors with 12 shutouts. They play excellent defense, especially with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte running everything down in the outfield.
What they don't do is score runs. Or enough of them.
This was evident in Wednesday's heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. A win would have moved the Pirates ahead of the Reds and into second place in the NL Central. The Pirates led 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth when Jay Bruce tagged Jason Grilli for a home run to tie the game, Grilli's first blown save. It was bound to happen at some point. Jeff Locke had delivered another shutdown start with seven scoreless innings -- his string of five scoreless outings in his past seven starts is a big reason the Pirates have managed through the current DL stints of A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez.
This is a better Pirates team than those of the past two seasons that toyed with the emotions of its fans by running into a half season of good luck. The results of this pitching staff aren’t a fluke like the 2011 and 2012 staffs.
This team can pitch.
But they need Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of this order to add a big bat behind McCutchen.
The problem with the Pirates' offense isn't so much that it's bad, but that it's not good, if that makes any sense. Well, it is bad at two positions. Entering Wednesday's game the Pirates ranked 14th in the National League in OPS at shortstop, and 15th -- dead last -- in OPS at right field. Here are their rankings from each position:
First base: 5th
Second base: 5th
Third base: 10th
Left field: 5th
Center field: 4th
Right field: 15th
Pirates management needs to step up, admit that next year is this year, and make the blockbuster deal of this trading season. Don’t attempt to patch things with small-time pickups such as Derrek Lee or Gaby Sanchez. Go for a guy who can actually help you put runs on the scoreboard.
Go for Giancarlo Stanton.
They can get him. The Marlins are rebuilding and are clearly years away from contention. By the time that may happen, Stanton will be heading toward free agency, and he’s as likely to remain in Miami as I of stopping LeBron James on a drive to the hoop.
So the Marlins will trade him.
From the Pirates’ perspective, the best thing is that Stanton is making only $537,000 this season, so he fits into their budget. Sure, he’ll get expensive starting next year when he first becomes arbitration-eligible, but that’s the thing about acquiring him: You get him for three more seasons after this one. This isn’t renting Zack Greinke for two months. And if Stanton gets too expensive for your tastes by 2016, you can always trade him then.
All the Pirates have to do is cough up some prospects. Premium prospects, of course. But I say: Take the plunge. Heck, acquire Stanton to play in the most beautiful ballpark in America, and I may move to Pittsburgh.
Here's what it will cost: Double-A starter Jameson Taillon, Keith Law’s No. 20 prospect entering the season who has pitched well at Altoona; outfielder Gregory Polanco, the No. 55 prospect who has shot up in value after a strong showing that recently got him promoted to Double-A; catcher Tony Sanchez, the former No. 1 pick who is hitting .303 with nine home runs at Triple-A Indianapolis; plus a decent C-grade lefty.
Two premium prospects, a catcher who could pan out (and who happens to be from Miami) and the party favor left-hander. That's a similar package to what the Marlins acquired back in the day when they traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, with the two premium prospects then being Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. That deal didn't work out, as Miller and Maybin weren't the polished, high-end players most believed, but the Marlins are in a position that they have to take risks.
The Marlins, of course, would probably ask for Gerrit Cole and minor league shortstop Alen Hanson. The Pirates aren't going to trade Cole, but Taillon/Polanco/Hanson may be one premium prospect too many.
Then again, it's not every day you get the chance to acquire a 35-homer bat to play right field.
Stanton hitting home runs into the Pittsburgh night, the Roberto Clemente bridge in the background. How's that sound, Pirates fans?